One of the top five things children that are fidgety tell us is that when you say or yell “Stop!” they just can’t. They want to stop but they literally can’t. Lots of times children don’t even notice when they are fidgeting. When you ask why, they can’t even begin to put it into words.
In fact most children we see have no idea why this is happening; they just know they are in trouble a lot, aren’t able to get much of their work done, and feel a bit forgetful.
One way to think of fidgeting is as excess mental and/or physical energy that needs to go somewhere. The key is to figure out appropriate ways to express the energy during an activity or ways to release the energy before an activity that requires sitting.
Fidgeting for children with ADHD when done purposefully actually allows the ADHD brain to focus by using the fidgeting to block out other distractions. Pacing while they talk, tapping a pencil, or rolling around on the floor when you are trying to get their attention is their brain’s way of reigning in attention.
Yes, it’s true movement can actually be blocking out other distractions. In a study at the University of Central Florida https://www.ucf.edu/news/kids-with-adhd-must-squirm-to-learn/ they found that working with a child’s need to move rather than against it improved outcomes. This doesn’t mean your child should be running in circles at home or in school but it does mean bringing some purposefulness into movement is needed.
A fifth grade client named Sam was referred to us because he was having a hard time getting his work done at school and at home because of his need to move. When we spoke to Sam and his teacher we learned that Sam would play with anything on his desk and would tap his pencil constantly. When we asked Sam what was going on he said he just couldn’t concentrate and sitting still for a boring task felt painful.
When we saw Sam in our office he tried sitting on a balance disc on his chair. Balance discs can provide sensory feedback and can help curb some motor restlessness. We talked about how his muscles had to work hard to help him balance on the disc. We explained that his brain was using energy to sit upright and that this could actually help him concentrate because part of his brain was busy balancing. We could actually see him processing this idea in his mind and he exclaimed, “Oh this is why sometimes I sit all scrunched up on my knees. Whenever I do that I feel like I can concentrate a little bit more!” Sam took the disc home so he could try it out while doing homework. We suggested that the teacher speak to the occupational therapist to see if she could get some balance discs in her classroom for children to sit on.
Sam started sitting on one in school during periods of time where he would be sitting for an extended amount of time and it made a difference. We also recommended that Velcro be placed under Sam’s desk so he could put his fingers on it rather than tap his pencil. Sam really liked this because it gave him something to do and he wasn’t distracting anyone else. His fidgeting became more mindful and was therefore less distracting to him as he completed his classwork.
In this example with Sam the most important factor in success is that he was able to see behavior in a whole new way. A behavior that didn’t need to be fixed but rather expressed in a different way.
There is truly where the magic happens, helping your child understand their brain in new ways is empowering. It allows for lifelong learning as strategies can shift as your child gets older.
Talk to your child today about finding appropriate ways to channel energy not to just stop moving! Let us know what you learn!