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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Temperament: Activity Level

Some children are not action-oriented—they tend to be "sitters." They are happy to sit and play quietly. They prefer to:

  • take the world in by looking or listening; and

  • prefer exploring with their hands (using their fine motor skills) instead of their large muscles (arms and legs).

They can often focus their attention for long periods, working on a problem such as how to get the puzzle piece to fit or how to make the clown pop up. Their interest in the things around them can be every bit as intense as an active baby, but they don’t feel the same need to be up and about.

Other children are movers and shakers. Even as babies, they are quick to roll over, squirm, and crawl. They like to reach out, grab, and bat at the dangling toys hanging from their mobile. They often develop into toddlers who are always on the go, exploring the world around them by crawling, running, and climbing. These movers and shakers:

  • love spaces that offer lots of opportunity for movement;

  • often need a lot of supervision;

  • are likely to keep moving until they drop; and

  • tend to reach out for and touch anything they can get their hands on.

Their activity level doesn't mean there is a problem; it’s just how they prefer to interact, explore, and learn. Their parents may be exhausted, but they definitely stay in shape!

Most kids fall somewhere in the middle. They enjoy running, climbing, and jumping, but they are also happy sitting with a puzzle or a book. They move easily from a quiet activity to a more active one.

Parenting Strategies for a Less Active Child

  • Respect his pace and style. Offer your child lots of opportunities to play with the things that he enjoys—for example, books, dress-up clothes, puzzles, building blocks, toy figures, etc. (And remember, you still need to baby-proof the house, even if he is not moving around a lot!)

  • Add movement to things she already enjoys. Entice your child to move by holding a favorite toy a little beyond her easy reach or by starting to play with an interesting toy a little beyond where she can easily move.

  • Let your child look before he leaps. If your child prefers watching kids on the climbing gym, let him watch. Then suggest trying something together—like going down the slide on your lap. But always remember to follow your child’s lead, and take it slowly.

  • Play hide-and-seek. When one of you is “found,” entice your child into a chasing game.

  • Listen to music together. It’s easy to shift from listening to dancing if the music moves you!

  • Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being a “sitter.” As long as your child gets the exercise he needs and can enjoy a range of activities, then he can be happy and healthy.

Parenting Strategies for an Active Child

  • Offer lots of opportunities for safe, active exploration. Baby-proof your entire home. (Of course, you need to baby-proof no matter your child’s activity level!) Create obstacle courses with pillows on the floor. Play hide-and-seek, freeze tag, and other active games.

  • Don’t expect your child to lie or sit still for long. Let her stand for a diaper change, give her permission to leave the high chair as soon as she is done eating, and allow her to turn the pages or act out the story when you read a book.

  • Engage your child’s help with everyday activities. Ask him to carry spoons to the table, help pick up leaves, and put all of the clean socks in a pile.

  • Recognize that your child will need extra time to wind down. Start limiting active play at least an hour before bedtime and perhaps 30 minutes before naptime to help her slow down.

  • Remember, active children aren’t wild or out of control. They just need to move.




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