High energy toddler- activities, advice?

Hi parents, 

I have a very active, high energy, almost 2 year old son that I’m at a loss with. It feels impossible to constantly entertain him (I’m a SAHM and pregnant). We go to a gymnastics class weekly and a soccer class (although we’ve had to leave 10mins in every time). 
He won’t follow instructions like all the other younger toddlers (touch head, simple soccer instructions). He just wants to run around and kick the ball, take other kids props, etc. 
It feels like all the other kids I see can follow directions and don’t act absolutely insane like my kid. He eats very well, sleeps very well, and is overall sweet and happy. 
Does anyone have activities/classes/suggestions for entertainment for a kid that’s literally trying to bounce off the walls? I feel desperate and discouraged. 

Thanks for reading. 

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Check out the book "There's no such thing as bad weather", which is about the Scandinavian parenting philosophy of letting your kid play outside all the time.  It was really inspiring, the book's title comes from a saying in Sweden that there's only bad clothes, no bad weather. I think if the kid is bouncing off the walls, the kid should be outside, rain or shine, playing in nature, or the back yard, anywhere outside, until dark. Nature is soothing and will calm down overexcited children. Children slow down to observe and hear things.  Check out the book, it's really compelling! 

Hi there,

I just wanted to say that we are in a similar situation and we too find it discouraging to see how easily other kids are following directions while our son is just his spirited self. I congratulate you for reaching out to the community. I’m sorry I don’t have much advice, we just try to keep up with him as best as we can and concentrate most of our energy on behaviors we need to change to keep him safe and others out of harms way, I.e. teach him that he must hold hands when walking down the street, not running when we tell him to stop etc. , not throw toys when mad etc etc. 

I hope you’ll get the support you need!

I wanted to respond because I feel for you so much! My oldest son was just like this! I remember taking him to a kid's library class a few times and finally giving up because he wouldn't do any of the activities and just wanted to move around. I ended up just taking him outside as much as I possibly could and letting him run around, kick a ball, whatever, we just spent a ton of time outside. I didn't even necessarily entertain him, I just took him out and let him run. As he got older we looked for new things he could do outside to burn energy: bikes, scooters (a pogo stick just recently). I also found that when he got a little older he really loved swimming lessons, which are a great way to burn tons of energy, and getting in the water is the best feeling when your pregnant if you even just want to go swimming with him (I was also pregnant when my son was two). Don't give up hope! My son still has loads of energy (he's 7) but he can play outside with friends now and loves athletics, both of which really help, and he's really well behaved in class and doing very well academically. Just to say that it gets easier, and even the highest of energy kids can mellow with age. 

Do you have a baby-safe "yes space" area in your house where your child can play without you? I would encourage you to explore not entertaining your son constantly at home. If you put out safe toys in a safe space and leave him alone for short periods of time while you are doing an activity nearby, he will likely learn to play for short periods by himself. 

I have found Janet Lansbury very helpful for understanding my active boy toddler. Here is an article she wrote on independent play:


My son was like that at two and is still kind of like that at three.  Sometimes just going regularly helped - but some stuff we also just didn’t do. I also really liked swim class!  He couldn’t go anywhere else, and I was with him to make sure.

He probably liked kids gyms best - because he could just run from activity to activity without being confined to one thing. Not a class - but he burned a lot of energy.  The one we went to hasn’t opened again with covid.  But I promise  you’re not the only one whose kid doesn’t follow instructions in class.  I think a lot of us just don’t take as many classes/wait until they’re older.

I have a now 4 year older who is very high energy. He has always needed to be out of the house, running around keeping busy. I’d recommend the Oakland Zoo, parks and playgrounds, Fairyland, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, and Little Farm. Even if we just go out on neighborhood walks or set up backyard play dates he is much happier since he can be active outdoors. Indoors he’s always needed lots of hands on attention and monitoring, although he started more independent play around age 3. I hope this helps!

He doesn’t need organized classes. Some ideas: Take him to the park and play chase or kick a ball. Try a new park each week.  Teach him “red light green light”. Go on nature walks looking for flowers or pine cones. Get a balance bike or scooter and head to an empty parking lot. Local beaches in Alameda or Richmond with sand toys. 510Parents website has great ideas for local parks or other free activities. As a mom of a now 3 year old very active boy the key is just keep them moving ideally outdoors with plenty of wide open space. Good luck!

My favorite phrase is “when they’re bouncing off the walls, remove the walls”. I have two very high energy kids who not just don’t follow directions but will actively do the opposite. I never bothered with classes. We just go out to nature or playgrounds. Everyday. For 2-3 hours in the morning and 1-2 hours in the afternoon. Yes it is exhausting (especially while pregnant!) but I’ve found it to be nourishing for me too, particularly the time in nature. Find a trail or a wide open space where they can run freely. During the week trails are a lot less busy than on the weekends. 

This was *exactly* how my son (now 6) was when he was 2 years old and I felt similarly discouraged at the time. Soccer at that age would never hold his interest for longer than 5 minutes before he was kicking other kids’ soccer balls in all directions or running off to chase a bird or hide behind a tree. But just know that this is just completely normal, typical 2-year-old behavior, and everything is a phase! I found that play-based activities were perfect for him at that age. We absolutely loved Montclair Community Play Center’s toddler program classes. It allowed him to bounce around and explore so many different activities at his own pace/interest, but also introduced him to a little bit of “circle time” and snack/story time (all of which he participated in for like 2 minutes before he was off running to do something else, but would gradually stay longer as he got older). The program teachers there are warm, welcoming, and have seen it all before. Highly recommend for active, curious toddlers! 

I have the same exact kid! I’m also a SAHM and pregnant. My 2.5 year old son is also very sweet, etc. but never stops moving his body. He literally climbs our walls and furniture regularly. It’s hard to direct his energy in a safe way. It’s exhausting.

I don’t have any solutions to share at the moment, but I’m writing in solidarity.

What gymnastics class do you take him to? I’ve been wanting to find one.

AquaTech Rec swim. We bring some of our own toys- pool is nice and warm. Two can be a little young for formal classes but a rec swim is great. 

With a very active toddler, runner, climber...we found music class (and music in general) had a huge calming effect!  We enjoyed Rockin Kids Sing-along classes with Ms Stephanie Pepitone.  She’s fantastic! https://rockinkidssingalong.com

Under 2 years old is a little young for a soccer class, so don't despair that your son doesn't know how to participate! I would definitely take a high energy child to the park at each and every opportunity. My friend used to take her high energy son to the park and encourage him to run back and forth trees to "tag" them. She invented games that made him run A LOT. Also get a toddler trampoline at home to burn off restless energy. They have ones with a bar that is just the right height for preschoolers to hold on to and jump up and down. Lastly, changes to his habits might help with the energy. No screen time (we had to do that with our high energy, big emotions boy), no sugar/juice/dessert. Feed him healthy meals and snacks at regular intervals, no grazing all day. Keep up the regular naps and bedtime. And if you decide to go to another soccer class, take him to the park and have him run around a bit before going into class, and definitely make sure has a good, hearty, low sugar snack before he goes, see if that helps.

Oh wow, I really feel your pain. I could have been writing this 2 years ago, we went to the same types of activities and I felt all the same things you did about my kid being the only one who was acting this way! For our kid, in retrospect, 2 was too young for gymnastics and soccer, he'd probably be ok with it now but it was tough for him to do such structured things at that age. Music Together was also a fail. He did better with stuff that had no structure, anything with big trucks and sand, and any sensory type stuff - water tables were amazing, water beads, and we let him play with larger pasta that he wouldn't swallow, like rigatoni. We spent a lot of time outside just letting him get messy with things and it seemed like those were the only things he could do for long periods of time. Playgrounds with sand were our best friends. MOCHA was also great for a huge variety of art projects. For us it got a lot better at 2.5. Hang in there!

The best thing we ever did was buy a jogging trampoline.  The bigger ones (like 5') have a nicer bounce than the smaller ones. Throw a tablecloth and a big tray on it and it doubles as a coffee table.  It's not an activity like soccer but it sure burns up toddler energy.

Oh, I’ve been there! My son would be running in circles while other kids sat and played. Two is so very young but soon your son will probably follow directions better and perhaps find a sport he loves! My son started playing ice hockey at 4, played soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, basketball etc. He’s now 25 and coaches hockey and an ideal day involves a run, workout, golf, biking, snowboarding and so on. He’s still the same happy, active guy he was at 2. It was definitely exhausting and I spent a lot of time in ice rinks and watching sporting events when I’m the artsy type but it’s worth it to see them happy. So I suggest getting some breaks for yourself and keep trying different activities as he gets older till you find ones that work for him. It will get easier! A happy kid is a real blessing! 

As far as classes go, I'd try Music Together. The expectations for kid participation are low but adults are expected to participate and this modeling often encourages kids to engage too. There is a no running rule, which my energetic kids struggled with sometimes, but that's about it. The music is fun, engaging and they use their whole bodies in the class. Sign up is open now for classes starting middle of September.

At home, I'd try and let him play as much as possible on his own, though I know he'll want you to play sometimes. It's okay though to but entertain him all the time. High energy, big movement toys that have worked well for us are sit and spin, stepping stones, Bilibo and Teater popper. 

I know it's exhausting, especially pregnant. Good luck!

Hi! A friend of mine was a foster parent (she's retired now).She said that high energy kids need to play outdoors daily, after breakfast. It can be a park or a backyard. The kid or kids can get their energy out. She pointed out that lots of nannies are also at the park after breakfast, mainly for this reason. After lunch the kids nap well. Sometimes the kids have to go play again before dinner, again to get their energy out daily. Sounds like a lot of work but it's what she said worked best for her and the high energy kids. Hope this helps! 

I don't have the answer to your specific question, but my kid is also almost two and there is NO WAY she would follow directions in a class. There are a lot of developmental leaps around that age so maybe those other kids are a teeny bit older and/or have already taken those leaps. You just sound worried in your post, and if you're worried about your almost-two-year-old it means I have to worry about mine...and I'm not. Everyone is fine. And BLESS YOUR HEART--stay at home mom to a two-year-old and pregnant is NO SMALL FEAT. 

I feel like that's very normal behavoir for a child that young. Don't compare him to others, he may just have a high need for activity which is perfectly normal. We generally expect too much from children. I would recommend activity with no rules. Just outdoor time to run around and get into things. If you have trouble with other parents then take them to places where there are less kids. The Redwood Grove in Joaquin Miller park for instance (just trees and sticks). Let him explore and just follow. See how it goes.