[Originally posted at Just the Facts, Baby]
If your little one often has major meltdowns, is constantly bugging his brothers or sisters, or just seems to have a lot of excess energy, there’s a trick called “adrenaline play” that can really help.
But first, it helps to understand where the behavior is coming from:
• Kids often hold tension and worries that they don’t know what to do with. They haven’t yet learned how to calm themselves or regulate their emotions, so this tension comes out in the form of fits, meltdowns or relentless bugging.
• These behaviors are common late in the day when kids are tired, overwhelmed or hungry.
• Other kids just seem to have an internal battery that’s always charged and if that energy isn’t used up, it can spill over into everyday behavior. It’s like an emotional thunderstorm that has built up–and they attempt to regulate this build up by getting other people upset. Setting Mom up for a big argument or sending their sister running out of the room screaming often does the trick. They get a blast of adrenaline because of the excitement, which provides a release so they feel better afterward.
One way to deal with this is something called adrenaline play—one of my favorite techniques. It is especially helpful for highly active children and children with ADHD.
When you see signs that a tantrum, meltdown or severe episode of silliness or bugging is building, you can use adrenaline play as a way to help your child release excess energy in a more positive way. It’s a great way to connect and, in many cases, ward off a tantrum. Try wrestling, chasing, playing hide and seek, or having a sock-throwing war. Go outside and have a race. Or, if you want to participate directly, have your child set up an obstacle course in a safe place and time him running the course.
Whatever activity you choose must have an element of excitement and a tiny bit of fear, which is why chasing or hide and seek is great. Just sending them outside to run around won’t do the trick. The activity must have a thrill that will give the child’s brain what it needs and help him to self-regulate. Tantrums won’t disappear altogether, but you may find that they occur less frequently because you have provided a release–and a positive one at that.
At this point, if you have a high-energy kid you are probably thinking, “that sounds great, but as soon as we start my child will get out of control and won’t know how to stop.” To avoid this, frontload the rules and tell your child that if he’s hurting anyone, won’t listen, or won’t stop when the game is over, there will be a consequence. A natural consequence—such as not playing again until later or the next day, or having to sit in the “penalty box” and getting ejected from the game after three penalties—is best. He may test you a couple of times, but that should work.
If you have a high-energy kid, I recommend adrenaline play at least once a day, maybe twice, but definitely not too close to bed time. Remember to stay neutral if the child blows it, and follow through with the penalties.