Ask Amma

Why is my toddler never still?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:09 pm
Our son only wants to play outdoors.  From the moment he wakes up he has his morning outdoor time  — a walk, going to get milk, neighbour’s shops and houses etc.   After which we have to attend to various chores at home and outside. Whichever one of us is going out – there’s a massive scene and howling because he wants to be out (which we do sometimes but its not always possible to take him everywhere).  We try to involve him with some of the chores – like cleaning together or work in the kitchen but he gets distracted and starts throwing things around and wants to make a mess till the whole place looks like a war zone. The only thing he is happy doing indoors is bathing. So we have two long sessions in the bathroom (which can only be done in the summers).   Apart from that he just wants to be with mud, stones, puddles, running up and down the roads.  Even with other kids, he prefers outside play. 
So here are my questions:
  • Are any other mothers of toddlers who are experiencing this?
  • What do we do to make the home environment (and us) more suited to this highly energetic kid?
  • What do we do to calm him down/relax, get him to sit and play? Is it asking for too much?
– mother of an 18-month old in Palampur
     Reader, Amma begs your indulgence for including the entire question with little editing, because, being long past the toddler stage, I simply found the description delightful.  I do hope you are keeping a journal.

     My daughter also wanted to be outside every waking moment, from day one and I don’t think it eased up for several years.  She even bathed outside at times.  When we were inside we had to make it worth her sacrifice.

Can you put on music and dance?  Do you have stairs?  Can you invent a game that involves lots of going up and down? How about playing hide and seek?  If you run out of hiding places for people, first of all, remember that little ones are happy to hide in the same place any number of times, provided you struggle dramatically to find them.  (Or even in visible places – see Ollie all over.)  Another option in small spaces is to play hide and seek with objects rather than people.  Is there a porch where he can safely be outside while you are at home?  Can you get the mud, stones, puddles right there?   Chetana Amma describes her daughter’s exploits on the Terrace in Chennai.

     My modus operandi in the early years was always to try to “tire her out.”  Obviously this is easier to do outside.  Sometimes other parents and I used to meet outside while our kids ran around … what used to go through my mind was, she needs to play enough to get hungry enough to eat enough to fall asleep.   I saw others engage the help of a young woman or teenage student to take the kids outside sometimes – usually for payment but it could also be in exchange for help with homework.
     Even more fun then play was of course, work.  I first learned the entertainment potential of laundry when my 3-year-old nephew came to stay with us for a summer.  Every stage of soaking, swirling, brushing, beating, wringing, drying, removing and folding was a game in itself.  (What, you don’t swirl your clothes in the bucket?)  So the entertainment was ready when my daughter came along.  See her dry.
      Is there is some way that you can incorporate the clean-up component into the game that he plays when he throws the stuff around (instead of being work that has to be done after the game is over)?  If there is too much stuff and you are feeling burdened to keep up with the work of cleaning up, I would consider relocating some of it so that it is not accessible.  When you do this, don’t think of it as a sanction imposed for not cleaning up, but simply as a way to stay organized. You can cheerfully explain, for example, that the toys need to go home now and they will be back later, after some other toys go home.
     Evolutionarily it makes sense for kids to be accustomed to the freedom of going outside whenever they want.  Till recently adults have also been outside. Moreover, young children were not constrained by the need to have their parents accompany them at all times.  Other adults or older children would do.  In rural areas I have seen children as young as 5 out and about on their own.  If we find ourselves reining in our little ones on a shorter leash, the shortcoming lies in our society and not in their desire for a wider range of freedom.
    Rather than try to contain this in the home, we should work to create a society where kids can fulfill their need to be out and energetic .   At least we can acknowledge that their need is legitimate and try to overcome our limitations in fulfilling it.  Once we work from this approach, we can take small concrete steps that at least meet this need halfway.
  1. This is a delightful post both the Q and A! And totally agree with tire out, it almost never fails. I feel guilty at times when I am so beat and cannot take Disha out.

    We really enjoy our cycle rides even more now as they have increased significantly since we moved houses. Disha helps hanging the clothes, she wants to fold all her clothes too. I remember Aravinda once telling me that outdoors is always easier to deal with. Indoors, you may have to contend with all the mess and end up doing a lot more cleaning than you want to.

    My gripe is with the way cities are evolving in India- there is no space to play or even walk freely on the roads anymore. There are always cars parked on road sides, on footpaths- taking space away from pedestrians. There are always motorbikes or big vehicles speeding down the road. Playgrounds and parks are non-existent. Well, that doesn’t stop us from getting out, but I do miss the Bangalore I grew up in.


  2. Such a wonderful post! Thanks to Aravinda and also to amma of 18 month old from Palampur.

    I have an almost 3 year old son(Charan) who is very energetic as well. He too wants to play outside all the time. We involve Charan in many works which are part of of our routine like mixing chapati flour, pouring idli’s, folding laundry etc. He makes lot of mess too but “we keep on telling him that if “we make mess we have to clean it up” so that we can play/work on some other thing and handed over a cloth or broom. When ever I was cleaning up the “mess” I made in kitchen I pointed him that “Amma made a mess and amma is cleaning it up”. Initially he used to look at that cloth make even more mess and just leave the place. Over time…one fine day when he was drinking milk he spilled it all over the counter top and he asked for a cloth to clean it up..he said ” Charan made lotssss of mess with milk..and Charan wants to clean it up” and from that day on after playing with his toys or pouring idlis we clean it up with songs and clean up the work space before we move on to other things..

    Amma of Charan


    • What a delightful description of your work and play with Charan! I could certainly relate to his fun with idlis and chapatis. These foods are really great that way.


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