This picture is my favorite of our family right now because it captures us just as we are: a lot of energy, a healthy measure of silly, and a lot of love. Perhaps you can tell from the photo that my boys have a lot of energy? Even as well-behaved kids (which I consider them to be) they wrestle, are fond of being loud, and make a lot of messes. While writing part of this my boys were having a pillow fight in front of me with our throw pillows. They're kids! It's just their nature and it's how they have fun. Although I will admit it doesn't always feel fun to me. I can appreciate some silliness and energy but my boys can take it to another level – an untidy, noisy, chaotic level that is not my natural happy place. I've always known that having kids would add mess and noise to my life but I can still get frustrated when my boys are so silly they're out of control, especially if we're somewhere in public.
As challenging as it can be we've realized that being energetic and loud is who our kids are. It's not all of who they are but it is a part, at least at their ages. Trying to change or eliminate that part of our boys would only result in frustration for everyone and wouldn't foster the loving family home we try to create. Not that we permit them to be out of control. But it can be hard to know what good behavior looks like for energetic kids and of course it can look different for each kid and every family. Finding the right path of nurturing our boys' personalities while teaching them good behavior is something I think a lot about. Our boys are 4 and 6 so by no means do we have this parenting thing all figured out. But we have developed some strategies that help us be the best parents we can to our two energetic kids. I wanted to share in case this helps anyone else out!
1. Adjust your mindset and expectations.
Chris is especially great at reminding me that most of the time when they boys are being crazy energetic they aren't doing anything wrong. Usually they're laughing, being silly, launching themselves over the easy chair (or having a pillow fight) – also known as having the best time as brothers. WHICH IS AWESOME. I love how close our boys are and being physical is an important part of their relationship. I'm working on reminding myself that being loud and silly isn't wrong. ("Being silly isn't a crime" a la "skateboarding isn't a crime" – ha!)
Relatedly, I've had to adjust some of my expectations along the way including what our days look like and what "good behavior" looks like. For example, we do quieter activities like art, reading, and cooking but we can't only do those types of activities all day long (which of course I would be happy to do!). We recognize that the boys naturally have a lot of energy and sometimes they need to be wild, within reason. As parents I believe it's our job to embrace and celebrate who our kids are while also teaching them boundaries, respect, and self-control. This is not to say we have to resign ourselves to kids who are wild and silly all the time. We work to embrace our boys' energetic natures while considering reasonable expectations for their behavior. It's not always easy because sometimes you just need some peace and quiet for the love of Pete. And other times it's hard to know what boundaries to enforce on how silly and physical they can be and how to enforce those boundaries. Plus they're changing all the time! Having conversations with Chris, and with the boys, helps to get different perspectives and come up with rules that feel right for our family. This helps me step back and see the full picture. In doing so I can remind myself that they're just being kids and reflect on where expectations and boundaries could help them grow.
2. Sometimes you have to lean into the crazy.
Here's a typical scenario: it's bedtime and Chris and I are ready to be off duty. But the boys are starting to get riled up. Chris and I try to redirect them to something calmer/get them to put on pj's/brush teeth but they are having none of it and just get more silly/rambunctious. This presents a fork in the road. Many a times have we taken the fork of doubling down on resisting the energetic behavior by being stern. This fork only leads to frustration, friends! I do not recommend this fork.
I think it's physically very hard for our boys to overcome so much energy and transition from high energy to low energy. So instead I'm trying to take the other fork which is to lean into their energy more or at least take cues from it, especially if we're at home. I'll say, "It seems like you need some time to be silly. Let's go have ten minutes of wrestling on the bed!" They love to wrestle on our bed or for us to stand at the end of the bed and push them back into the pillows or hit them with pillows. And I have to admit it is pretty fun! If we can get silly and physical with them it changes a brewing power struggle into family fun. Plus I want to show them positive ways to be energetic. As for what to do in a public setting: can you redirect the physical energy into counting how many paint cans are on that shelf, how many skips it takes to get down the aisle, or taking a one minute dancing/wiggle break to dance the sillies away? No? Then it is time to exit the building.
3. Speaking of exiting the building...sometimes it just needs to happen.
Sometimes the trip to the grocery store/Target/the post office was just not meant to happen right now. And it won't be the end of the world. I've found that a calm, "OK, I can tell you aren't in a mood to be here right now. We're heading back to the car," and actually heading calmly to the car (no scolding) can sometimes bring about a 180 degree behavior change or at least enough to get through what I need to do. I'd much rather not finish an errand than to become completely frazzled by a drawn-out meltdown. NO THANK YOU. I have to remember that they're kids. And that Target is one of my happy places not theirs.
Relatedly there's also the strategy of avoiding errands/public outings if it's more stress than it's worth. If an errand leaves you feeling more worn out that accomplished because of kid behavior that could be a sign. There was definitely a time when I would avoid at all costs running an errand with both boys. Instead I'd run errands at night after bedtime or arrange with Chris to do a solo errand outing on the weekend. There's an age (maybe three and a half?) when outings can be an opportunity to practice appropriate behavior. And then there are the ages (all the twos or just depending on your kid) when it's just not worth it. At 4 and 6 I can run some errands with the boys but it can be hit or miss. I still prefer, for my sake and theirs, to run errands alone.
4. Have conversations about behavior often, but not in the heat of the moment.
Our boys can get to a stage that I call silly-drunk because they really don't seem to be able to hear us or do anything other than be crazy. They definitely aren't in a state to follow through on brushing teeth or or being good customers at Home Depot let alone absorb an important lesson about behavior. Instead, we try to redirect their energy (or exit a public setting if needed) and then talk about the behavior once they've calmed down, sometimes even hours later. We talk about being respectful, finding self-control, or whatever the situation calls for.
Before we go to someone else's house, into a store, or a restaurant we have little pep talks about our expectations and appropriate behavior. Sometimes I dramatize the wrong behavior, "Will you yell and cry if we can't buy a toy like this 'Whaaaaaaa I want that!!'?" Sometimes I ask them to act out the kind of behavior we don't want to see. They always think this is funny but I think it's also a more engaging way to talk about behavior. Plus how fun for them to act out "bad behavior" they aren't supposed to do. I also try to bring up conversations about appropriate behavior at other times and not just before we're about to go somewhere.
5. Use a timer.
Timers are so handy! And luckily we just about always have one nearby with our phones although we use the microwave timer a lot too. I use a timer to get the boys to follow through on a request like getting dressed or tidying up and to give silly time an end point. It's really incredible what setting a timer for five minutes can do. I don't even say what will happen if they aren't finished when the timer goes off. They can be balking and disagreeable but if I say, "OK I'm setting a timer: you have five minutes to tidy up the living room," they suddenly fly into action! It can also be helpful to set a timer for silly time at home especially if we're heading into bedtime. The timer acts like an objective observer and they seem more willing to follow the timer's orders than mine.
6. Help your kids practice self-control and model it too.
The wonderful daycare where the boys attended through preschool introduced us to the concept of teaching the boys about self-control. They started at young ages and had the kids wiggle their arms and then suddenly "stop!" followed by praise for having self-control. From there they taught them about other ways to use self-control and made it a regular practice. We've kept up the conversation at home and in some instances can help the boys take big breaths and get their self-control.
Cultivating go-to calm down activities for kids empowers them to practice self-control. Sometimes I'll try to redirect too much energy into something calmer but just starting to read out loud or getting on the couch or bed and asking them to come snuggle with me. I think just being physically close can be calming for kids. Although we don't have one I love the idea of a calm down basket with books or other engaging but calming activities. I feel so proud of the boys when they can get their self control and have seen them independently take deep breaths to calm down when they've gone over the silly cliff. Whenever we see that we praise, praise, praise.
As parents we need to know how to calm down too. Sometimes (often) the boys are the ones that give me opportunities to practice my self-control. Some strategies I use include walking away and going to another room for a few minutes, taking deep breaths with audible exhales (so much more satisfying when you're frustrated), and consciously thinking about how much better I feel after a challenging situation with the boys when I stayed calm versus if I lose my temper. Like exercising and using your muscles, with practice self-control and patience become easier. We're all learning here.
7. Incorporate physical activity daily.
Bike rides, going to the park, swimming, trampoline parks – there are so many ways for kids to positively channel their energy. When our boys haven't had as much physical activity we notice their energy comes out in other ways and it's usually less desirable (like fighting with each other or making destructive messes). I also think there's something to be said for unstructured time and physical activity. During the school year we go to the park after school for at least an hour every day. I notice a huge difference in the boys' behavior if we don't get to go to the park. There are so many structured activities to get kids involved in but I do worry that too much structure doesn't allow for enough free play and imaginative thinking time.
8. Encourage quieter, less physical activities too.
Just because kids are energetic doesn't mean they don't have the interest or attention span for quieter activities. I'm wondering if sometimes crazy energy comes out because they need more mental stimulation. Reading or looking at books, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, trips to the library, crafts, building Legos, and board games are all things our boys love to do that give them ways to exercise their brains while practicing self-control and patience. We've had incredible success cultivating the boys' attention spans (and listening comprehension!) with podcasts and audiobooks. We listen at home and just about always listen to podcasts whenever we're in the car. It makes the experience so much more enjoyable for us all (read: quieter). Two of our favorites are Story Pirates and Circle Round – we've listened to every episode multiple times. Another podcast that's great for calming down is the Peace Out podcast for kids.
I keep working on this as I think of other things to add. But I'll wrap this up for now and will probably have more thoughts on the topic in the future. Do you have really energetic kids? I'd love to hear any tips you have for parenting them.