10:18 AM

Strategies to Cope Better.

by M. Ranard, M.Ed.
700 words

Do you need reminding what a high energy child looks like? I can help. As a parent, it was a struggle to cope with our youngest son, the poster child of “high energy volcanoes.”

Intense, passionate, over-sensitive, moody, and troubled by transitions, he was the toddler who required every tag cut from clothing, ran away at age three in Pullups and red galoshes, and once drove my mother to the brink of a nervous breakdown with a deafening crazed tantrum from hell in a minivan.

Even though I am a highly patient and positive parent, I found myself frustrated beyond words that my efforts did very little to change his difficult behavior.

Snapshot of a High Energy Child

These kids tend to have:

 Difficulty with transitions
 Difficulty with boundaries
 Intense emotions

They are sometimes called “explosive,” “difficult,” and “high maintenance.” Psychologist Linda Budd wrote Living with the Active Alert Child: Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents and refers to this unique temperament as “the active alert child.”

Active alerts “find it difficult to let go of control, to deal with the intensity of emotions, to admit mistakes, to see a disagreement from another's perspective and to slow down to gain another's perspective.” They feel criticism more harshly and blow their mistakes out of proportion.

High energy kids pose a challenge to even the most patient parents. During the most turbulent years with my son, the advice I encountered more than any other was “be more patient and consistent.” (There were also plenty of unkind comments from other parents of the variety “Wow, just wait til he’s a teenager!”) However, there are additional strategies beyond simply that lip service which may help you cope.

Nurturing Strategies

1. Frame the Issue as a Family Matter. Budd’s approach to help focuses on tackling the subject from a family perspective rather than singling out the child as a “problem.” She suggests that for these children to feel more in control, they need more of the Three R’s: routine, rules, and rituals. Budd points to the positive personality traits associated with active alert kids such as intensity, intelligence, and activity—traits which may serve them well in adolescence and adulthood.

2. Don’t Assume You’re a Horrible Parent or Alone. I recall nights trying to fall asleep when I felt like I was the worst parent in the world because all day long I had put out fires, scolded, given time-outs, and yelled in frustration. It helps to talk to the parents of other high energy kids. You are definitely in good company.

3. Help Your Child Develop Coping Skills. To help an active alert child cope, parents can "assist the child in developing internal coping resources so that when she makes mistakes or doesn't know all the answers she will still feel okay about herself." One of the ways parents can powerfully nurture such development is to teach the attitude "Oh, well, mistakes can happen to anyone."

4. Keep in mind What Your Child Needs Most. Budd believes there are four elements to a child feeling parental love: Security, Protection, Importance, and Respect.

5. Understand Your Own Temperament. In Raising Your Spirited Child, longtime expert Mary Sheedy Kurcinka refers to high energy kids as “spirited.” She explains that understanding how your temperament matches with your child’s is key to living more peacefully together and appreciating the positive qualities their temperament encompasses.

6. Teach Skills to Recognize Triggers. Kurcinka says parents of spirited kids need to teach them skills to recognize their triggers. In this way, they learn to cope and communicate what they feel. Parents can also help kids see their temperament is to be valued and that it will serve them well later. In the mean time, their intensity can be channelled into a positive outlet.

7. Read Books on the Subject. There are excellent sources which will encourage you and help you feel there are active steps and changes to make in your thinking and discipline which will ease this burden. In addition to the two mentioned, Ross W. Greene’s The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children (2010) offers an excellent collaborative problem solving approach.

M. Ranard has a husband, two children, and a master's in counseling. Visit her at


Budd, Linda. 1993. Living With the Active Alert Child: Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents. Parenting Press.

Greene, Ross W. 2010. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. Harper.

Kurcinka, Mary S. 1998. Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Energetic. Harper.

You Might Also Like