High Energy & Physical School-Aged Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi, my kiddo is differently wired with dyspraxia, sensory processing issues, and some related issues. He needs to get very vigorous exercise starting early in the day every day or his behavior becomes really hard. He cannot do any group sports like soccer because he can’t follow the rules or what other kids are doing, but we really want him to be involved in a regular physical activity that he’ll enjoy and where he can develop confidence in his physical ability despite his challenges with fine and gross motor coordination. He is extremely resistant to doing anything, and we’ve tried “ninja warrior” and swimming, and are struggling to find other options. We are in Alameda and would love to find something here or in Oakland. Thanks so much. 

    Your son sounds similar to my 8 year old son who has hf asd and sensory processing disorder. He got diagnosed at 3.5 years old and has had occupational therapy since then which has helped greatly. He still goes once a week and they’ve helped with finding ways to help him self regulate and get his needed input. We also have put him in multiple sports over the years which he also was resistant to and still is, but was trying to see if he would enjoy any of the activities. Most recent was skateboarding and martial arts both of which he wanted to do, but now on hold to take a break. Pallen’s Martial Arts in San Leandro has been amazing in understanding his special needs. A reward system has helped greatly in getting him to participate. We’ve implemented many over the years all depending on his preferred activities which have varied over time.

    In 2020 we got him a small indoor gym since we weren’t allowed to go to the parks. Although costly we were able to use our FSA to pay for it since it was related to OT. We bought ours from Fitness Kid https://www.fitnesskid.com. It was hard to assemble, but we did it after 2-3 days. The instructions were like the ikea kind with pictures and in Russian. None of the parts were labeled which made it difficult. I’m sure there are other gyms as well. We had a trampoline when he was younger and large balls he could sit and bounce on in the house. We also bought a swing and attached it to his gym. While I’m always trying to find physical activities outside of the home to also help facilitate socializing with peers, I’ve found that starting with home solutions have helped him regulate to even get him to go to these activities plus the reward system. 

    Also, check out E-sports which has many locations in the Bay. I’m still waiting for them to come back from being on hiatus from covid. They’re inclusive and created for kids with special needs, but also neurotypical kids participate. Its not competitive and they don’t care if the kids don’t follow rules. They want the kids to participate at their own pace. I missed the Hayward soccer spring season and hoping they’ll do basketball soon in Oakland. https://e-sports.org

    Best of luck!

    Have you tried Athletic playground in emeryville? I have not yet but am thinking about it. Looks like they have parkour and acrobatics for that age but also have play/open gym if parkour would be too challenging. Friends of mine go there with their neurodiverse kids and feel it’s a very supportive environment. 

    I liked parkour at Kids N Dance in Oakland for my 6 y/o. Teacher Beverly was so supportive and positive with kids of all ability levels and they cheered each other on. She’s not there anymore but if anyone hears of her teaching somewhere else I’d love to know. It felt almost like a super fun group OT session  :) 

    Hope you find something great for him!

    Pogo stick for around the house and backyard. Make a game out of it -- how many jumps in a row?  Can he go from one end of the yard to another, or back and forth.  Look up pogo stick trick videos on youtube.  I assume you don't have room for a backyard trampoline?  Can you take him to a skate park in the mornings with a razor scooter, if not a skateboard (and make games out of that too)?  I mean, if he doesn't like rule-based programs, you are going to have a hard time with an organized activity, at least for now.  You could also try setting up your own makeshift ninja course in the garage or backyard with a mini-trampoline, pull up bar, mats, climbing ropes etc (yes, we did this).  Time it, change it up.  Also, what about singing?  Find songs he likes and play those loud and sing while trying to exercise (or just sing).  Finally, find a movement OT program and try that.  They may have insights into muscle groups he is lacking and how to strengthen those with far reaching effects for his confidence.  Good luck

    -Been there

    I'm wondering if the swimming you tried was competitive / swim team, lessons, or just playing in the water? If you haven't already tried it, maybe consider letting him go swim purely for fun? I also have a differently-wired, very high-energy kid around the same age. He won't do lessons or compete in anything, but he LOVES to swim on his own terms, and it really wears him out. Maybe join the Alameda Swimming Pool Association so you can take him to swim during family swim times? Another activity our kid likes is climbing. You could inquire with local climbing gyms about a private introductory lesson to see if it's a fit. Good luck. It can be so hard to meet the needs of these kids, but so exciting to find something that gives them that confidence boost (and gets them tired)! 

    Hi. My now young-adult son fits the description of your son. He enjoyed mixed martial arts and eventually excelled at it which boosted his confidence. I sought out a dojo with a friendly, warm atmosphere that had a play-based approach to the younger kids and general positive team-based vibe. It's in Redwood City, so far for you, but I would imagine there is something similar in Alameda or Oakland. I would avoid dojos that are military in vibe or approach (e.g., pledging allegiance to the flags, punishment for arriving late, any shaming behavior at all) or competition focused. Good luck finding a fit.

    How about cycling?  My kid isn't a team sports guy but in middle school he got into Bike Life, which is basically riding around doing wheelies, going on ride outs, and a little bit of long distance and BMX.  Now he's a gym rat and into power lifting.  These are both pro-social activities, get kids out of doors (well, the biking anyway), let them show off skills, and are individual sports  without a lot of rules and competition.  You could also look into Trackers or something like it.


    Have you considered gymnastics? Bay Island Gymnastics is right over the Fruitvale & High Street bridges, across from Home Depot. A dear friend, whose son has dyspraxia, has reported really encouraging progress in him as a result of his (mostly solo) gymnastics experiece.

    Wishing you and your son much success.

    A repetitive type of exercise was really beneficial for a few kids I've known (including my son) with sensory and other issues. Doing the same motion repeatedly helped them self regulate. Some examples: kicking soccer balls, shooting street hockey pucks or balls, or batting from a tee into a net. Or, hitting buckets of golf balls on a driving range or into a net. I had the impression that the repeated impact with the ball was important to the sensory experience. A little instruction could help a beginner get started, or maybe someone in the family has a sport they enjoy and would share with your kid. We bought a pop-up practice net from a sporting goods store that held up well when my kids were the same age as yours. It didn't require as much space as I would have thought and did a good job of protecting my garden and the garage windows.

  • My seven year old needs a punching bag

    (4 replies)

    We have a lovely, high energy, seven year old boy who asked for a punching bag for his birthday. He used to do martial arts but no longer and he really enjoyed it there. Can anyone recommend something we can get him so he can get his energy out in a safe way? He doesn’t have an aggression issue, just too much energy. I don’t think he needs a bag like the boxers use to train...maybe more like a bean bag? Anyone else have a high energy child and what did you do for them to let out steam?

    I recommend a trampoline, either the small indoor kind (about 4 feet across) or the larger outdoor kind. Our son regularly does several hundred jumps on the small trampoline if he is feely antsy.  At first, we would ask him to do it, but now he initiates it if he feels like he has extra energy to expend.  We also let him bike and walk around the block on his own starting at around age 8-9 which is very helpful.  Having a watch and being able to use it to come home on time are the critical prerequisites for that freedom.  Good luck! 

    How much physical exercise is your son getting? I suggest turning that energy to something productive (and tiring) like joining a local swim team. Daily swimming will use up energy, give him the chance to excel at a sport, keep him fit, introduce him to new friends, be part of something fun and active. It’s year round, co-ed, multiple ages, body positive, social, focuses on personal improvement, introduces competition and discipline in a good way. And it’s a lifelong sport. Seven is a good age to begin. 

    Not a punching bag rec, but every couple of months we go on a balloon volleyball binge with our energetic son.  He blows them up and we pick a couch or a bed and have at it.  Nothing’s gotten broken so far and it’s a fun time and more of a workout than you would think.  We also found fake snowballs this year around Christmas - not cheap, but also tons of indoor fun (Amazon may still carry them.). 

  • My young second grader is spirited, bright, and challenging in the classroom. Specifically, he has trouble with impulse control, overreacting, and following rules he thinks are stupid (many things fall into this bucket). If you've had positive experience with a professional therapist, counselor, or other professional, I'd love to hear about it. 

    Kaiser Richmond offers a parenting series in 4 week sessions, rolling starts throughout the year. We have taken it and found it useful for reframing the challenges with our kids, who present pretty close to out of the range of normal.

  • Very physical 6-yo

    (3 replies)

    Hi all,
    I'm looking for ideas on ways to handle interpersonal problems arising for my very tactile, kinetic, physical son. It's not that he is aggressive; in fact, he's an unusually loving, easygoing kid.

    But he expresses positive feelings very physically which gets him into trouble with his schoolmates, most of whom are not eager to have their 'bubble' breached. This behavior takes the form of enthusiastic hugs (often from behind), charges, tackles, gentle pushes, pokes and tickles, handholding, picking other kids up, and on one occasion, pulling a little girl he admires into his lap. Because he is friendly, kind and funny he seems well-liked, but most kids are understandably a bit wary around him and often show obvious ambivalence or resistance to his physical overtures.

    His physical nature doesn't normally express itself in a hostile way, except sometimes during rivalry with an older sibling when he feels frustrated or slighted. He is strong and has managed to cause his sib injury on a couple of occasions. Also at home, since weaning him at two I continue to have a time of it keeping him from being too 'handsy' around my breasts. Hugs are fraught. He also loves to throw things--rocks, sticks, etc--not aiming at people but often carelessly and ill-advisedly.

    We have, along with his teachers, tried redirecting my son's behavior, encouraging him to ask permission before touching, use his words to compliment or invite play (he's also very articulate), shake off annoying behavior, etc, with limited success. Lecturing him leaves him crushed.

    He is precociously active in sports, often playing them with older kids and well-coordinated in that context, albeit somewhat unaware spatially in others.

    Any suggestions for encouraging a bit more gentleness and respect and channeling a very vigorous, dynamic, lively boy into somewhat  more disciplined ways would be very welcome, whether through parenting techniques or certain physical activities (he is most drawn to basketball, baseball, and soccer and loves to dance if not following a prescribed set of steps).

    Gymnastics, perhaps? I feel he is not ready mentally and emotionally for martial arts and they might render him lethal!

    -Mama of a bull in a china shop

    Your son sounds a bit like my boy at that age (mine is now 9 years old). Sports are definitely the way to go -- and seems you're already doing that.  My son plays organized basketball, baseball (some seasons only batting practice w a great coach and affordable price at Wheelhouse), league soccer, and lots of flag and touch football in the park w his dad and neighborhood kids (we got him the real "flags" to be worn for Xmas one year, which greatly enhanced the fun of this very physical game). We too have been wary of martial arts for fear that he might grow especially good at fighting(!); however, so many friends have recommended it for boys like ours that I may give it a try soon -- if we can find any space in his schedule given all the sports teams/activities. Needing to push/pull/squeeze often indicates a "sensory issue" -- nothing wrong w that. Therapist advise giving the kids "heavy work" to do (check online for ideas). Ours seems to enjoy gardening that involves lots of digging (he has his own shovel) and grass cutting -- w a push mower and also a weed whacker. So go ahead and have yours prep the ground for an August/late-summer planting.  Similarly, I've gotten my kid yoga sandbags (check on Amazon; we have 4 of them): make an activity of going to Home Depot to haul 2 big bags of sand back home (no need for a shopping cart!), then fill the sandbags and have your kiddo tote them around the house (build a small fort, make a bunker for army men, play strongman/Hulk by having him lift two bags over his head -- carefully! -- repeatedly until he's pooped [like a dumbbell shoulder press u might do in a gym workout]). He might also enjoy lying on the floor and having you place the sandbags on his shoulders or sitting in battakanasana and having the bags placed near his hips and/or thigh -- like in a yoga class.  Hope these ideas help: my kid has greatly benefitted from this stuff and really enjoys being athletically inclined and physically strong (he's most often picked first or second for schoolyard games, which has greatly helped his self-esteem). 

    Sounds like you are doing a lot of great stuff! I would also put a lot of effort into providing a lot of praise and positive regard when your son is more physically gentle and regulated to balance any lectures and time outs. Everyone especially kids thrive on constructive praise and it provides a lot of incentive to do it right so they get more. 

    This may already have been done but maybe an ADHD evaluation would help?

    Finally, maybe work with an occupational therapist or some such to give your son ways to dispel energy without disrupting others in the classroom. 


    I would recommend enrolling him in various after school sports such as a soccer league, that keep him physically active. Tae kwon do or Karate is something that he might like. Martial arts not only helps channel all that energy, it also builds self control. Most instructors are very strict about self discipline. Your son may really benefit from it. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

6-year-old too rough, loses control, hurts his friends

April 2006

We need some help with our 6 year old son. We have had some trouble with him since he was little with hitting other kids (and pushing, etc.). Not much more than other children do, but he was bigger than most of them (he is large for his age still), so he would sometimes hurt them. I was, of course, horrified every time it happened. This situation did get better  with a strict "no hitting ever" policy with swift repercussions (leaving wherever we were, taking away of privileges, etc.). While I say it is much better, it is still an issue, even at 6. Sometimes, esp. when he is around his friends, he just seems to lose control. We are constantly having to reprimand him (put that down, don't play so rough, stop running, get off the chair, etc.). And not just one time, but over and over again. Now, what has happened is that this uncontrollable behavior is now becoming the thing that defines him. It has gotten so bad, that he is no longer allowed to play with one of his friends because his friend was hurt the last time they played together, and his mom is afraid for him. Here's the worst part: when I explained to him that he would no longer be able to play with his friend, I told him that it wasn't because he was a bad boy, it was because his friend's parents and his parents decided that they didn't play well together. I did tell him that he played too roughly for his friend. Well, then my son said, Mommy, I think you're wrong about me, I think I am a bad boy. He had said that before (worrying that he was a bad boy), but never in quite the same way that seemed so sad and as if he was resigning himself to the truth. Another incident has happened since then and he said it again. I explained to him that it was his behavior we were unhappy with and that I know that in his heart he is a good, sweet, gentle and loving boy, but that he needed to learn how to be gentler with his body. He kept crying and saying, "If I keep doing bad things, I must be a bad boy". So, here I have a 6-year-old who is already questioning himself! I feel like the worst mother on earth!

All that said, I have just spoken with someone at the Ann Martin Center and it sounds like a great place (that is also somewhat affordable) for us to figure out what is going on. I wanted t see if anyone has some similar experience with them that they might share. Or, if you have had a similar situation with your child and had some other advice or recommendation to share, that would be fabulous too! I am completely distraught and losing sleep over this and don't know what to do! I really hope someone can help.

I don't have any experience with the Ann Martin Center. But your son clearly needs an assessment by a neuropsychologist to see what is going on. He could have a sensory integration problem where he literally does know how hard he is doing things. He also could have impulse control issues or problems detecting social cues. If the center doesn't work, try Quest in San Ramon. They are outstanding for this kind of thing. Bite the bullet and spend the money now, your problems will just escalate and his self-image will deteriorate. In the meantime you might try reading ''The Out-of-Sync Child'' - an excellent primer on the topic. anon

I can't speak to Ann Martin's Children's Center, but I can tell you I was the same sort of child your son was. I liked to play very rough, even too rough for most boys (I was a girl). When I found someone who liked to play as rough as I did, someone always got hurt. And I thought I was a bad kid because of it. What my parents did was get me involved in lots of sports so I would have an outlet for (some of) my energy. I did swimming year-round, an hour a day when I was 6, up to four hours a day in high school. I played Little League and soccer, did gymnastics, rode my bike everywhere, climbed trees, went running with a friend and his father, etc. I wasn't always so rough after that because I spent a lot of energy in more constructive ways. High energy isn't bad

Distraught mother - I can certainly understand how terrible this must be for you. Any parent would feel distraught in your circumstances. I have heard good things about the Ann Martin Center, but they were in relation to tutoring for dyslexia and reading issues, so I can't speak to their abilities to help with your issues. One suggestion (if you haven't already done this) would be to call your pediatrician and describe the issues your son is having. He/she should be able to give you a recommendation or referral to a behavioral pediatrician that could assess your son and provide recommendations. I hope you are able to get help soon. Don't blame yourself - you are doing the right things - most importantly getting help for your son whatever it takes. Empathetic mom