Fidgety behavior is very common in children, especially those between ages 4-10. Children naturally have a lot of energy and have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. While some fidgeting is normal, excessive fidgeting can be disruptive and frustrating for parents and teachers. Here are some tips for dealing with fidgety children:
Get to the Root Cause
Try to understand why your child is fidgeting so much. Are they bored, anxious, hungry, tired or restless? Oftentimes fidgeting is due to an unmet need. Figure out what your child needs in that moment and address it. For example, they may need a snack, a break, some physical activity or emotional support. Getting to the root cause will allow you to deal with the behavior more effectively.
Set Clear Expectations
Let your child know clearly when fidgeting is acceptable and when they need to sit still. You can say something like “I know it’s hard to sit still but during dinner you need to stay seated.” Give them specific time frames and boundaries. Before going into a long meeting or car ride proactively tell them, “For the next 30 minutes I need you to stay in your seat.”
Build in Breaks
Children have short attention spans. Expecting them to sit still for long periods of time is unrealistic. Build in frequent breaks to get their wiggles out. If they are working on homework, let them get up and stretch or do jumping jacks every 15-20 minutes. If you are out to dinner, take a walk outside between courses. Adding in brief physical breaks can help minimize fidgeting.
When possible, allow children to fidget while maintaining focus. Let them squeeze a stress ball, doodle, color, or play with a fidget spinner during story time. Simple handheld toys can allow them to physically self-regulate. If they tend to kick their legs, place a box under their desk to tap their feet on. Incorporating subtle movement can help them channel their energy.
Alternate Sitting and Standing
Prolonged sitting can be challenging, so try alternating between sitting and standing. There are adjustable standing desks and tall chairs that allow children to shift postures. When working on a craft project or homework assignment, they can stand for 10 minutes then sit for 10 minutes. The change of position will enable them to be more attentive.
Praise Good Behavior
When you see your child sitting patiently without fidgeting, make sure to praise them. Say things like “I see you sitting so nicely and paying attention.” Positive reinforcement will make it more likely for them to replicate that behavior. Even if they can only sit still for short stretches in the beginning, highlight those small successes.
Get Them Moving
Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise and movement throughout the day. Physical activity helps channel pent up energy. Take them to the park, enroll them in sports, allow regular outdoor play time. Staying active will help minimize restless behavior. If it is not possible to go outside, see if they can run laps inside or do an exercise video.
Limit Screen Time
While screens can seem like a way to occupy fidgety kids, research shows they can actually exacerbate restlessness and inattention. The overstimulating content leads to agitation. Set limits around screen time and prioritize offline activities that require focused engagement. The less time spent passively staring at screens, the better.
Try Fidget Devices
There are various fidget devices on the market such as rings, cubes and bracelets that can help redirect fidgety behavior. Having tactile stimulation from a device gives restless hands something to play with. Fidget devices allow kids to subtly channel their urge to fidget without disrupting others.
Most of all, be patient with fidgety children. Developmentally it is hard for kids to self-regulate. With time and maturation, their ability to control their impulses and sit still will continue to improve. Until then, keep your expectations realistic. Implement coping strategies and accommodations to help them behave appropriately in each setting. With your support, fidgety kids can learn to focus their minds and bodies.