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Parenting Press: Parenting Very Active Children

Tip—Working with a temperament trait is far more effective than fighting against it.

Many children are by temperament more active than the rest of us. In fact, some of them spin like tops. Helen Neville and Diane Clark Johnson, authors of Temperament Tools: Working with Your Child’s Inborn Traits (Rev. Ed.), describe highly active children in this way, “This infant kicked vigorously before she was born and walked early. As a toddler, she hated being imprisoned in a car seat, stroller, or high chair. As a preschooler, she talks fast and moves fast. She loves large spaces for play, dances while watching videos, and wiggles while listening to stories.”


Sound familiar? These are the kids who treat couches as trampolines, climb great distances up trees, and vanish in a flash at department stores. Active children tend to nibble and graze on food throughout the day rather than sitting still to eat three full meals. They are attracted to older children who have the skills they want to learn. They can pester older siblings unmercifully. Falling asleep can be difficult because it is hard for them to lie still.

Neville and Johnson recommend trying to put yourself in this child’s shoes. Think about the last time you really, really had to go to the bathroom. That sense of urgency is similar to what a highly active child feels all the time. His body wants and needs to move. Keeping still is a much bigger effort for him than it is for other temperament types.

Tools—Parents need to supply plenty of exercise and play opportunities for their highly active offspring. Here are some tips Neville and Johnson offer in their helpful book:

  • Arrange part of your house to be safe for inside-active play with wheel toys, a bouncy horse, balls to throw, and something to jump on.
  • Provide lots of time for active play (except for the hour or two before bedtime). Require quiet, soothing activities prior to bed.
  • Active children have a hard time lying still to fall asleep. Repetitive, soothing motion (like rocking) may help them drop off.
  • Pay great attention to safety. Impose the iron-clad rule: “Always hold an adult hand in a parking lot, driveway, or street.” Child-proof your house and yard for active, curious children.
  • Find safe, fenced playgrounds for your child to frequent.
  • Line up energetic personalities who match your child’s energy level as sitters or child care providers.
  • Older children may enjoy dance, tether ball, swimming, martial arts, hiking, or bicycling.
  • Words to use with highly active children:

    “You need lots of exercise each day.”

    “Sometimes you think better when you’re moving.”

    “It’s easier for you to sit if you let one part of your body move.” (For example, wriggle toes or fingers while sitting.)

    “Take a short break for some exercise.”

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Temperament Tools: Working with Your Child’s Inborn Traits (Rev. Ed.) by Helen F. Neville, B.S., R.N. with Diane Clark Johnson, CFLE.

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