I enjoyed your post on children getting overstimulated, but wonder if you could talk a bit about older children. My oldest daughter is 4.5 and while she doesn’t get aggressive with other kids, she seems to get overstimulated even with just one other child on play dates, or sometimes even just with me, with big physical activity. I’ve tried removing her for a little break (snuggle with mom- not punishment) but any attempt to stop her play is met with upset. I think probably the short answer is to limit the time of the play date or activity, but that’s not always easy when we’ve traveled a distance to go to someone’s house or if someone is over to our house. And actually I fear that cutting the activity short will cause drama getting to the car and she’ll perceive it as punishment for her behavior. Any thoughts?
Thanks for writing! One thing that can help kids regulate themselves on a play-date or with big physical play, is to alternate stepping back and watching that big energy, with fun adult-led activities that are quieter. These are no less fun than the big activities, and kids can do them together so you’re not removing her from the situation in any way, but they help to bring children “back to earth,” back into their bodies and able to calm themselves down. This might be you doing a puppet-show for the kids, or telling/reading a story. It could be a project like baking or making a card for someone (two kids together on a playdate can make cards to give to one another), or preparing and eating a snack together. Anything that brings that big energy into smaller, more concentrated energy.
If you find that your daughter or both kids don’t WANT to come down from their hyper, over-stimulated state, then join them where they’re at and start guiding their play to gradually bring it down. One way I’ll do this with groups of kids is to play “Trip to the Zoo,” where we all physically pretend to get into the car, buckle up, drive to the zoo, then we pretend to be each of the animals we see. Start with big-movement animals (cheetahs, kangaroos) and then start bringing it down (elephants, bears, down to snakes or other creepy-crawlies). Then pretend that it’s night-time at the zoo, and the animals sleep. Sing a little lullaby to your sleepy zoo animals s they rest. And then you’re done. The kids get up to play again, but the play will be much quieter and more restrained, because you’ve given them an opportunity to re-set their systems.
Alternating times when kids are free to be as “big” as they want, with fun activities that focus their energy more inward, can help children keep their energy steady and help play dates be enjoyable till the end, instead of ending in tears. I use this idea of alternating big energy with tighter energy when I organize my day with a group of young children, so that they can make it till nap-time without a meltdown. Some of these tighter activities are planned into the day, but I will always have one or two in my back pocket, to bring out whenever the play starts to feel a little ragged around the edges, when I start to worry about children hitting, or that tears seem imminent. The attention turns to me, and the energy in the room zooms into focus.
Does that make sense? With your help in managing energy levels, your child should be able to go through a few of these “waves” of big energy and smaller energy in a single visit, before they’re really tired out and ready to leave. Let me know if this seems like it could work with your daughter!
Warmly, ~Faith Collins
A Note For My Readers: Dear Readers, I realize that I’ve been slow to respond to your questions lately–the past month has been very full with moving permanently back to Denver, and I’m now halfway through my pregnancy! So thank you all for your patience. Please continue to write if you feel inspired, but know that I may take a little while to get back to you. Thanks, -Faith