Understanding Temperament: Activity Level

Temperament Matters

Do you have children who never sit still and seem to be constantly on the go, even while doing homework, eating dinner and watching TV? Or, do your children prefer a more quiet lifestyle, like reading instead of bike riding and strolling through the park instead of running through the fields?

Every person is born into this world exhibiting his or her own unique temperament. How much activity or energy a person generally exhibits is one of the ten temperament traits we all possess and is a contributing factor in helping to make every person a unique individual.

Your temperament is inborn and defines how you respond to the world around you. While these traits are ones that will remain consistent throughout a person’s life, there are certain skills and techniques that you can use to help you and your children manage those traits that can be more challenging.


What is Activity Level?

Activity level refers to the amount of physical motion your children have while doing activities.

Some children seem to be born with a lot of energy.

  • In fact, often in utero, they demonstrate high activity with lots of kicking and moving.

  • In the crib, they squirm and move around so that they are never found in the same place where their parents put them.

  • When they begin crawling, they are all over the place.

  • Growing up, these children run, jump, and climb a lot.

  • Even sitting at the dinner table can be a challenge for children who are highly active. They seem to need to fidget and squirm just to get out their energy.

Conversely, other children seem to enter the world in a much quieter state. Their energy output is much lower and when given a choice of activities, they often prefer those that are less active and more calm.


How can you determine your children’s activity level?

Determining your children’s activity is easy. Chances are if you have children who are highly active, you are already well aware of it. If you are not sure, it helps to try to track their energy on a scale from one to five, with regard to the following questions:

  • Do your children seem to be moving all the time?

  • Do they have a hard time sitting at the dinner table or waiting patiently for something?

  • Do your children have difficulty sitting during long car trips?

  • While sleeping, do your children move all over the bed, getting entangled in blankets?

  • Are your children attracted to sports requiring lots of movement, like soccer and bike riding?

  • During habits of daily living, like brushing teeth and getting dressed, do your children move all over the place rather than stand in one spot?


No                                                                                      Yes

1                       2                     3                      4                    5

Quiet                                                                         Very Active


High Activity Children

boy jumpingIf the majority of your responses are “yes” and fall at the right side of the scale, then you have children who can be classified as “very active,” temperamentally.

This means that your children have a need to move, fidget, and wiggle. They also tend to get very excitable when doing things.

Being highly active is not all bad or all good. Depending on the children’s environment and your temperament, active children can either fit in well or face some challenges.

Often, children with high activity level excel in athletics. As adults they often do well in competitive careers and in jobs that require movement rather than those that involve sedentary activities.

Active children need outlets for their energy. In order to set them up for success, you can:

  • allow time and space for movement in your children’s daily routines. For example, when selecting chores, help your children choose ones that involve gross motor movement, like vacuuming, walking the dog, or cleaning up the yard.

  • when on an outing, if there is an option to take the stairs instead of taking the elevator, do that.

  • walk to a destination when possible rather than driving.

  • If you have to drive, park the car further away from the entrance to allow for lots of movement before entering a store.

  • Help your children to identify when being too energetic is inappropriate and teach them strategies for calming down.

Low Activity Children

boy in hammockIn contrast, if most of your answers are “no” and fall toward the left side of the scale, your children are temperamentally less active.

These children seem to move slower, prefer to sit more and often choose activities that do not involve a lot of physical effort.

Less active children also need more time to complete tasks. This information is helpful to know when assigning chores or tasks around the house or when planning outings. However, you may need to step in to set limits or give guidelines on when things need to be completed.


Things Parents Can Do

  • Understand that activity level is a part of your children’s in-born temperament.

  • Use positive words to describe your child’s behavior.
    Avoid negatively labeling your children’s activity levels as “hyper,” “wild,” or “lazy.” More positive re-frames would be to think of them as energetic or calm.

  • Acknowledge your children’s temperament.
    Help them to understand their own temperament.

  • Teach children self-help skills.
    For example, you can teach them how to calm down when their activity level is high or how to get going if their energy is too low.

  • Teach calming techniques.
    For some highly active children they can calm down by taking deep breaths or counting to 10. Others may need to have an outlet such as doing jumping jacks to use up their energy.

  • Use early intervention.
    With high activity children who tend to become overly exuberant, stop the behavior as soon as you see it starting. Notice the behavior, become calm yourself, give your child a signal that he needs to calm down, and then intervene if necessary.

  • Recognize that some of this high activity is out of your child’s control.
    This may be due to poor impulses, not deserving of punishment. Instead, teach your child skills to help him calm himself down. You can have a cooling off period when you insist on a more quiet activity.

  • Low energy children need encouragement to get themselves going.
    This can include doing jumping jacks or some other physical activity. It might help if you make a game of it and do it with them.

  • Redirect your child to other activities.
    An active child will need activities that will calm him and a low energy child will need activities that infuse energy in him and thus increase activity level.

  • When necessary, set limits on children’s behavior.

  • Praise your children.
    Everyone likes to be recognized so remember to acknowledge when they complete jobs and are successful at tasks.

  • Learn to work together.
    Understand how your temperament fits or does not fit with your children’s temperament and create strategies to help each other.

  • Send messages that will help your children appreciate their unique being and help them to feel good about who they are.

  • “You like to learn by using your body.”

    “You can find places that are appropriate to be so energetic.”

    “You can calm down when you need to.”

    “I appreciate your calm/active nature.”

    “You can learn to manage your energy.”


For more information about temperament, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka The Difficult Child Understanding Temperament by Schick The Challenging Child by Greenspan

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