How can I get my active toddler to sit still?
My 10.5 month-old boy is constantly moving. I mean, CONSTANTLY. He doesn’t stop going until he breaks down in tears for a nap, bottle or food. He doesn’t actually sit and play with toys, he goes in laps, gets to a toy, maybe chews it for a minute or bangs on it, then moves to the next thing. He pushes his toys around, but won’t do things like stack rings or put shapes in holes. We do baby music classes and the other kids (same age) will sit nicely on their mothers’ laps and clap and play along. Not him! He’ll scream bloody murder if I try to hold him on my lap. He’d rather be pulling up on chairs or crawling/toddling in laps around the room. Am I expecting too much, too early? Or is there a way to make him sit still a few times a day? Should I be worried that nothing will hold his attention (besides walking)? Is he going to be like this when he’s five? Because if so, God help me. – Exhausted in St. Louis
There’s no real way to know whether this is a phase, or a temperament. You won’t know until you’re looking back on it: Either this period will be the beginning of a narrative about his intense exuberance or he’ll emerge as a placid big kid and you’ll only vaguely remember some hectic moments early on. It sometimes seems like the pre-ambulatory period is particularly frustrating for a kid who likes to move. Once he has more control of his physical faculties, he may feel less need to flail in all directions at all times. Then again, he may, literally, take off running.
It’s very easy to get into worrying about how things will develop and whether this or that is a warning sign of who knows what. But at this point, there’s no reason to stress about your son’s behavior as a permanent state of affairs or a harbinger of things to come. What you’ve got right now is an active toddler. No more, no less. And what you need now are practical solutions to make your life easier. So:
• Go with the movement rather than against it. Find situations where your kid’s disposition is an asset. Or at least in sync with the environment. Take him to a tumbling class, or a big open space instead of a place where you’ll be constantly trying to contain him. Get him some force toys – maybe some things to push and pull and pummel. Or even chew. Put some cushions on the floor. (Despite our most valiant intentions, we’ve both relinquished adult ownership of our respective couches to provide cushioned landing sites for toddler diving.)
• Keep an eye on his behavior and see if any patterns emerge. Food, sleep, environment, noise level, social situations . . . there are tons of factors that can affect kids’ behavior. If you notice that he seems particularly riled by certain things or at certain times, you may be able to tweak your day to encourage slightly more controlled periods of mania and periods of calmness.
• Try not to compare your kid to others. All kids are different. If you’re constantly trying to fit another mold the floor of your patience will drop right out from under you. And looking at other kids might distract from figuring out what your own kid is needing or not needing.
• Find some kids who are more like your kid. They’re out there, believe us. You may not see them in music class, because their parents have realized that trying to sit their kids still for forty-five minutes is a recipe for high anxiety. Try parks, playgrounds, sports classes. Or just listen for the mother in the park screaming, “Oscar! Nooooooo!” as a little blaze of snaps and overalls shoots towards the street, howling with glee.
It doesn’t sound like you’re particularly concerned about your son in any medical sense, nor does it seem like you should be. Your pediatrician is a good resource to gauge what’s reasonable to expect developmentally at any time. You might want to run your observations by the doc at the next visit. But from where we sit – nervously perched, ready to spring into action at any time – what you’re experiencing sounds well within the range of the extremely active side of normal.
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