Imagine your nine-year old is kicking the furniture—hard.
Or your five year-old is riding his tricycle around the living room for the nineteenth time in a row (careening off the newly-painted walls).
Or your toddler is shrieking in glee as she flings her spaghetti everywhere.
These are the times you long to declare nap-time—but you know your child’s not going to agree without major resistance. That’s why it’s a life-saver to have on hand a repertoire of energy-busting techniques that help meet and satiate your child’s need to expend emotional and physical energy (while not depleting your own).
Here are five of my favorite energy-regulating strategies that are easy on moms and effective:
- Emotions are connected to every one of our system: our nervous system, endurance, strength, balance and so on. A mom who is able to show a lot of emotion or affect to her child, can help satiate part of her child’s energetic “hunger”. In my book, The Parent-Child Dance, I recommend using your voice, face, and gestures to give your child the emotional connection he needs.
Facial Expression and Gesture: Show your child you really are interested in him, and validate his experience by your non-verbal affect, both with facial expressions and gestures. Look into his eyes in a friendly way, and moving your head slightly toward him when you and he speak; leaning your body toward him; stepping toward him; raising your shoulders; and so on.
Use your hands to emphasize or express connection. Give him a variety of non-verbal cues that show you are listening to him—and enjoying it! Did you know a forehead, eyebrows, and even a chin can convey interest, surprise, happiness, or excitement? (They also can show anger, frustration, and disappointment.)
If your child smiles, smile. If he frowns, frown slightly. Although you are matching his intensity with your visible affect, inside, you want to remain calm. Then your child will feel validated, yet he also will begin to mirror your inner calm. This nearly always happens. Also, when you mirror your child’s feelings by using facial affect and gesture, you are validating him at a deeper level than if you just validate him verbally. He will feel that you care more deeply. Some children do not like direct eye contact; find other ways to make them feel that you are attuned to them (body contact, pitch of voice, and hand gestures are examples of this). —Excerpt from Chapter Six of The Parent-Child Dance by Miriam Manela; see illustration
But even when you’re sitting in a chair you can help satiate some of the physical energy of your kiddos:
- Sing or clap, in an even rhythm, use a metronome, drum sticks, tambourine or other instrument to create a rhythmic beat.
- Set up a safe but fun activity-course, such as climbing onto the couch and crash-landing onto sofa cushions or pillows (your child, not you!). After they land, ask your child to do a summersault or cartwheel, and then start climbing again. Bring in some variation such as hanging off the couch (lying on the back, head hanging down while legs are on the couch). You can do this all to a beat if you like and create a rhythmic cue for your child to follow and move on to the next part of the course.
A slow beat can signal the climb; a faster beat, getting ready to jump; a whistle or voice command, the jump and crash; a clap, hanging off the sofa, and so on.
This activity can be done in the playroom or anywhere there is a couch or bed and some space.
- Help your child use his imagination. Play an audio version (not video) of a favorite story or some music that holds their attention and can help them become calm while staying engaged. Video games and DVDs may be a quick attention fix, but several studies show screens from smart phones, computers, and TVs enervate rather than calm your child, especially before bedtime when they can interfere with sleep patterns.
- An indoor or outdoor swing is one of the best purchases you can make. Almost every child loves swinging, and after a long linear swinging session, most children won’t feel the need for intense stimulation.