Too Much Stimulation or Too Little: Aiming for “Just Right” This Summer

Another school year has wrapped up and here comes summer! As we hear the collective cheer from our children and want to them to enjoy all that summer time has to bring, we parents need to be mindful of behaviors they exhibit that may suggest that they are over-stimulated or under-stimulated and therefore not in their “just right” zone. Levels of stimulation play an important role in how one behaves. Too much or too little stimulation can be unhealthy for children and trying to find the balance between action activities and quiet activities can be challenging for parents.  Knowing and recognizing the signs of too much or too little stimulation helps us understand how much our children can take in any given day and allows us to determine ways to strike a healthy balance of stimulation and downtime, which creates the path for attaining the “just right” zone. While particular behaviors of over- and under-stimulation can vary from child to child, below you will find some typical signs within each category and strategies you can apply in an effort to help children reach a more balanced state of arousal. 


Signs of an Over-Stimulated Child:

  • Aggressive, wild and/or hyperactive behavior
  • Tantrums, throwing a fit or meltdowns
  • Heightened excitability
  • Crankiness or grouchy demeanor
  • Tired, sleepy and overwhelmed
  • Increased irritability, nervousness or anger


Strategies to Help Calm the Over-Stimulated Child:

  • Help him/her go to a quiet place to lay down, read, or listen to calming music/rhythms
  • Reduce bright lights in his/her environment
  • Cuddle on the couch with your child and offer soothing snuggles or massage
  • Engage in yoga exercises and calm breathing techniques
  • Limit technology (television, computer, tablet, cell phone, iPad)
  • Consider a warm bath/shower
  • Rock in a rocking chair or swing on a swing  
  • Aromatherapy with 100% pure lavender or chamomile essential oils
  • Make sure he/she is not overscheduled with camps and extracurricular activities


Signs of an Under-Stimulated Child:

  • Spaced out and/or unfocused
  • Quiet/flat affect
  • Low energy/low motivation/slow moving
  • Moodiness
  • Expresses/experiences boredom
  • Chewing on his/her clothing 


Strategies to Help Calm the Under-Stimulated Child:

  • Provide more movement and physical exercise (jumping, running, trampoline, hip/hop movement, aerobic exercises, power walks, scouter boards)
  • Ensure adequate outdoor time or “green time”
  • Increase touch stimulation (hugs, play with squishy toys, touch sandy/rough textures and use tactile fidgets)
  • Increase auditory stimulation (play background music, sing a song, play a musical instrument)    
  • Offer aromatherapy with Citrus 100% pure essential oils
  • Ensure child has some engagement in daily camp or extracurricular activity


Please remember that every child is different and there is no one right approach to figuring out how much stimulation is too much or too little for any given child. Therefore, let your child’s behaviors serve as signs as to his/her stimulation needs, which can then serve as guidance to achieve a balance of tolerable daily stimulation combined with adequate downtime, which creates the healthy “just right” stimulation zone.  Should you find yourself struggling to create this balance or if your attempts are not producing expected outcomes, please reach out to a child psychologist or pediatric occupational therapist who can assist further in customizing a schedule of stimulating and calming activities to achieve a healthy balance. 


Maria Kanakos, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist