Learn how to quiet down your overactive kid without resorting to yelling at them.


Kids are active by nature ―they like to run and jump around, so asking them to sit down quietly for more than a few minutes is like asking them to stop breathing. Quite likely, this isn’t going to happen.

While this won’t be much of a problem when you are at home, it can get pretty embarrassing when junior acts up in public. Imagine having to chase them down the aisle halfway through a wedding ceremony. What about trying to shush them because what started out as soft humming has become a full-scale song and dance performance? You cringe to even think about it!

Then, you look over at your friend’s kids who are able to sit through an hour-long activity without fidgeting. Why do other kids seem so well-behaved, while your little monkey just zips around the room like a mini-tornado?

Kids with sensory processing difficulties may also display hyperactive behaviour when under or over stimulated.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, explains that some kids are just more fidgety than others. “Just like how some children are taller are some are shorter, the ability to stay on task and focus differs from one child to another. Children who are unable to do so will get bored more easily and are more likely to fidget. In extreme cases, the child may be suffering from Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”

Dr Vaani Gunaseelan, a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services, adds that children with anxiety problems may also appear restless and move around constantly. Kids with sensory processing difficulties may also display hyperactive behaviour when under or over stimulated.

She also explains that it is not until age 4 that most children have better memory and can start to focus well. However, every child develops differently depending on their environment, exposure and behaviour.

So, don’t fret if your little one just can’t keep still ― he just hasn’t developed the patience to focus on one thing for long periods of time! However, if you feel that their heightened activity is affecting their daily life, bring them to your to a developmental paediatrician for further evaluation.

Dr Alvin Liew, a psychiatrist at the Adult and Child Psychological Wellness Clinic, recommends that your child get a medical evaluation if you have already tried positive parenting methods without any results, or if they:

- Are frequently inattentive, hyperactive or display impulsive behaviours.

- Have learning difficulties or problems in their daily interaction with others.

- Tell you that they are feeling bad or distressed by their own behavior.

- Have a sudden change in behaviour after a head injury or fever.


If your little one does not display any worrying symptoms, but still can’t seem to stay still, try these tips to calm him down!

1. Head outdoors

Enjoying the fresh air will be a pleasant change for your little sprout after being stuck indoors for a period of time. He’ll get some vitamin D while expending some of his energy, so that he won’t feel as restless when you head back in again. “Playing outside with your child improves the relationship between you both, which will make them more receptive to your instructions. Also, pairing activities which require mental effort with fun outdoor activities can help to positively reinforce and encourage good behaviour and effort,” Dr Lim points out.

2. Distract him with something else

“Keeping them occupied with interesting activities will help to calm your child down,” says Dr Lim. If you are out in public, bring along some toys or an activity that your kiddo can entertain themselves with. For example, a colouring book or toy will be effective in diverting your tot’s attention elsewhere, so that he will not be tempted to make loud noises or run around.

"Pairing activities which require mental effort with fun outdoor activities can help to positively reinforce and encourage good behaviour and effort.”

3. Take short breaks in between an activity

Younger kids have a shorter attention span, so they can usually only focus for a few minutes before their minds start to drift. If your mini-me is naturally energetic, asking him to stay still for long periods of time will just result in random outbursts of energy. Dr Lim suggests breaking an activity up into shorter chunks and taking breaks in between to let him walk around, be loud and get rid of some energy before returning to the activity.

4. Give junior a breather

Dr Lim suggests removing bubba from the stimulating environment, so that he has time to calm down before returning to the area. Dr Vaani also adds that you can set a calm-down corner for your child at home, so that he can go there when he is feeling overstimulated.

5. Have a rewards system

Whenever your kewpie displays good behaviour, reward him using a point system. Implement a star chart for younger kids, and every time he finishes his work within a reasonable time (including short breaks), he’ll be rewarded with stars that can be exchanged for treats like ice cream. Remember, however, that a “consequence” should only be given for significantly disruptive behaviour instead of minor ones like fidgeting in his chair. Dr Liew advises, “Praising a child for good behaviour will strongly reinforce his good behavior.”

“Parents should avoid being overly critical and punitive for errors, and not providing positive reinforcement to recognise their child’s efforts,” he stresses.

Photos: iStock

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