Inside: A playful strategy to help your highly-spirited child regulate high excitement and positivity without dampening their joy and spirit!
Imagine this — 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 to get by other children. It all seems like good fun until it’s not.
Maybe some of the other kids start pushing back, but harder, or maybe they start avoiding your daughter because of her energy.
You walk over and ask her to “calm down”, but it’s as if she has blinders on and can’t hear you at all. You find your words aren’t enough.
One of the awesome things about highly spirited children is their positivity and enthusiasm, even about small things. The problem comes in when they start getting socially rejected because of their high energy or if their energy leads to impulsiveness.
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, they do them 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 impulsive or rejected either.
We have to find a way to connect with our excited children and teach them to manage their energy — not quash it entirely, but even positive energy needs to be regulated.
Connect With Your Highly-Spirited Child Through Play and Stories
The best way to connect with high-energy, excitable children is through play. For example, pretend they are a robot with an energy dial that they can turn down a notch or two.
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 were 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, and 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 Highly-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.
Ask your child: “Do you sometimes have too much go?” Then the next time they play in a way that is getting out of hand say, “Hey, I think you have a little too much GO!”
If your child needs a little more help, say “Little red says it’s time to STOP and take a break. Little yellow says slow down and take a few breaths.”
After a water break, snack break, or maybe a small walk, say: “Okay, are you ready to go back and play? Little green says go and play the calmer way!”
This concept of red, yellow, and green will help your child think about levels of their energy and start to develop foundational regulation skills. It is both concrete and playful — so it can be effective but without squashing your child’s excitement.
Highly-spirited children just have a little too much “Go” sometimes — we don’t need to get rid of the “Go,” we just add a little red and yellow to help regulate all that “Go!”
Here is a printable reminder to help you get started. (Click the image for a printable PDF file!).
Another great way to help highly spirited children practice self-regulation skills — especially positive emotions like excitement, is to play games with them. Here are my favorite games for self-regulation.
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