Living with the Active Alert Child
Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents
by Linda S. Budd, PhD
Softcover, 281 pages
reviewed by Dana Villamagna
Richmond VA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 24-26
There are children who are as charismatic as they are challenging, fiery, and frustrating with intensity and intelligence to match. This is my child, and perhaps one of yours as well.
Linda Budd, PhD, wrote Living with the Active Alert Child after working with hundreds of children who exhibit certain traits that she coined the term "active alert"; traits that are present at birth and not a product of any certain parenting style or flaw. Active alert children may be "more" of most character traits--not diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder, not troubled per se, just more. She writes:
Active Alerts find it difficult to let go of control, to deal with the intensity of emotions, to admit mistakes, to see a disagreement from another's perspective and to slow down to gain another's perspective.
These children want to go to bed later, get up earlier, make bigger messes, have more big ideas and, as a result, face bigger frustrations than most children. Trying to guide an active alert child in the same way one would parent a child who is "sure and steady" (Budd's label for the opposite personality type) may lead to frustration for the parent, the child, and the entire family.
Identifying your child as active alert isn't giving an excuse for his or her behavior. Rather, it helps parents identify areas of the child's learning style and personal interactions that may need more coaching and they can then teach the child coping strategies for dealing with this temperament.
Budd's suggestions often draw from the same well as the La Leche League philosophy of loving guidance. Active Alert children may need more of the Three R's—routine, rules, and rituals—in order to feel in control. An especially revealing chapter, "The Puzzle Known as the Family," includes a self-test for parents to examine their family's parent-child dynamic. This chapter helps parents identify a family's prevailing way of being and how an active alert may benefit from or be frustrated by elements of that style. For example, some parents who value spontaneity in their everyday life may intensify an active alert child's quest to control. The child thrives on patterns, not spontaneity. Recognizing this difference may help some parents make changes in their own lives so their child feels more in control and comfortable.
Many parents will come to this book because of a child with control issues, but there is much more to the active alert temperament than control—and not all of it is negative. The 11 characteristics Budd identifies include traits such as bright, intense, and active, which acknowledge the positive gifts of active alert children. But she also warns that the active alert temperament could make children prone to substance abuse and negative self-esteem later in life if they are not taught essential coping skills that come to other children more naturally.
Active alert people tend to feel criticism more harshly and blow their mistakes out of proportion. Budd writes: Over the years, I have been privileged to work with incredible, positive, non-shaming parents. And still, their (active alert) children are affected by shame. I have watched their children make one mistake, over-generalize its importance and before my eyes, decide they are worthless.
In response, Budd says parents must "assist the child in developing internal coping resources so that when she makes mistakes or doesn't know all the answers she will still feel okay about herself." Budd recommends having an "Oh, well, mistakes can happen to anyone" household. This helps an active alert child learn to put accidents and mistakes into proper perspective.
One drawback to this insightful and practical book is that it jumps from topic to topic. As a result, chapter titles are unreliable. I recommend reading the entire book, page for page, to avoid missing the golden nugget that could smooth out a particular parenting challenge. Additionally, Budd offers a lot of suggestions about matching the proper school and teacher to the active alert child. She doesn't, however, address homeschooling the active alert child.
Budd concludes that many of the active alert adults she interviewed have achieved their "enormous potential." Parents who give an active alert child essential boundaries, coping tools, and acceptance can help minimize the negative and accentuate the positive parts of this unique temperament.