Active Alert Child

Livint with the Active Alert Child. Photo courtesy of

Tip-Forcing an active alert child to follow (or comply) will always be difficult; they respond much more positively to choices.

There are some temperament types who are simply born to lead. We sometimes call these folks "movers and shakers." They like to make the plans, assign the tasks, hold others accountable, and generally control the action. Leading and moving are good terms to associate with this personality-they make good CEO's and often become the "go-to" guy or gal because they have good ideas.

On the other hand, they're not so good at following; being a supportive member of the team does not come naturally. Psychologist Linda Budd, author of Living with the Active Alert Child, says four such roles commonly appear in families: movers, followers, opposers, and bystanders. All four roles play important tasks. In healthy families, each member has a preferred role, but can switch from one to the other, as needed.

Working with children whom she calls active alert (a particular combination of challenging temperament traits), she says they definitely fit into the mover role. "Active alerts are born movers," says Dr. Budd. They like to control the action. This is a problem when the mover is a child and she or he wishes to control the family. "If an active alert is continually blocked, they learn to be opposers-someone who stops or changes the action a family takes. Some children do this by simply suggesting other moves, constantly."

Tool-Dr. Budd points out that active alert children usually are stuck in the role of mover or opposer. Stuck movers need to learn how to stand back and watch other movers (which helps them to learn the role of bystander). Stuck opposers must learn to make choices about when, where, and who to oppose. In this way, opposition comes closer to moving.

"I do not ask young active alerts to become followers except on very high-priority issues, such as safety," explains Dr. Budd. "Following is the most difficult thing active alert children can do. In my work, rather than expecting children to be followers, I redirect their movement to help them understand the advantages of certain moves."

Remember, challenging someone's temperament doesn't have a high success rate. It generally works better to work with a person's temperament, rather than against it. For example, asking an active alert to make a movefor you means asking them to follow. But if you help them to understand the benefit behind the move you are suggesting, they make the choice and, subsequently, they move. Let's say your son comes out of his bedroom one February morning dressed in a short-sleeve shirt. If you simply order him to wear a warmer shirt, he is likely to oppose you. Instead you could say, "Because it's cold outside, you cannot wear short sleeves. You can choose either your red turtleneck or your Batman sweatshirt." If he understands the reason behind your request and the benefit to him-then he will be attracted to the idea of making the choice, and retaining some power, himself. Active alert children respond well to choices because it gives them some power in the situation.

You'll find more practical tips you can use right now in Living with the Active Alert Child: Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents by Linda Budd, Ph.D. and at

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