Between chasing down her little brother, turning the living room upside down to create a sofa-cushion trampoline for turning somersaults, and dragging you around every square inch of the playground, it may seem like your little one never stops moving. "Everything is new to preschoolers and they are completely excited," says child psychologist and play therapist Linda Budd, Ph.D., author of Living With the Active Alert Child. "That's the joy of a child this age—you get to rediscover things you've long since taken for granted."
Although this zest for life can be infectious, it's also important to help your child learn how to switch gears when it's time to eat or take a nap. So how can you calm her while still encouraging her curiosity and imagination? We asked the experts.
Plan Lots of "Up" Time
The easiest way to keep your bundle of energy from whirling out of control is to organize activities that get her on her feet and moving regularly throughout the day. In fact, experts suggest that preschoolers should never be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when they're sleeping.
"If you have a little one sitting down for an hour, you'd better be ready for an explosion!" says Dr. Budd. "I'd give my kids a big bucket of water and some paintbrushes and let them 'paint' the outside of our house with water." Other brilliant ideas: bouncing on a mini trampoline, playing pitch-and-hit with a soft Nerf ball and a Wiffle bat, or building an indoor obstacle course.
Engage His Busy Brain
Preschoolers can also benefit from fine motor activities like using kids' scissors or working on a wooden puzzle. These quieter activities can be "alone" time too, something parents should encourage, says Anne Douglas, author of The Mother of All Parenting Books. If he can learn to entertain himself, he'll also be better able to calm down when you need him to, she says.
In places where your little one simply has no choice but to sit still, like in the car or at the dentist, engage his creative energy, says Dr. Budd. Take along a book or try a game of "I spy" to keep him from getting squirmy.
Being overtired can actually cause kids to ratchet up their activity level, says Parents advisor Judith Owens, M.D., director of sleep medicine at the Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. "Many preschoolers get a burst of energy before bed, right before they realize they're sleepy." Aim to get your child to bed no later than 9 p.m., with at least 30 minutes of wind-down time built in. A calm bedtime routine will help her sleep longer and more soundly. The result: more manageable energy levels the next day.
Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Parents magazine.