Dealing with Active Children

Apr 9, 2020, 17:00 PM by Hannah Wilson O'Donohoe, MD


Young children are very active at baseline and some are even more active than others. They are constantly talking, constantly on the go, and constantly seeking things to do. This is hitting parents extra hard during this trying time of the COVID-19 pandemic with “stay at home” orders and homeschooling requirements.

The main thing to remember is that these extra active kids are not doing it on purpose. Various combination of reasons can make a child more active than the next, but the bottom line is that they need help managing their energy levels and you as their caregiver can help them! As frustrating as it can be, accept them for who they are and try to be patient and positive.

What NOT to do:

  • Do not yell at your child – as irritating as it can be to deal with an extra active child, yelling always makes things worse. Their minds and bodies are moving so fast, the loud noises generally only agitate them further. Calm voices work best.
  • Do not criticize your child – find patience and speak kindly. Again, they are not acting out on purpose though if they hear your anger and feel hurt, they may unintentionally act out further. Praise and positive reinforcement will lead to better choices in behavior.
  • Do not encourage roughhousing – extra active kids may seem to enjoy these activities, but it could lead to them using this style of play as their main way of interacting with others which can also be problematic.
  • Do NOT hit your child – there are many studies that all agree that physical discipline does not effectively decrease unwanted behaviors. In the case of kids that are hyperactive it may backfire even more.

Ideas that can HELP:

  • Structure and routine – kids in general thrive with daily structure and routine. Work on getting the whole household on a consistent schedule throughout the day – wake up, mealtimes, activities, hygiene, bedtime, etc. It may even be beneficial to write down the schedule and put it up where everyone can see it until it comes the new normal. Bedtime routines and good sleep hygiene are especially important for active kids. An overtired child is almost always prone to worsened behavior.
  • Physical Activity – kids need to be able to run and play and channel their energy in a variety of ways. When possible sports, martial arts and other structured activities can be very helpful. Time spent daily at the park or in the backyard can be very beneficial. If that isn’t possible, find ways to be active indoors! Some ideas might be to hold dance parties, obstacle courses, and other games.
  • Relaxation – high energy kids need help channeling that energy and sometimes they need help switching from active to non-active. After they’ve had some time to be active, help them make a transition to relaxation. You may start with a statement such as “we just had fun using our bodies and minds doing <insert active activity here> but now we need to take time to rest our bodies and minds.” You can practice deep breathing techniques, play light, instrumental music or use a sound machine, dim the lights, rocking in a chair or hammock, etc. Extra active kids often relax better in a clean, quiet room without much outside noise. This goes the same for when you need them to do schoolwork or reading.
  • Giving clear instructions – when you need your hyperactive child to complete a task, first make sure you have their full attention. Use a clear, calm voice, make eye contact and state your request with simple words and short sentences giving only one step at a time. This ensures better that the child hears you and gives them a better chance of being successful.
  • Consistent discipline – kids with extra energy often take more purposeful and planned discipline. Set clear, simple rules and be consistent with these rules. Set consequences (time out, taking away a toy or screen, etc) and follow through each time. Avoid overusing terms like “stop that” or “don’t do this.” Keep yourself calm but firm when reiterating commands or rules and when doling out consequences.
  • Take a break if needed! It can be extremely tiring to be around an extra active kid 24 hours a day, especially when stuck at home. Be aware of ways to find your own time as a parent to relax and rest. If you have no help with childcare, at least take a few minutes each day to find a quiet room and take a few minutes to reset and renew yourself (bubble bath, reading, music, meditation are some good ideas. Do not hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member or your doctor if you have concerns about your own mental health. We are here to help!

Here is an article on ways parents can help themselves stay calm during these tough times: Ways to Keep Calm at Home

Below are some links to fun ideas to do with your ACTIVE kids!

Outdoor information and activities (don’t forget your hats and sunscreen!):

Indoor activities (get the whole family involved!):

By Hannah Wilson O'Donohoe, MD
Assistant Professor, Foster Care Clinic
Department of Pediatrics

Also see:

UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics
Child Welfare Government Website National Child Abuse Prevention
Prevent Child Abuse America 2020 National Child Abuse Prevention
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