family dancing

How Active Are You?

When do you feel the most relaxed? When you can be actively involved in a project? Or with a group of people who love to explore outdoors, or the city? Maybe you are most relaxed if you can take a leisurely stroll, or better yet, find a nice place to sit and watch nature?

What if you are feeling stressed? Do you try to find something to do to release the stress? Or do you look for a quiet spot to chill and destress?

These are all examples of your temperament trait of activity. Activity consists of how fast or slow you prefer to go if nobody is telling you to hurry up or slow down.

Activity or energy is found on a spectrum, ranging from those who are naturally terribly slow and like less active situations up to those who would love to dance all night in a crowded party. Of course, you may be in the middle some place, enjoying times of high activity and other times of low activity, just kicking back.

Your child is the same way. His temperament trait of activity is a blend of you and his other parent, plus some environmental factors that may have affected his brain development. This means that you may be a good fit for him, each wanting to be on the go, or enjoying just doing board games or other more still activities. Or, you may have a poor fit, where one of you is high activity and the other is low. The same goes for his other parent.

When you talk about goodness of fit, you are describing how easily each of you can accommodate to the other’s style of response to situations. In the case of high activity, it would be the need to expend internal energy. If you are high activity, you feel energy building up within you often. This then means that you must find ways to use that energy that does not disrupt the situation you are in. If you are low energy, you need to plan or schedule down times to recharge for the next energy depleting activity.

These accommodations are easier for you to do as an adult than your child can, since you get to make the decisions. To help your child, you need to determine if he is high or low activity, or maybe more of a midway active child. Then you must consider where you are on the activity spectrum to understand when you may need to be somewhat uncomfortable for the needs of your child.


If your child is low activity, he will feel as if he is running when you see him as barely walking. Asking him to hurry up, will lead to a small increase in energy, but he will quickly tire out. He will then begin to ask for a break to rest. If you don’t allow it, he will begin to whine and cry, eventually falling to the ground. Getting mad and yelling at him won’t help since your emotions simply drain his energy faster.

This is where you are the adult, who can delay gratification longer, needs to bend. Give him the first rest. Then set up one of these possible strategies:

  • Ask him how long he thinks he can walk until he needs the next rest. Then go that far and ask him if he has any more steps in him or if he wants the rest now. Keep doing it until you get where you are going.
  • Make it into a game, based on his interests. For example, have him pretend to be one of his favorite characters and to be that character for 5 minutes of walking.
  • Have a race to the next stop point. He needs to beat you, but you need to make sure that you are only moving slightly faster than he is and allowing him to win if he stays close. Then be excited to see who will win the next stop point.
  • For getting dressed, have a race, where your mouth makes the clock ticking sound as you both try to put on a piece of clothing first. If he is working hard at it, let him win. If he begins to stall out, you can encourage him a bit that he is doing well, but if he continues to drag, have the clock tick faster and finally go off with you winning. Then you get excited and say (after a rest, of course) you wonder who will get the socks on first (or if he is terribly slow, one sock at a time).

These strategies can be modified for different activities, like chores, brushing teeth, eating, etc. As he can tolerate going a little bit faster, and maybe having shorter breaks, you can encourage him to go a little bit faster yet. You don’t want to stress him too much, since that will drain his energy quickly and put you farther behind on what you are trying to do.

He will always be more comfortable at a slower pace, but with patience and practice on your part, he will be able to increase his tolerance in short bursts and learn to build in down times to recharge as an adult.


Although it may sound odd, many of the same strategies can work with high activity children but with the focus on taking more time and going slower. You will have to be a model of pacing, and when it is time for a break, you want to let your child be more active.

  • Before you start any activity or chore, have your child do some running in place, some jumping jacks, or other activity to lower his internal energy.
  • If you need him to walk some place, like from the car into the house, or a store, make a reverse race out of it. To do this you let him know that you want to race, and that the winner is the one who gets there LAST! Start side by side, and after you say go, have a continuous conversation about how each of you is doing in the goal of getting there last. If he gets ahead of you be excited that you are winning. If you get ahead of him, act frustrated at how good he is doing. If he has been working hard at staying as close to even or behind you as he can, allow him to win. If he is unable to slow down long enough, you can go ahead and win, but then say excitedly that you can’t wait to race him again.
  • For chores or homework, you need to break the activity down into parts. Then focus on getting it down the best he can, not the fastest. You may want to develop a checklist of what is expected when the activity is done right and check off what he has done and what he needs to work on. For example, on a worksheet, he needs to put his name at the top, he must number his problems, he must show his work, etc.
  • In between parts of a chore or homework give him 5 minutes of activity time, so he can expend the energy that has built up. If you don’t, he will have more difficulty completing the next task with a slower, more detailed focus.

Your high activity child will always need to have additional outlets for his energy so he can do what he needs to daily. But with your help, through modeling and support, he will get better.

As a summary, the temperament trait of activity is inborn, frequently inherited, and neither good nor bad. Your child, if on the extreme ends of the spectrum, may need extra attention and support to gain control over it for different tasks, but it can be done with your love and guidance. And you may also learn how to control your activity also.

If you are interested in an in-depth look at 3 factors of children and adolescents that can create positive or negative futures, check out my program, Never Assume: Know Children Before Labeling Them.

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