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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet

The restless and excitable child: for parents, carers and anyone who work with young people


The restless and excitable child: for parents, carers and anyone who work with young people

About this leaflet

This is one in a series of factsheets for parents, teachers and young people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up.

This factsheet looks at the reasons behind why some children are more restless and excitable than others and suggests where to go to get extra help.

Introduciton

  What makes children overactive?
Young children are often restless and excitable. Their noisy liveliness is usually just a part of being young. Although it may be tiring, it is usually nothing to worry about.
 

Sometimes youngsters may be so active and noisy that it makes life difficult for their parents and other children. A child like this may be demanding and excitable, and chatter away nineteen to the dozen. They may be noisy, may not do as they are told, and will probably find it difficult to sit still. Adults may say that he's ‘hyperactive’, but the trouble with this word is that professionals use it to describe extreme, and sometimes dangerous behaviour, such as running out into a busy road.

 

 

 
There are many things that can make a child overactive. The following should give you some guidance as to the reasons for your child's behaviour. Finding the reasons may help you to come up with some solutions to combat the problem.
 
Being a parent
If parents are unhappy, depressed or worried, they tend to pay less attention to their children. They may find they can't spend the time they need to help them play constructively, or they may find that when they do play with them, they spend a lot of time telling them to be quiet. Children learn from this that they have to be naughty or noisy to get any attention from their mum or dad.
 
No clear rules
It is important to have simple rules about what is allowed and what is not. If two parents are involved, they both need to agree about the rules, and be consistent and fair when they say `no'. This will help the child to know what is expected and to learn self-control (see Factsheet 2 on good parenting and Factsheet 4 on behavioural and conduct problems).
 
Temperament
We are all born with different temperaments. Some children are livelier, noisier and more outgoing than others. They may prefer going out and being with other people than quietly reading a book or playing with toys by themselves. Quite often, children who are active like this are also excitable and may go over the top while playing. Although this can be a nuisance, it is nothing to worry about, but you may need some help in finding ways to help your child calm down.
 
Learning problems
Some children find it hard to learn things that other children find easy. They may need special help at school. They may seem quite young for their age and find it hard to concentrate on work or control their behaviour as well as other children (see factsheet 10 on general learning disability).
 
Hearing problems
Glue ear is a common example of a hearing problem. If a child has glue ear, they will find it hard to hear what other people say, will tend to shout and may want the television turned up very loudly.
 
Food
Some children do seem to react to certain foods by becoming restless and irritable. This is not as common as some people think, but occasionally, it can be a real problem.
 
If you are concerned that your child is affected by attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or hyperkinetic disorder (hyperactivity), see Factsheet 5 on ADHD and hyperkinetic disorder for further information.
 

How can I get my child to calm down?

 

Where can I get help?

Try to make sure you spend time with your child on their own, so that they know you are interested in them. This will give you the chance to plan and praise.

Plan

Spend time with your children doing something they enjoy. Get into a routine and plan what they are going to be doing for the day or the weekend. It is helpful to arrange to have friends to come and play, (encouraging their social development) and gives you a break when they are invited back! It is also helpful to engage them in regular activities such as football or trampoline sessions, cubs, brownies etc. because this gives you a chance to meet other parents who can provide an informal support network. You can also make clear times when you expect them to play quietly on their own.

Praise

Take every opportunity to praise your child. Be as clear as possible. It is vital that they understand exactly what they have done to please you. For example, “you've been playing so quietly on your own … what a good boy you are” or “what a good footballer you are”.

 

 

Lively, excitable behaviour is a common problem for parents. Your health visitor will be used to giving advice about this. If there seems to be a problem with your child's hearing, or if there seems to be a reaction to foods, your general practitioner should be able to help and refer to a specialist if required.

If they think that there might be a learning difficulty or a hyperactivity disorder, they will refer you to a clinical psychologist, paediatrician or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) (see our factsheet on CAMHS).

 

Kate talks about her 7 year old

Ron was my first son. He was always a lively energetic one, even as a toddler - early to walk and run. I could not keep up the pace and would feel exhausted running after him. It drove me nuts.

 

When he was 6 I met Linda, his classmate’s mum. She told she had same difficulties with her son, but then she attended a parenting group and it was really helpful. She said it took some time, but it was really basic and it made all the difference. I agreed to give it a try.

 

At first I didn't think the group was for me as I found it difficult to talk to strangers about my difficulties controlling my child...but I soon it was OK. All the parents had had similar experiences. Just talking to others made it feel much easier. I was not shouting at Ron “stop it” all the time. I was more tolerant, I praised him when he ate his breakfast and gave him a hug. It seemed all calmer, even Ron seemed to notice the difference. He seemed a happier child, listening to me. When I wanted him to really do something, I would just look at him, speak to him calmly and tell him what to do, in simple words. No long explanations. Just few words and it worked. So simple.

 

Ron loves his evening time before tea on his bike while I walk the dog. I feel it has worked out well … just in time.

 

Further info  

References

  • Family Lives - Parentline offers help and advice to parents bringing up children and teenagers. Helpline 0808 800 2222.

    Positive Parenting - Organisation has a useful website offering training, resources and literature.

    Further reading

    Stallard P. Parenting Pre-School Children, How to Books is a useful and practical book.

    Webster Stratton, C. (1992): The Incredible Years: A Troubleshooting Guide

 

The Young Mind: an essential guide to mental health for young adults, parents and teachers. Edited by Bailey, S. and Shooter, M. (2009)

Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2008) 'Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry' (5th edn). London: Blackwell Publishing.


Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Education Editorial Board.

Series Editor: Dr Vasu Balaguru

With grateful thanks to Dr Kate Gingell.

This leaflet reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

© March 2012. Due for review March 2014

 


Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our FAQ for advice on getting help.

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