I remember when I used to pick up my child up from kindy or school, a group of sweet little ones sitting on the mat listening to the teacher read a story at the end of the day. Like myself, you may have noticed when you have experienced this, that there is always a small group who have gravitated to the back of the group and are poking each other, trying unusual yoga like postures or just off on another planet looking out of the window. Or when sitting at a desk are constantly swinging on their chair, twirling their hair, banging, kicking, chewing or fiddling with something.
So often these children are labelled ‘trouble makers’, ‘naughty’ or ‘misbehaving’ as they disturb the class’s concentration and drive the teacher to distraction. Parents ask why can’t they be still and concentrate like the other kids? Well, their constant movement may be a challenge to others, but by moving around often these children are listening and concentrating in their own way. They also might just be tired, hungry or have sensory issues; but let us not be in a hurry to label them. Just because a child finds it hard to be still when asked, does not mean they have symptoms of ADHD. Learning to be still to concentrate takes practise, like remembering to stop look both ways and hold your hand when crossing the road.
When a child is constantly criticised for ‘not sitting still or concentrating and disturbing the class’ they feel shame and ostracised. This is not a learning situation. If they are telling themselves to constantly ‘sit still and be good’ they are still not hearing the teacher and their focus is on their negative behaviour. Not great for building self-esteem.
While I am writing this blog, I will get up every 10 minutes and move around for a few minutes. Why, well it helps me focus and concentrate, while I am moving around I gain clarity and shift any memory blocks (or writers block). I learnt this tip from a very successful lecturer who shared that ‘scientific evidence’ has shown when humans get up and moved every 10 to 15 minutes they concentrated and performed better, so it must be true. Anyway it works for me. So why not little people?
Learning to be still and concentrate does take practise, especially for boys. One of my sons even as a grown-up has to continually giggle his leg when he is concentrating or in a deep discussion. As a child and teenager when relaxing watching the television, he would fiddle with a cushion and not even be aware he had it in his hands when I asked him to stop it.’ He was the yoga master at the back of the group, while his brother sat up the front very still in full attention mode.
Some children do have ‘Sensory integration difficulties’ which often they grow out of, but if you are really concerned about this issue talk to a professional. Dr Louise Porter has a wonderful book ‘Children are people too’ which covers this topic very well.
Children need a lot of movement and exercise to thrive, build their core strength and enhance their balance. Movement turns their brain on and if some children stay still their brain actually goes into sleep mode like a screen saver on the computer. Sure it is helpful to the teacher and other class members if children are still and not ‘disruptive, but this is a big ask for many younger children who have just started school. Movement is also a calming for children who often feel anxious or stressed, or bored. Let us accommodate their needs and help them adjust, instead of going against a natural flow.
Many our children are not moving enough, they thrive when hanging upside down and climbing all over jungle gyms, spinning on roundabouts and learning balancing while riding on their bikes. Trampolines are also a wonderful outlet and so much fun! Jump on with your kids and find out if you haven’t tried it. Make sure your child has plenty of outside and playground opportunities. Let them go wild occasionally, allow them to challenge their physical skills, become resilient. As a loving parent naturally you want to keep them safe, so take a deep breath and trust that sometimes they do know their limits and if they don’t, give them the opportunity to learn. They will sleep better too.
I really understand and empathise how frustrating fidgeting children are to a teacher so here are some suggestions you may like to share with your child’s teacher if your child prefers to move while learning:
- Focus on what you do want by encouraging them when they are still. E.g. ‘Wow look how still you are sitting, how does that feel for you’?
- Ask your child how they think they can manage their movement in the classroom, so they don’t disturb others
- If your child is soothed by fidgeting with something, many of my clients have found making a simple beaded necklace or bracelet for their child to wear that is acceptable at school, is a great tool and comforting to fiddle with
- Starting the school day with some simple gymnastics, tai chi, or stretching exercises has proven to help children settle into a learning space. If parents are gym or yoga instructors perhaps they can offer their time for 10 minutes at the start of the school day
- Make sure the children are allowed plenty of time at recess and lunchtime to ‘go crazy’, playing chasey and other active games. Keeping a ‘naughty’ child indoors at break time because they have not cooperated in class is not helping anyone
- Play games like ‘Statues’ and ‘What’s the time mister wolf’ helps children grasp what really being still is all about. We learn through play so make the most of it
- Adults have stress balls to fiddle with so why not objects like a rubber band that fits loosely on their wrist, chewable jewellery for kids who like to chew. Or a resistant band stretched between the front legs of their chair that they can push against.
- When teachers notice the class is becoming restless they can ask the kids to do silent star jumps, wiggle their toes and fingers, or follow one of their fingers while tracing in the air a sideways invisible eight ( this brain gym exercise is a great brain activator)
- Some schools are now allowing stand up desks and round exercise balls for children who thrive by movement to sit on while they work so they can rock themselves, and improve their concentration skills.
- At home many children will concentrate better by just playing with a small piece of Blue tac, many children find this very soothing.
Fidgeting is not wrong, and if your child chooses to move or jig, or suck a pencil while they are learning, it is not ‘bad’ behaviour. You can help them learn that there is a time and place for everything and encourage kindness and consideration for others by sometimes finding other ways to express themselves. Assist them to find a way to manage their ‘jiggies’, so they are comfortable with who they are, while being aware how their behaviour affects others.