Activity Level

The second characteristic of temperament is activity level. This describes to what extent your child uses movement and physical skills to learn and explore the world. When it comes to activity level, children can be described as “watchers and sitters” or “movers and shakers”.

“Watchers and sitters” are generally happy to sit and play quietly, and prefer taking the world in by looking and listening. They explore with their hands, instead of using their whole bodies, and can often focus their attention for long periods of time. They may enjoy working on puzzles or understanding how to make the clown pop up when playing with a jack-in-the-box. They are just as interested in the world around them as more active children, but don’t always feel the same need to be up and about.

On the other side of the spectrum are the “movers and shakers”. Even as babies, they are quick to roll over, squirm, and crawl. They often develop into toddlers who are always on the go, exploring spaces by crawling and climbing through them, and touching anything they can get their hands on. They usually like to keep active from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep, since moving is how they like to learn and explore.

Take a minute to think about your own children or the children that you care for. Where do they fall in activity level?

Parenting Strategies

Do you think you have a “watcher and sitter” on your hands? If so, you will want to try to respect your child’s pace and style. Offer them lots of opportunities to play with the things that they enjoy. This could include books, clothes for dress-up, puzzles, building blocks, and toy figures. Try encouraging more movement by adding physical activity to things they already enjoy. In a game of hide-and-seek, for instance, after one of you is “found”, you can increase the activity level by having to both run to base or by turning it into a quick game of chase. As an infant, entice your child to move by holding a favorite toy a little beyond their easy reach. Another strategy would be letting your child look before they leap. If they prefer watching kids on the climbing gym, let them watch. Then suggest trying something together, like going down the slide on your lap. Always remember to follow your child’s lead, and take it slowly. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with having a lower activity level. As long as your child gets the exercise they need and can enjoy a range of activities, they will be just as happy as their more active peers.

When it comes to parenting “movers and shakers”, you’ll want to try to offer many opportunities for safe, active exploration. First, baby-proof your entire home (this should be done regardless of your child’s activity level) but especially with more active explorers. Then, create active games like obstacle courses, hide-and-seek, and freeze tag. Remember not to expect your child to lie or sit still for too long – let them stand for a diaper change and allow them to turn the pages or act out the story when you read a book. You can also use your child’s energy to help with everyday activities. Ask them to carry spoons to the table and help rake leaves. You’ll also want to remember that your active learner may require additional time to wind down and you may want to try to limit active play to at least an hour before bedtime and 30 minutes before naptime.

Risk and Protective Factors

Sitters and watchers can show a positive, protective factor because their calm demeanor makes them easy to care for and they can cope in restrictive environments like high chairs and cars. The risk factor, on the other hand, is that they can seem lazy and lethargic, and are more dependent on the parent to encourage them to exercise.

Movers and shakers have a protective factor because their active nature gives them sufficient exercise and makes them eager to explore their environment. However, their active nature can also be a risk factor, because excessive moving and shaking may interfere with social activities and learning.


Additional Resources

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