- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

My 5-year-old son has an enormous amount of energy and is very excitable. When he gets keyed up, he often acts without thinking. Yesterday he was hugging his aunt and infant cousin goodbye and just about pulled them over because he was jumping and pulling on them. As a result, we went home instead of going on our planned picnic.

I find myself constantly telling him to settle down and calm down. It’s becoming exhausting. Typically, when he gets keyed up, we either remove him from the situation or give him consequences like in the above situation, but that doesn’t seem to be having much effect. I’m worried about how he’ll do in kindergarten in the fall. How can I help him learn to control himself when he’s in social situations?

A: Dealing with a problem of this sort requires diligent proactivity and a great deal of patience. You need to accept, furthermore, that no matter how effective your disciplinary approach, it’s going to be a while before you begin seeing consistent good results.

Before you take your son into a situation where he might become excited, sit down with him and talk about your expectations. Don’t threaten him or browbeat him but simply let him know what the rules are. Be as concise and matter-of-fact as possible. Let him know that the moment you see him becoming overexcited, you will not reprimand or remind but rather remove him immediately from the situation.

Give him a code word or phrase — something like “time out” — you will use to let him know that he’s to disengage immediately and come with you. Likewise, if you’re in a situation where you didn’t anticipate that he might become hyper, but you can tell that he is, use the code word and remove him. Obviously, the earlier you intervene in the spiral of hyperactivity, the better.

When you have him in a calm, private area, talk to him about why you removed him and what you expect if and when you return him to the situation. Don’t hesitate to exercise the option of going home or sending him to his room (if you’re at home) if a private talk is impossible or if you feel that trying to return him to the situation is not going to work out.

Using the example of the overly enthusiastic, overly physical hug of his aunt and cousin, you might have taken him aside before they left and had him practice hugging you. When he was doing a good job, you could have allowed him to hug them. If even after some practice you still felt he was too excited to hug appropriately, you could have simply explained that goodbye would have to be limited to a handshake.

As for kindergarten, it will be best to wait and see what if any problems develop before crossing that bridge, but I’d certainly tell his teacher in advance about your son’s history. Tell her how you’re handling him at home and in public and encourage her to do something similar if she sees him spiraling out of control in the classroom. The greater the number of adults giving him the same message, the better.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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