2 In All About Children's Emotions/ Emotions/ Parenting Solutions

The Playful Strategy That Will Help Your Spirited Child Calm Down

Highly Spirited child

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 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 worse, 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.

Highly Spirited child


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One of the awesome things about a highly spirited child 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 or become impulsive.

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 impulsive or rejected either.

We have to find a way to connect with this excited child and teach them to manage their energy — not quash it entirely, but even positive energy needs to be regulated.

The best way to connect with high-energy children is through play. Find a playful way they can manage their emotions. Like, pretend they are a robot with an energy dial that they can turn down a notch or two.

Anything that makes the management of excitement playful and concrete to children will help.

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, 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 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. (Click the image for a printable PDF file!).

Highly Spirited child


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.

Some more posts you might like:

How to Get Your Child to Listen

Three Quick Tips to Help Kids Calm Down

A Review of Three Toddler Clocks

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  • Lesley
    January 14, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    I use this for my 3 year old and he really responds well to it – he has a lot of “go”! He loves the book and it gives good examples of what happens when there’s too much “go” or “stop”. Thanks for the great idea!

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      January 15, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Thank you for the feedback Lesley. I have my 4-year-old saying this to me now. “Just have a little too much go Mama!” I think it helps them identify their emotions and also makes it more concrete for them, which will eventually make it easier for them to regulate.