Your child is playing at the park on the playset and you see her behavior spiraling upwards– she’s getting more and more excited. She starts taking bigger risks and starts playfully pushing other children. It all seems like good fun until it’s not. Maybe some of the other kids start pushing back, but harder, or worse. Maybe they start avoiding your daughter because of her energy and you tell her to calm down, but you find your words aren’t enough.
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One of the awesome things about many highly spirited children is their positivity and their tendency to be really excited, even about small things. The problem comes in when they start getting socially rejected because of it. Highly spirited kids may often be more oblivious to personal space and may tend to get right in the faces of other children. They don’t do these things in a mean way, only in an excited way. So, as a parent what are we to do? We don’t want to quash that beautiful, bubbly nature, but we don’t want them to be rejected either.
As parents, we have to help our highly spirited child learn to regulate her excitability.
When we think about self-regulation or self-control we often think of controlling negative emotions. But positive emotions need to be regulated as well. When kids get overexcited, they also tend to get impulsive.
Saying ”calm down,” isn’t enough. We have to make it more concrete and get on their level. One way to do that is to connect through a story. One of my son’s favorite books is (affiliate link) Go! Go! Go! Stop! by Charise Mericle Harper. I’ve recommended this book before for other reasons, like pre-literacy skills, but I’ve found it also works to help kids play in a calmer way.
In the book, “little green” comes to where construction trucks are building a bridge. “Little green” only knows one word, “GO”, and he shouts it out. At first, everything works fine, but when all the trucks keep go, go, going, chaos ensues until “little red” rolls into town and then “little yellow.” There is one part in particular that always makes my son laugh. When the trucks are trying to work out how much “go” and how much “stop” they need, they bump into each other and say “Sorry too much go!”
The Playful Strategy That Will Help Your Spirited Child Calm Down
For the first step read the book with your child and talk about the concepts of too much “go” and too much “stop.” Talk about how they have to work together to get the right amount of “go” to get things done. Then you can relate it to your child. “Do you sometimes have too much go?”
The next time your child is playing in a way that is starting to get out of hand say: “Hey– I think you have a little too much Go!” That will usually get their attention. Then say “Little red says it’s time to stop and take a break. Now little yellow says let’s slow down and take a few deep breaths. Now little green says go and play the calmer way.”
It’s a great way to connect with kids who are highly energetic and help them reset without totally suppressing their excitement. They just have a little too much go and we don’t get rid of the go, we just add a little red and yellow to get it back down to a normal level.
Here is a printable reminder to help you get started. I’d also be interested in hearing if anyone tries this with children who have ADHD. Let me know how it works for you! (Click the image for a printable PDF file!).
Another great way to help highly spirited children practice self-regulation skills — especially the positive emotions like excitement, is to play games with them. Here are my favorite games for self-regulation.
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