Do you have busy energetic children? We've got 4 hacks for rambunctious kids.

Paul: I love that my job is to illuminate the obvious. Some obvious things are totally unnoticed and I think this is important to notice. Children's work is?

Vicki: Play.

Paul: Right. So, here is hack number 1:

Play with your kids.

Get down on the floor with them. Don't be afraid to interact with them on their level. I've found at least in my practice, and Vicki, maybe you can back this up in the kids that you have worked with, that sometimes kids become a little more hyper, a little more rambunctious when they are trying to get the kind of attention that they are really craving.

Vicki: Definitely!

Paul: As parents, we have other things to worry about. I mean, we need to take care of the house and earn some money to pay for the groceries. Our kids are busy doing their work full-time, every day. Getting down on their level and playing with them sometimes will provide them with that kind of attention that they are really needing and craving, and it brings the energy level down a little bit.

Vicki: A lot of the times it kind of resets them to be able to focus on another task after they have gotten some of that busy play out. Give them your eye contact and get on their level. This could mean older kids too, getting on their level, whatever their level is, and playing with them. It's really amazing to me that we missed this sometimes because it can be so obvious. Kids need to play.

Paul: Vicki and I did a conference not too long ago in British Columbia with some child care providers. Big shout out to you who are providing these kinds of services for kids. I remember we spent probably an hour of that conference going over some of the research on play. So, as a parent, just commit to do that. That's your first hack.

Vicki: Hack number 2 is:

Catch and reinforce desired behavior.

This one can be really tricky because a lot of the time when the child is doing what you expect them to do, you just kind of almost don't notice it because it's what is expected. You have to train your own brain to really watch for and reinforce when things are going well.

Paul: We have some natural barriers to this in our own psychology. And this is because your mind is programmed to pick up on what's wrong. What's out of place. What's missing. If you find that you are constantly disciplining your very energetic child, it's probably because you notice all of the things that are happening that are out of line, the behaviors you don't want. Well, there's a whole lot of things happening that are right on schedule, too. We just don't notice it as much. So, that's your hack. To notice it, first of all. And then to take intentional steps to reinforce it.

Vicki: I was recently reading from a blog about stuttering, and the research was interesting. It said that we need five to one in praise like commenting when you are working with a preschooler about five times things are going the way we want. “Wow, I love that. That picture is great. You really used some beautiful colors,” before you give one correction. With our really rambunctious kids it might not be easy to find five things to comment positively on about their behavior. Make sure you are giving at least five praises to every one correction. That is one of the reasons to get better at watching for when things are going the way you want them to or that you are expecting them to.

Paul: I remember Marty Seligman talking about this. Dr. Seligman is a past president of the American Psychological Association and also one of the founders of the positive psychology movement. (Which I think is really awesome.) I remember him saying that this ratio is really important. You would think… And I'm talking about mental health now, okay, you would think that people need a balance. If you are getting negative input, you need to kind of balance that out with the positives. What we found in that research in psychology is that a one to one ratio contributes to depression. Depression, not happiness, not being well-adjusted. What you said is absolutely consistent with the research. Five positives to every one negative. Do you know what the ratio is in a typical junior high setting? It's about 13 negatives to every positive.

Vicki: I read this weekend that in relationships like husband and wife it is like 0.8 positives to 1 negative.

Paul: Ugh!

Vicki: Crazy. So, let's take hack number 2 and really embrace it.

Find those positives.

Paul: It will take an intentional effort, but put the work in. This will be worth it. For hack number 3, I'm going back to a guest who was on my podcast probably 10 years ago. Her name is Sandra Taylor. Sandra wrote the book, “Hold On To Your Horses”. and it's a clever little nook. There's others on the market too that you can look for. But this clever little book describes wild horses that are inside of our kids. And you can probably relate to this because sometimes it feels kind of like that. Think about a horse for just a minute. Hack number 3 is:

Harness the energy of your child.

Now, a harness when you are riding a horse does not take away the power or the spirit of that animal. It simply steers it in a direction that is productive. As you look at how your child has all of this energy, what can we steer them into and there are all kinds of productive creative ways that kids can use their energy, we don't want to squash it. We want to steer it into something productive.

Vicki: Some of the places you can try to harness that energy is through sports, hobbies, or crafts. I used to watch in the flyer that came out from the city of different classes that were being offered at the local rec center because those worked within my price range at the time. It's like okay, we are going to do an art class, or try karate, or a ballet class.

Paul: Maybe it’s swimming lessons. Anything that's productive and gets their energy steered in a direction that's not destroying your house or your sanity. That's what we're looking for.

Vicki: Hack number 4 is pretty near and dear to my heart. It's to:

Watch out for labeling.

I have one child that just had so much energy, and I often said things like, “Oh, he's my crazy child. You're driving me crazy. Blah, blah, blah.”

Paul: Pushing the limits.

Vicki: Maybe he was in third or fourth grade, and it hit me quite clearly, I needed to change the way I was labeling him in my mind. I completely changed, I didn't say it was crazy or he was driving me crazy. I changed to, you have so much energy, you are going to go far in the world. This is going to be the very thing that makes you successful, and it really has. Truly. It also changed everything for me. I don't know how much he remembers. When you find better you do better, and you kind of hope that your kids forget the other part. So, I've never really asked him how it made a difference, but I really felt like it changed the way that I was showing up in my parenting for him. So, hack number 4 is to really avoid or at least become very, very aware of labeling and be intentional about changing it if you need to.

Paul: The psychological power of this hack I can't emphasize enough. What you name something determines how you treat it. If you are not sure about that, we had this sweet dog that grew up with our kids. We named her Crystal. We had her for 14 years. I remember, we had a friend come over from another country, and he was petting the dog, but he was doing it in kind of an interesting way. He was teasing us because in his country they eat dogs. Now, we named her Crystal. She's our friend. She's our pet. He might have named her Lunch. I used that as an example because what you name something changes how you treat it.

May I also add as a professional psychologist, let's be very, very careful with diagnosis. I know that there are a lot of legitimate mental health conditions and I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the tendency that we have to throw a label on something and think that we've dealt with it. You can't just call your kid, for example, ADHD or Autism Spectrum, or whatever. No. That's not your child. Your child has a name. You also have labels that you are applying to the child.

Vicki, I think your example is brilliant, because that changes you. It changes how you treat that child and that's why we've made a big deal out of this for hack number 4.

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