High Energy & Physical School-Aged Kids

Parent Q&A

  • 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

    RE: Very physical 6-yo ()


    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. 

    RE: Very physical 6-yo ()

    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. 

    RE: Very physical 6-yo ()

    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). 

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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