27 answers

Advice on Very Energetic Boy Keeping His Hands to Himself

Ok, I'm looking for some advice here or maybe just a "you're not alone and it passes" response:) I am the mom of the most wonderful little almost 4 year old boy. He is so sweet, smart, terribly funny, listens very well, kind, shares well, takes turns well, honestly just so much fun to parent. However, he has SO MUCH ENERGY. He never stops moving. Its a joke with my friends how if you ask him to get you something he runs to grab it and runs back to you. He runs everywhere he goes. He has a very hard time sitting still & standing still if nothing is going on. This leads to him always touching other kids! Makes me nuts. If he's in line at preschool he is always touching other kids. Playfully hip checking them or pushing them. It is not done mean spirited at all. His teachers point this out to me, its done in a playful giggle way. He & the other boys are always rough housing and touching each other.

Please no responses to have him tested for ADD. I've researched it and spoken with his teachers, he does not have one sign except his trouble sitting still. He can only NOT sit still when there is nothing to do. He is very focused at school when working on projects, he learns easily, doesn't interrupt people, etc.

My main problem is he is an only child so I can't "catch him in the act" so to speak. I can't discipline him at school, I'm not there. I should point out he's only had 2 days in a whole year where he had time outs for this behavior, its not to an unbearable degree, but it makes me nuts. Today they said he had 3 TIME OUTS because he kept pushing or touching kids, I was so embarrassed. Its only the second time this school year but still. He's been punished, play date for tonight canceled, he cried for 20 minutes about it. However I feel like its a habit sort of thing. I'm not convinced that the post punishment is gonna help him break his habit.

We have a birthday party this weekend. I've already warned my friends I'm gonna be on him like a hawk if he touches the other kids, lol. Its just hard cuz they all play that way, fake ninjas, star wars, you name it. I don't want to make too much out of it, but I want to make sure I'm on top of the behavior as well. He just can't behave that way at school.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

My oldest son is the SAME way!! Does he do it more at a particular time? My son is very touchy when it comes to transition times, so they are supposed to be giving him something to help keep his hand to himself, like Playdoh, Silly Putty, or a stress ball.
Talk to his teachers and find out if there is certain times he is doing it, and suggest at least trying one of the above things.
Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Can you wear him out a little before school, so he doesn't have so much energy? Play out in the snow or walk to school. When the weather is nicer, just get out and have him go nuts, that way he may be calmer in school.

My son now 8 was exactly the same way and my nephew who is 4 is also very much like you described. I remember worrying so much about him. Kindergarten was a little rough, a few trips to the office for minor things and it was never any "mean" behavior. Really minor things like goofing off in the halls and talking loudly in class or being pusshy in line. I loved his teacher, she kept right on top of his behavior and he knew she meant business. He was very smart and ahead of others in class and I think he may have been bored. Now he seems like a completely different kid. Very well behaved sometimes a little too quiet. He is teacher this year seemed a little disbeleiving when I talked about prior issues we had. I don't have advice just letting you know a few years can make a huge difference and try not to stress too much!

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You've gotten a lot of responses already, and I only skimmed them. I work with kids for a living and my second son has sensory dysfunction, so I really felt like I should respond as well. Right to the point, there are some red flags I'd look into so you can help him better handle himself and I'll tell you why. It sounds like it's an issue that is beyond his control, as you described it. Whether it's sensory dysfunction, ADHD, sensitivities to chemicals and dyes in foods/allergy, all those diagnoses include the "symptoms"/behavior struggles you describe, so a professional evaluation could really give you some good insight as to why it is such a struggle for him to control his body. It's hard for us as parents to admit there could be "something wrong with our child", and yet ignoring it or discounting it as typical does not help the child. Trust me, I cried when we went through the evaluation with my second son, struggling with admitting to myself that something was wrong/that he wasn't "perfect", yet reminding myself that it is so important to help him so he's not so frustrated/struggling to function or follow rules! So try to take it in stride and figure out what is giving him a hard time. Put bluntly, him having trouble controlling himself, having an extra hard time controlling his impulses is not "typical boy behavior". Since it is beyond his control (or near impossible for him to control) punishment is not going to work and the longer it continues without helping the underlying issue, the problem can compound to social and emotional issues, meaning he could really get down on himself for something beyond his ability to control (because it feels like a battle impossible to overcome) and peers could get really frustrated by it (and kids are not so gentle all the time when frustrated by another kid or what not). That was my biggest concern with my second son when I had him evaluated, the one who was diagnosed with sensory dysfunction (also called SID/Sensory Integration Disorder as others mentioned). My son is the opposite end of that spectrum since he is a sensory avoider/gets overwhealmed VERY easily, but I've worked with sensory seekers in my career, and my heart goes out to them as well because they can try to the best of their ability to control themselves and it's just near impossible for them. It's very hard on the child, as well as the teacher who needs to CONSTANTLY be on top of it guiding this one child...EXHAUSTING when you have others to teach as well! Yet, understanding their struggle, punishment is not going to help if the impulses are SOO strong. They need other tools to help them control themselves. That's how the occupational therapist has really helped us! My son has been in occupational therapy for a few months (started once a week and is now to every other week) and it has made a WORLD of difference. Friends and family have commented on how much happier he is now because he can regulate his sensory system SOO much better now. Great books I read from the library on it are The out-of-sync child : recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder Author: Kranowitz, Carol Stock. & Sensational kids : hope and help for children with sensory processing disorder by Lucy Jane Miller with Doris A. Fuller. You may want to read those 2 books...the leading books on the topic of sensory dysfuncion (which I'm sure you'll find your son described in the book and smile, as I did), and then bring your son for an evaluation, as it will help him SOO much to deal with it now, rather than pass it off as "normal boy behavior" or "energetic", so the difficulty controlling his body does not frustrate him into emotional issues or social problems in terms of having a hard time keeping hands to himself and what not. I would go for an evaluatuation (either through the pediatrician office or through the school district...we did both and the pediatrician's office route was much more helpful so we stuck with that, but that's with our insurance covering the OT) to enable him to help himself better. As my son was evaluated, all the professionals agreed that working on it early as we were (he was turning 3 when we started with everything in October)makes it possible for him to regulate his system and not need any services/not struggle nearly so much if at all with his sensory dysfunction by kindergarten! Best wishes to you and your son!!!

1 mom found this helpful

Some little boys have such a hard time with this! Your son sounds very sweet and I'm sure he just needs some time and help with this issue.
I would really encourage you to focus on what is ok to do rather than what you don't want him to do. For example, in line, discuss what he can do with his hands - fold them, put them in his pockets, hug himself, drum at his sides.
Also, aside from the fact that rough play is usually not allowed at school, it is important for your son to know the reason for this which is that some children don't like it and no one likes it all the time. It can be scary and invasive and sometimes kids get hurt. He needs to be able to stop himself if someone asks him to and he will need to start learning how to read social cues so that he has an idea if someone is receptive to this type of interaction. This can be very difficult for a preschooler who is still very egocentric. the good news is that most preschoolers are very altruistic and fair-minded. It is sometimes a good start to have him ask another child if they want to play that way (ex: on the playground - is it ok if i chase you?)
try to keep it positive, though. encourage and praise his efforts to respect the feelings and physical boundaries of others. when you see him touch inappropriately, give him a reminder and a chance to practice the behavior you want him to use. discuss the times where he forgets and give him a chance to make ammends. i would try to avoid punishment, though, especially a punishment at home for something that happened at school. there's just too big of a disconnect.
remember, too, that he's learning. it's hard for a kid to differentiate sometimes between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. help him with this. a hip check isn't ok, but is a handshake ok? and when is it ok? as long as it's gentle? as long as he asks first? he needs help figuring these things out. there are plenty of friendly ways he can interact with his classmates and still be appropriate. unfortunately, it will be more difficult for you to help him with this since most of his peer interactions will be at school.
i know a lot of people mentioned si, and his sensory needs are definitely something to consider. before he goes to school or a big party with lots of kids, have him jump or stomp his feet a few times, give him a big squeeze, massage his shoulders, so that he is getting some of the input he may be needing to stay organized.

1 mom found this helpful

He sounds wonderful - he might be a "sensory seeker". Ask your pediatrician about it and in the meantime, google sensory integration disorder and check out some of the signs for SID kids that are sensory seekers (mine is one). It might be so mild that you just need a couple of fidget tools for him to stop touching and as he grows up, he will learn social boundaries. If it's SID, he really can't help it! Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

My oldest son is the SAME way!! Does he do it more at a particular time? My son is very touchy when it comes to transition times, so they are supposed to be giving him something to help keep his hand to himself, like Playdoh, Silly Putty, or a stress ball.
Talk to his teachers and find out if there is certain times he is doing it, and suggest at least trying one of the above things.
Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Maybe talk with the school about giving his hands something to do during down times. For example, having him squeeze play-doh or some other fine motor activity. I have seen that done with students, and it is a positive way for him to be successful. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


I too have what is called "a spirited child". There is no medical reason to question this behavior. It's quite simply energy. I had it. And one of my daughters does.

There is actually a book called "How to Raise Your Spirited Child". I think it helps you feel not so alone in your quest to raise a positive, playful child who is NOT labeled, "ADHD".

We continue to have problems with the "hands to self" rule. We do often also talk about "The Golden Rule". I have to remind my daughter how hip checks, grabbing toys to engage others (to play with her), etc. IS NOT how she wants to be treated. I think this constant reminder of "how would you feel if I (Mom) did _____ to you?" More often than not, my daughter says, I wouldn't like that, you're so much bigger, or it would hurt...this helps me make the point.

We also have the problem with the running, LOUD talking, etc. It has never been a problem at school and no disciplinary action has ever been taken at school. However I FEEL like a mother hawk.

My advice, other than reading that book, is simply, Keep Hand to Self, Follow the Golden Rule and if/when these fail, sit him down - immediately, remove him from the situation, let HIM tell you what he did wrong. I think sometimes for our kids, STOPPING the world for a few minutes MAKES THEM THINK. If all else fails, leave the party/playdate/restaurant. Our children know that "bad behavior" is not acceptable. That children who don't behave do not get special privileges such as dinner out, etc.

Also, you mentioned not being able to catch your son "in the act". Why not? Have a playdate? How does he behave with one friend? What about the birthday party? See how he is in a group.

I have noticed my child seems better with kids older than her since THEY keep her in check. The tell her not to push or "be bossy". With her peers, she needs a grown up to help manage the situation.

Since your child is energetic AND an only child maybe he is also struggling with how to behave without your presence - as in, in a group? Does he play alone at home? Does he do puzzles or have "quiet time" in his room WITHOUT engagement from you? If not, I would suggest starting this practice. It may help him to NOT have attention. I think "quiet time" every day has helped child to step back, slow down and LEARN patience. I think that's part of the process with our "spirited" children - is teaching them boundaries and patience.

Best of luck. Let me know if I can help with anything else.


1 mom found this helpful

He sounds like a normal little boy to me. I have 3 sons and a daughter and 2 of my sons were very active. My youngest son did grow up to have ADHD...the doctor told me for years that he didn't have it but in 7th grade he needed to start medication. The doctor said my son was so smart he was able to control his ADHD in school until he got to puberty. I'm not saying that is going to be the same story with your son. I think what you are doing sounds great. Try having a lot play dates for him where you can watch him and give him guidance on when touching is appropriate. You sound like a great mom and he's lucky to have you!!!!

I realize your concerns about ADD and medicine for it. No one would be more concerned about it than me. Although there are children for whom that is the only solution, I applaud your eagerness to look elsewhere to control your son's behavior. I'm guessing that 'time-outs' are like a torture to him, sinse he doesn't like staying in one place for long. (At his age three minutes is a eternity)!

You could be dealing with an allergy issue. Also, many people are sensitive to the chemicals in the home (cleaning products, personal care needs, etc.). I do have a great potential, natural solution for you that does not involve meds, but has been know to help in many areas, incl. over-active children.
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My son will be 5 this week, and is exactly like your son. He does have sensory processing disorder (sensory seeking), so his body is constantly trying to regulate itself. I'm not suggesting your son has this; just mentioning that this is the reason for my son's hyperactivity and roughness with other kids. I do think, however, that it's just a boy thing really. I see so many other boys this age that seem like adorable little wild animals, my son included. It's exhausting of course, but I really do think it's fairly normal. My son is an only child as well, so I can certainly empathize with the difficulty in socializing them.

My son is very similar. Very high energy and always moving and bumping into thins or people. We discovered that this is because he has soemthing called "Motor Dispraxia" which is a type of sensory processing disorder where the child has trouble knowing where they are in space and formulating how to execute complicated sequences of motor activity. The other symptoms my son had was that he was slightly delayed in dressing himself, eating with a fork, and writing letters (he just turned 4 and it takes a lot of pushing to get him to dress himself or eat with a fork). However, he is advanced in so many other ways, which is why we took him to an occupational therapist to get him tested. There is another type of sensory processing disorder where kids are undersensitive to touch and this causes them to touch and bump into things and people. By the way, it is estimated that about 10% of kids have some type of sensory processing disorder, and it is mostly not caught because most cases are so minor that they don't interfere with daily living. You should search google for motor dispraxia or sensory processing disorder to learn more. I don't know enough to say if this is the case with your child or not, but wanted to suggest you look into it just in case. Feel free to email if you have questions.

I have a friend whose son had the same issues. She started him in a taekwondo class as an outlet for the energy, but also to teach some discipline and how to focus the energy. Maybe you want to consider something like that. You could also try an organized sport; swimming, soccer, basketball.

Also, to me it sounds like he doesn't have a clear idea of personal space. Maybe they can work on discussing that in school as well. It's not uncommon for a 4 year old to want to be "touchy".

Kudos for caring about what your son does away from your care. I know that sounds crazy, but as a teacher I sometimes get the "It's your turn to deal with him/her." response from parents - at least in the undertones.

I am also the mom of an only child boy going through some self-management issues. Here are my theories...

1. We have more time than moms of multiple kids to focus on the details of our only child. This might make their challenges seem bigger. I know I have to remind myself that my son is young, learning how to socialize, and it will come with time and consistency from the adults in his life.

2. I think the days when getting in trouble at school meant you had to really face mom and/or dad at home need to return. I have had so many students who are flippant because they know there will be no long-term consequence at home if they are a monster at school. Now, your little guy is only four, so perhaps just having him be there when you speak to his teachers about his day is all he needs to understand that there is communication there. Perhaps he loses his favorite trains/movie/whatever that night if he hits or pushes at school that day. You know him, you'll figure it out.

All I can say is that we will be glad we spent this time staying on top of our boys when they are teenagers. Hopefully, we are laying a sound foundation for good morals.

Hang in there! It gets easier!

Hi C.,

Many boys are this way, and touching other kids is a big part of how they communicate. Girls learn to communicate verbally at a very early age, where boys are much more physical and develop those skills first. My daughter had many "rambunctious" boys in her preschool class, and they were constantly touching, bumping into, or lightly pushing each other in line, at circle time, at the snack table...I think this is completely normal and he will grow out of it. He has to learn to keep his hands to himself, but might need some help with that. Maybe you could come up with a signal that you and he decide on together, and if you see him touching others at the party at an inappropriate time, give him the signal as a reminder. But if all the kids are running around playing, of course they will be touching each other. As long as they're all doing it, and nobody is getting hurt, you should just let him play.

I to have a son, now 5 who is VERY entergetic and have gotten comments etc. He also has an oral motor delay and for while his teachers were saying his "energy" was related to his speech issues--it is not. It is just there. I used to get embarrassed etc but his most recent teacher told me that the other kids actually fight over getting to play with his as he is so much "fun". Her suggestion to me is to get him enrolled in physically activities outside of school and definitely don't add any camps/classes that focus on the intellectual side of things---she said he has enough of that. I am currently working on that.

Hi C.,
I am a mother of three wonderfully energetic boys too. I totally understand the star wars, ninja play combined with a heavy dose of wrestling that inevitably ends up as trouble...lol
To some degree, I believe you simply need some productive structure with relation to personal boundaries with your son incorporating rewards rather than consequences, however, I would also encourage you to ask yourself these questions: does your child play video games? if so, how many minutes/hours daily? how much television is your son allowed each day? are there any dietary considerations such as amounts of refined sugars?
Again, I am a mother, just like you and totally understand your predicament. Additionally, I am a family coach. My webiste is www.stepshelp.com if you'd like further information.
Best Wishes!

Hi C.,
I'm sure I'm going to be the odd one out when I pass along the advice my Mom passed onto me when I called her....BOYS WILL BE BOYS!
I have two boys and I swear I spend my days saying no fighting or keep your hands to yourself! My husband and I have been very clear with our rules (respect of others space, no fighting, no killing each other, etc..lol) but it is what it is! I think some children have more energy or maybe it is more of how they develop, I'm not sure. Either way stick to your rules, be firm and it will all work out in the end!
Best Wishes to you and your little ball of energy!

Welcome to the world of boys! Not saying they are all like that, I have 2, one serious and there to learn and one who is here for the party! I think you are handling it right. Keep on him, keep reminding him, and when you go to parties and other places, talk to him before hand (not to far before hand) about what will be happening and what you expect of his behavior. Afterwards, tell him how he did and be sure to pick out something that he did well and tell him how proud of him you are. Discuss the areas that he needs work on.

I know first handthat being a single mom is not easy. This will take time and depending on the support or lack of that you get from his father it may take longer than you want. Four year olds are smarter than we give them credit for and maybe this will be an opprotunity for the both of you to work together with a chart or whatever works to get him to see that his behavior is not appropriate. Prizes for good behavior work great and they don't have to be big.

I hope this helps. God bless you!

My son will be four in a week and I have to tell you he is very energetic. He sound just like your boy. I always say to his teachers in preschool boy I hope he doesn't act like this in school. When I go to pick him up he is so hyper. I always joke with them about what they feed the kids at snack time. His teacher says food in general makes all the kids energetic. I suppose we cn't starve them. Just kidding. I just try to give him lots of running, wrestling, and boy play like ninja's, sword fighting and starwars when we play together. If he gets too excited and out of hand we stop play and make sure he knows why. Then we switch to Little people, rescue heroes, planet heroes or legos. Boys at this age are still trying to figure out what is acceptable behavior. They are so much more physical than girls that I think the winter is really difficult as they aren't able to get out and run. I don't know if I helped at all but it is nice to read all the responses because now I don't feel like my kid is crazy!!!

Can you wear him out a little before school, so he doesn't have so much energy? Play out in the snow or walk to school. When the weather is nicer, just get out and have him go nuts, that way he may be calmer in school.

Do you have a chance to have playdates? Is he like this with one other child or is it in a group setting? It might be that he's just that way when he's around lots of kids or maybe just during transition time (lining up, cleaning up, etc.). I found that making my child aware of their schedule helped lots with transitions. I even had a picture schedule for him to look at every morning.

other than ime outs that don't work with kids like this first of all talk to your pediatrician about his aggressive behavior and another way is to watch how much sugar aand red food color and also point out to him every time he hits someone he is hurting them and ask him if he likes to be hurt . the one thing i learned from this is that my son didn't like to be touched so when the kids got in his space he did n't like it this is also at the age i found out he is adhd and started bringing him to a behavioral health therapist. it worked wounders because she worked with my son and the school and me to make a consistancy on discipline for behavior like this .i am a single mom and techers can't tell you weather the child is or is not add a doctor needs to give you that advise my son use to do the same things at that age and it took people not inviting us places to something about it . he hyper active and if he has allergies watch the food you feed him and the ability to sit will in crease kids with adhd can focuse when doing things when they are kept active and are very smart but people think they are dumb and they are not they just learn diffrently than other children if you want to know any more about adhd go to healthtalkers.com or to adhd websites it helped me alot

Hi C.,
I haven't read all your responses but wanted to add something I've learned. I don't feel punishments in the evening (cancelling the play date) will help your son learn about behavior happening during the school day. It's separated by too much time for the lesson to connect. I know you've probably done it thousands of times, but you have to discuss that behavior at school is different than other times and ask the teachers who are there to handle it. He'll catch on eventually. I would keep up the play dates and use those as a teaching tool. Good luck!

My son now 8 was exactly the same way and my nephew who is 4 is also very much like you described. I remember worrying so much about him. Kindergarten was a little rough, a few trips to the office for minor things and it was never any "mean" behavior. Really minor things like goofing off in the halls and talking loudly in class or being pusshy in line. I loved his teacher, she kept right on top of his behavior and he knew she meant business. He was very smart and ahead of others in class and I think he may have been bored. Now he seems like a completely different kid. Very well behaved sometimes a little too quiet. He is teacher this year seemed a little disbeleiving when I talked about prior issues we had. I don't have advice just letting you know a few years can make a huge difference and try not to stress too much!

Oh my, this sounds all too familar. I have a 5 year old daughter who also touches EVERYTHING and literally goes non-stop until her head touches her pillow at the end of the day. She has set off fire alarms b/c she just cannot resist touching that button. While I have not had her evaluated I feel that this behavior comes from SID, Sensory Integration Disorder. There is all types of information online and some very useful activities to help your child channel that energy into appropriate ones. My daughter also touches other children but in particular it is directed at babies and toddlers. Most parents are very understanding but not all, and understandbly so. I have not had her evaluated by an OT yet b/c she has improved with age and while I personally feel that she shows signs of SID it does not impact her speech or fine motor abilities like serious cases of SID can. We have been working on this on our own here at home and she has come a long way since her toddler days when transitions were a total nightmare and she was very particular about her clothes, especially her socks. To this day she will NOT wear denim, has to be cotton or fleece. Hang in there, I hope this helps!
Here is a website I like but you could google for more:

I work in a school and one of our kindergarten teachers starts the school year with a 'hips and lips' rule. Whenever the children are in the hallway they put one finger on their lips (like shhh) and the other hand is on their hip. This way they have to keep their hands to themselves and the finger on their lips reminds them to be quite. About half way through the year we don't see it as often bceause by then they are pretty well trained. Maybe your son's teachers could try this for the whole class so as not to put too much focus on one child.

Have you looked into a Sensory issue? My 3 year old has some sensory issues, sensory seeking to be exact, and receives OT. He is constantly crashing, banging, bumping, pushing, etc into people and things. He has low tone and seeks input from objects he touches to have an awareness of his body. Just something to think about.

My son is the same way. He uses touch to communicate. So I make sure to use touch (hugs, pats, etc.) to communicate my love for him.

It sounds like he's learning how to interact and positive reinforcement of the right ways to touch will help. I'm sure your son has a good heart, just needs to learn when to play rough and when to be calm.

There may be some non-punishment ways to help him learn.

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