Ten Tips for Bringing up a Very Active (Overactive!) Toddler
My own super-active son
Isaac is lovely. He's affectionate, happy, always laughing, interested in everything, fun to be with, and gorgeous. He is a 3 year old bundle of loving energy.
He is also incredibly active. A woman who has looked after hundreds of children over 26 years as a nanny has described him as the most energetic child she has known.
Lovely as it is, it can also be a little exhausting to have a toddler who thinks sleep is for the weak, a moment not spent running is a moment wasted, and who wants everyone to join in every overactive thing he does!
So here are my top ten tips for surviving and bringing up an incredibly active toddler.
Do something active every single day
Idle days are trouble-later-in-the-evening days.
I know Isaac's not done enough running about when he makes an ambulance noise ("ne-nor ne-nor ne-nor") and runs up and down, up and down, through the living room and hallway, over and over again.
It's a sure sign of an active evening and night to come <groan>
So come hell or high water, or more appropriately, come rain, sleet or snow, Isaac gets out and about every day.
The ideal activity for him is something which requires more exercise on his part than on the part of the poor sod trying to wear him out.
If the weather isn't absolutely foul, the park's always a good bet. We have a great one near us which is children-only - adults can't go into Coram's Fields unless they are accompanying a child.
There are lots of great climbing frames, so I can play with Isaac, and interact with him, but make sure he gets a good lot of energy spent on climbing, running across, and going down the slide.
His new determination to walk up the slide is particularly tiring (for him) and he's getting quite good at it as well.
Learn to exploit relatives
I'm the eldest in my family, with sisters 2 and 6 years younger than me, and a brother 7 years younger. Isaac is, to date, the only grandchild as well.
So when we are staying at my parents' place, I rope in all said relatives to do their bit.
That way I get to read the paper, have a cuppa in peace, and even chat to my Mama or sisters!
My Dad's "throwing a ball over the house" trick is a particular favourite of Isaac's, and he loves running to collect the ball to bring it back to my Dad for another try.
Isaac does, perhaps, over-rate my Dad's abilities in throwing - a couple of weeks ago he asked my Dad to throw his ball over our block of flats, but 6 stories of a mansion block in central London is pushing it a bit!
Then there are the horses to run around with, accompanied by his ever-loving aunties, and his Uncle Bruv is great for wrestling, play fighting, and all that boy stuff they both seem to love.
Borrow an energetic and child-friendly dog
My parents have a 5 month old border collie puppy. Dylan is absolutely gorgeous, but, like Isaac, has far too much energy.
Throwing them out into the garden together has proved a great idea - they chase each other, run round in circles, and altogether wear each other out equally.
Oddly, looking after the infant and the puppy together is less work than just looking after one or the other!
Dylan is remarkably tolerant of being grabbed, having his tail pulled, and being generally moidered. Which is just as well, really.
Find out what really tires him or her out....
If you need a quiet evening, an evening with adults-only, or just a chance at a decent night's sleep, you need to know what really knackers the little charmer out.
With Isaac, it's swimming. He can swim very well, and he absolutely adores it. And he'll stay in the pool for ages, until completely and utterly exhausted.
The evening after swimming, he's quiet, calm, and goes to sleep easily and quickly.
As a further tip, get someone else (Isaac's Dad, for us) to do it, then you get some time to yourself in the afternoon, AND time with each other in the evening!
Make sure your energy bomb eats enough
I know a toddler is supposed to eat about a quarter of an adult's portion.
Unfortunately, Isaac's not read that himself, and won't take my word for it. He eats a lot - and I mean, a lot.
This evening, as I write this, he had 4 sausages, half a greengrocer's shop of peas, and a few carrot sticks.
Then he managed to squeeze in a yoghurt and some raisins.
Meal times have to be insisted on, though. Isaac has to be in his high chair, and we all (whoever is there) eat together.
Otherwise he is too easily distracted by toys, or jumping around.
When hungry, Isaac is irritable and annoying. I blame his father - who is equally irritable and annoying when not fed large quantities of grub on a regular basis.
Fortunately, though, my other half is not prone to the odd tantrum when he feels half-starved, but he does manage to whinge about it!
fantastic active toddler dancing!
Avoid too much sugar or chemicals
I know that if I eat a packet of brightly-coloured sugar-laden sweets, I have an energy surge, then a slump.
The last thing an active little darling needs is a sugar rush, so we keep the sugar, food chemicals, and caffeine down to a minimum (so, yes, he's a chocolate-deprived child....)
As well as the immediate advantages, I also think it's great in a wider sense to encourage lasting, healthy-eating habits. Isaac thinks great sweet snacks are things like bananas and grapes, which is all to the good!
Encourage private play
I think it’s very important for toddlers and young children to be encouraged to play and entertain themselves on their own.
It’s particular important, in my opinion, when a child is very active. Unless encouraged to settle down and concentrate on one thing, he might just prefer to run around yelling all the time.
But in the interests of developing an ability to concentrate and a capacity to amuse himself without constant input from others, I think it’s very important.
In my experience, it’s best to start a child off on something before leaving him to play on his own.
If I just point Isaac at some of his toys, and say play with that, he often looks a bit puzzled and messes around for a few minutes.
However, if we start playing with his toy trains or cars or whatever it is together, or to start to build a Lego structure, he is far more likely to settle down and enjoy it and to go off on explorations of his own.
Recently, for example, he has taken to assembling Duplo Bricks in what he calls his grandparents’ house.
I’m not sure my parents would be delighted to live in a red, yellow and brown brick house missing half a roof and one wall, and with a distinct shortage of doors, but he’s clearly developing an imagination even if it involves putting a cow on the roof.
Ask a toddler - how do you throw a tantrum, then?
Get your toddler to help around the house
I also think it’s valuable to get children to help around the house as young as possible.
It teaches them that life doesn’t come with a constant supply of Mummies and Daddies who are happy to do all the cooking, clearing up, tidying away toys, and act as a laundry fairy as well.
Isaac really enjoys helping Mummy, even if something that would take me 10 minutes without his help takes me half an hour once I have the benefit of his assistance.
Since he was young, we’ve always encouraged him to put his toys away in his toy box, and his books back on the shelf.
He also always carries his own plates into the kitchen and puts them next to the sink, and really enjoys helping put washing in the washing machine and changing sheets.
In addition, it means that when he is doing something quiet and private on his own, you can benefit from a few minutes to yourself, rather than rushing around trying to sort clean clothes out.
fantastic toddler dance party
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A long, calming bedtime routine
The biggest problem we have with an extremely active child is sleep. He doesn’t seem to need as much as the books have always said he does.
By 6 months old he was down to one nap a day, and by 12 months, he had mostly dropped his second nap as well. He doesn’t even seem to need a long sleep at night despite not napping during the day.
It’s my firm belief that naps are just as important to parents as toddlers, but you can’t force someone to sleep if they are not tired.
In order to transition into sleep at night, we have a long, calming bedtime routine.
It starts with reading a book quietly on the sofa, then a warm bath with lavender baby bubbles (which assure me they help a child to relax, I couldn’t swear to it) and followed by climbing into his nightclothes, brushing his teeth, singing some quiet evening songs, and a further calm book before we go to bed.
It’s impractical to expect him to go from roaring around to tired in one jump, and not only does the routine calm him down, but he knows what’s coming next, and is therefore far more prepared to go to sleep than if bedtime came out of the blue.
Rest when your child does!
By getting your toddler to help you when you’re shopping or washing up after dinner, when he does enjoy his private play as above, you can take the chance to sit down with a newspaper and a cup of tea and enjoy 10 minutes solitude.
It’s a wonderful aim, and I can’t claim that solitude is a big part of my life, but as an aspiration it is important to have some down time, not just for toddlers, but for their exhausted parents.