When Your Child is Wild

Some children have LOTS of energy! If they don’t literally hang from the chandeliers, buy they certainly do so figuratively – running around, shrieking, and maybe even being a little destructive in their impulsivity. While they may be happy, their parents are not. Parents of Wild Ones are always trying to figure out ways to calm their youngsters down.

If your child is wild, consider the following tips:

Excessive Energy is All Relative
Toddlers and pre-schoolers tend to have lots and lots of energy. Their wild behavior is actually normal for their age group. Since they are not yet totally socialized – that is, they don’t know the rules of proper behavior – they often follow their impulses. They’ll open cupboard doors, throw things around, experiment with whatever they find – not because they’re naughty, but simply because they are normal, inquisitive, small kids. However, this same kind of behavior in an older child may actually indicate the presence of a developmental disorder. For instance, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can cause wild behavior in both children and teens. Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, bi-polar depression and other syndromes can also lead to wild behavior. Of course, mildly wild behavior can just be a personality issue; a child may just be very active and a little impulsive without having any biological condition of concern. This latter kind of wild behavior should respond well to the interventions below. However, if it doesn’t, then speak to your pediatrician. A proper assessment may be helpful.

Avoid Negative Labels
Don’t call your wild child a wild child! Labels like “wild,” “destructive,” “immature,” and so on, have a way of sticking in the child’s brain. The more a parent calls a child “wild,” the wilder that child will tend to be. Labels affect self-concept and self-concept leads to behavior. Therefore, even when correcting a wild child, use words like “calm,” “restrained,” “slow,” “careful” and “self-control.” For instance, a parent can tell a child who is running madly and loudly around the house, “Jason, you need to go slowly, carefully and quietly right now. Please calm down. Use your self-control.”

Minimize Attention to Wild Behavior
Don’t get wild yourself! Speak quietly and slowly to a wild child – lower your voice. Your intensity can accidentally reinforce wild behavior by giving it too much attention, whereas your restrained and calm demeanor can rub off (a little, anyways) on your youngster.

Use Emotional Coaching
Let your child know that you understand his feelings. He wants to run around and enjoy himself. Show him that you understand that by articulating his feelings (i.e. “I know you want to run around now.”). Avoid using the word “but” after you speak his feelings (i.e. “I know you want to run around now but it’s making a lot of noise.”). Using the word “but” is akin to saying “I know you want to do this, but I don’t care!” Put a “period” after your acknowledgment and start a completely new sentence if you want to give your youngster instructions. It might sound like this: “I know you are having fun running around. You need to settle down now and play more quietly.”

Use the CLeaR method
Reinforce positive behavior with the CLeaR method. When your child plays normally and is not wild, make a comment to show you noticed his behavior. Then give him a positive label (and perhaps a reward) to reinforce such behavior in the future. A sample dialogue would be, “You’re walking slowly and carefully.” (Comment), “That’s very mature of you!” (Label), “You can play outside for a bit longer today because I see you are working on your calm behavior!” (Reward). 

Use Discipline (2X-Rule)
In the 2X Rule, the child is told to continue a behavior (in this case, being too wild.) Then if the child continues this behavior, he is warned that there will be a consequence issued the next time he ignores the warning. For instance, you might say, “You need to play quietly and calmly. If you continue to run around, you will have to sit in a chair beside me for a few minutes until you have calmed down.” When faced with a consequence, children are more likely to think about what they are doing before they do it. You can find more information on the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can improve behavior. For a wild child, you can use the flower remedy Impatiens (for kids who race around). Chestnut Bud is the remedy for kids who act this way over and over again with no sign of improvement (and also for those who engage in dangerous and destructive activities). For children with too much energy, try the remedy Vervain. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy (to prevent the development of bacteria). The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior should improve permanently.

Wait
Many “wild” children outgrow this behavior as they grow up. Even children with ADHD whose hyperactivity is wired into their brains tend to become fidgety, rather than racey, as they mature. However, many wild kids are not suffering from hyperactivity, but rather immaturity. Their condition simply improves as they mature. However, if your child is ten years-old or older and still very wild, consider consulting a mental health practitioner for assessment and treatment ideas. It is possible that social skills training may be helpful.

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