Everything You Need to Know About High-Energy Kids

Kids have plenty of energy and managing said energy can be a real challenge. Read on to learn more about high-energy children—and how you can cope.

three children running in park
Photo: Getty

Whether you have one or know one, there's a good chance you've met a high-energy kid. These children tend to be active. Distractions like books and the TV rarely work. They play frequently and, on occasion, roughly. They (seemingly) know no bounds. And high-energy children need stimuli. It is integral to their development and growth.

Of course, some people struggle to manage (and parent) high-energy children. They are regularly branded "difficult," with their behavior being seen as "unruly" or "problematic." But high-energy children are just built differently. There is nothing wrong with having or being an active kid.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about having a high-energy kid, from how to deal with it to why some kids have so much energy.

Why Do Some Kids Have So Much Energy?

Kids have worries and problems just like adults do, but most of the time, the situations they find themselves in don't require the same amount of energy to solve. As parents, we worry about making sure our kids have everything they need to be safe, healthy, and happy. Navigating the constant chaos of school, practices, work, and household chores take a lot out of us. Kids, on the other hand, well, they save up all that energy to explore the world around them.

Genuine curiosity

When you're a toddler, the world is your oyster. Everything is new, shiny, enticing, and at your fingertips. There are also many unfamiliar things, i.e. there are new sounds, tastes, touches, sights, and smells; and yes, children want to get to know their surroundings all at once.

"The world is very stimulating for 2- and 3-year-olds and they love to explore," says Kyle D. Pruett, MD, clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. Being so stimulated can cause children to "act out." However, children at this age—and even older—are just curious and exploring their surroundings. They are attempting to take in all the things.

Exploring the world

Once your kid explores all the world has to offer, they may take it an run—literally and figuratively. "Toddlers and preschool-aged children don't have the self-control or cognitive ability to stop doing things they enjoy," says Susan J. Schwartz, clinical director of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at the New York University Child Study Center. This means that no matter how many times you've played hide-and-seek today, they'll always be up for one more round without getting tired. What can we say? They know what they like!

Attention span

Some children seem "high-energy" because their attention span is lacking. This keeps them bouncing from one thing, thought, and/or activity to the next without restraint or pause. They keep going and going in an effort to fill their time and cup. And while this is particularly common with younger children, others may experience this as well—especially those who are neurodivergent and/or on the spectrum.

How Can You Deal With an Active Child?

While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with an active child, there are a few things you can incorporate into their lifestyle to help them burn off their extra energy.

  • Set limits. While it can be difficult to set limits with high-energy children, it is important—for both you and your little love bug. Speak calmly and slowly. Make your expectations known (and clear) and be transparent. Let them know there are times when they can be more active than others. School, for example, warrants focus. Play, on the other hand, is a time when they can "act out" and be themselves. But you will encourage and foster their exuberance and creativity at all times in age- and setting-appropriate manners.
  • Offer unstructured playtime. While certain types of play can help your little one develop their social and/or fine motor skills, planned playtime can be hard, particularly for active kids. High-energy children tend to have a hard time focusing, for example. Getting through structured activities is (well, can be) a challenge. For this reason, you should try introducing unstructured play. This way, they engage in activities that interest them and spend more time and energy playing than letting it get built up and become a source of frustration.
  • Encourage physical activity. Physical activity is great for high-energy kids. Why? Well, from running and jumping to skipping rope and climbing trees, being active can help your little one focus. It also helps your child burn off excess energy and can be a healthy part of their day-to-day routine.
  • Be conscious of sugar intake. Not giving your kids cookies, candy, and ice cream before bed is a no-brainer. But even if you limit the sugary snacking, some may be more sensitive to sugar than others. If you notice your child has a high energy streak, regularly, after a sweet snack or dessert, take that into consideration next time they enjoy a sweet treat.

Why Do Many Toddlers Appear to Be "Hyperactive"?

Overly active (or "hyperactive") toddlers can be a handful, and while there are things you can do to curb their high energy, it's important to consider why your child is behaving the way they are. Many factors could be at work, including:

Stress and other emotional issues

One way kids deal with stress is by trying to do a ton of other things at once. To some adults, this might sound like an all-too-familiar coping mechanism.

Not enough exercise or sleep

As a parent, you've likely experienced the insanity that is a burst of unexplained energy, swiftly followed by a meltdown with your kiddo when they miss their nap. Being overtired can push them past their normal limits for a short time, but once their energy crashes, they crash hard. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep for their age group.

The opposite is also true. A child doesn't have an outlet for pent-up energy for an extended time, but once they do get going, they'll keep going like the energizer bunny. While too much exercise too close to bedtime can impact their ability to fall asleep, make sure your kiddo is getting plenty of time to move.

Possible undiagnosed ADHD

It goes without saying but not all high-energy kids have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. This condition affects approximately 8% of the adolescent population, but millions more are considered active or high-energy. Still, if your child's consistently high energy level is paired with other regularly occurring symptoms like inattention and/or impulsive behavior, it may be worth mentioning it to their pediatrician and/or health care provider.

What Are the Best Toys for High-Energy Kids?

While there is no singular toy that is best for high-energy kids, some are better than others—and the best toys give them an outlet for their energy. Here are a few types of toys.

  • Toys that encourage movement. Whether it's bouncing, biking, jumping, or rocking, toys that get your kids moving and grooving are great, as they help them release energy and stress. Bonus points if these are things that can be used inside and outside, like rocking horses, crawl tunnels, or even indoor/outdoor trampolines.
  • Fidget toys. The market is hot right now for fidget toys, and there is something for everyone. Giving your child something to hold their attention and allowing them to have different sensory experiences is a great outlet for their energy.
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