What's the 'Wild' Behavior All About?

Child jumping on couch

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

I just read your blog about the child who becomes very quiet the first few weeks of school.   I have the opposite problem.  My spirited son becomes very hyperactive on the lead up to school and in the first weeks back too. All his emotions become extreme. If he is happy or excited he runs around making noise, becomes reckless with toys so that often they are broken. If he is sad, or angry about something it’s all screaming, yelling, stomping and trying to argue the point at the top of his voice.  This sort of behavior is always common just in that 2-3 week period on returning back to school. Can it be explained and how can we manage it?  ~Amanda

Dear Amanda:

This is a perfect example of needing to look behind the behavior to discover the “real” fuel source.  When your son is whirling around the room unable to focus, it is an indication he is in the “red zone.”  The challenge is that children do not always demonstrate the same behavior in the “red zone.”  Some go into the “shut down” mode, which is what we described in our last blog post.  But this is not the only response.  Other children instead of “shutting down” go into,   “I’m ready to fight mode.”  This is what you’re seeing. The blood is in his muscles.  He needs to move. He’s prepared to dispute any point.  But underlying both of these frustrating and puzzling reactions is the SAME emotion – anxiety. 

So how do you make it better?  The strategies are the same.  Recognize he is feeling uncomfortable and will feel much better if he knows what to expect.  Whether it’s a school, child care center or any other new place or event take these steps to help him stay in the “green zone” of calm energy. 

  • Visit the building before the first day.
  • Meet the adult in charge
  • Find the bathrooms, cafeteria, lockers and where he will go when he first enters
  • Ask who else will be there so he can look for a friend

But don’t stop there:

  • Then create a plan of how, you will drop him off, or he’ll walk into the building or board the bus.  Include a clock depicting what time you’ll pick him up. 
  • Invite him to draw out the plan like a 4-6 frame cartoon so he can “see it”
  • Tuck the drawing into his pocket so he can carry it with him. 

The better prepared he is, the more confident he will feel thus, allowing his body to relax and his brain to say, “I’m safe.  I can stop and focus now.”

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