Overactive toddlers

Question: My son is 33 months old, but he is totally out of control. One day last week he awakened at 5 am and went to bed at 11:30pm, no nap. He is extremely active to say the very least. I have not control over him at all. We had to leave church yesterday, because he was running circles (literally) around the speaker. I was then chastised by one of the children’s church teachers for not making him behave. Part of me was offended that she even commented on my child, part of me knew she was correct. I have tried time outs, spanking, distraction and a host of other things. My pediatrian says it is too early for him to be diagnosed as ADHD. I think the problem is parenting. I have read everything from SEar to Dodson and everything in between. Any suggestions?
– Maria

Answer: First, take a deep breath. Since you’ve already read all the parenting books, it sounds to me like you have to settle in to a consistent parenting style that feels right to you and works successfully with your child.

Step 1: Don’t worry about ADHD and stay in the moment. Solve each problem one at a time. For example, when your son wakes up at 5:00 in the morning, explain to him that he cannot get out of bed until the sun comes up. It’s still night time. If he needs to have a tantrum because he’s frustrated by that option, that’s ok. Give him a few books or a stuffed animal and let him know you’ll be back when it’s day time.

Similarly, at bed time, it isn’t his choice what time he goes to bed. It is his choice if he falls asleep or not. He may lie in his bed with books or a stuffed animal. He may sing to himself but he may not get out of the bed (or, if you choose, out of his room). Decide his bedtime (whatever you choose, make it no later than 9:00). Stick to a predictable routine that helps him to transition from the busyness of his day and reaffirms that you love him and are looking forward to great things tomorrow. If it takes two weeks to teach him your new expectations, so be it. Surviving a few tantrums and nighttime testing is far better than medication. And he’s ready for a little more structure in his day.

Now, onto the “running circles” around the speaker in church. If you think about it, you had to leave the church anyway, so wouldn’t it have better if you left as soon as you realized your son was not going to act appropriately? Maybe he was bored. Maybe he just had a lot of energy. In either case, you agree that your son needed to be stopped. So, you could give him a clear and firm message that he needs to stand next to you. Typical of most children, they do not comply because running is a whole lot more fun. So, you go over to him and bring him where he needs to be. What happens next? He starts tugging away, pushes, pulls, and the behavior start to escalate. You communicate your disapproval and you go outside where he can regroup. You take the next month of church services to teach him how you want him to act. If he’s a very active boy, you can start slowly and build up to a long church service, praising his efforts along the way.

Step 2: Build confidence in yourself. It’s never easy to be judged about your parenting. Let’s assume that others, especially teachers, want to help. Ask them for any tips they can give you. Ask them to intervene if they see you struggling. Watch and see what works for others. But remember, you know your son best. If you do not like someone else’s style, don’t feel obligated to do it their way.

Step 3: Rebuild confidence in your son. He is only doing what he was able to get away with. Start fresh together. He will be eager to please you and to follow the rules you set for him. I’m sure he’s great little guy!

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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