Fidgeting Child? Why Having “Ants in Your Pants” is Not Such a Bad Thing

I remember when I used to pick up my child from kindy or school at the end of the day, a sweet group of little kids would be sitting on the mat listening to the teacher read a story. And then there was the small posse at the back of the group poking each other, trying unusual yoga-like postures or just off on another planet looking out the window.

These are usually the same kids who are constantly swinging on their chair, twirling their hair, banging, kicking, chewing or fiddling with something when sitting at a desk.

So often these children are labelled ‘trouble makers’, ‘naughty’ or ‘misbehaving’ as they disturb the class’s concentration and drive the teacher to distraction. Though their constant movement may be a challenge to others, moving around is often how these children listen and concentrate in their own way.

Just because a child finds it hard to be still when asked, does not mean they have symptoms of ADHD.

Of course, they also might just be tired, hungry or have sensory issues; but let us not be in a hurry to label them!  Learning to be still to concentrate takes practice, just like remembering to stop look both ways and hold your hand when crossing the road. One of my sons, even as a grown-up, has to continually jiggle his leg when he is concentrating or in a deep discussion. As a child and teenager when relaxing watching the TV, 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 always one of the yoga masters at the back of the group, while his brother sat up the front very still in full attention mode.

When a child is constantly criticised for ‘not sitting still or concentrating and disturbing the class’ they feel shame and ostracised. This is not conducive to learning! If they are telling themselves to constantly ‘sit still and be good’ then they are not hearing the teacher and their focus is on their negative behaviour. Not great for building self-esteem.

Their constant movement may be a challenge to others, but by moving around often these children are listening and concentrating in their own way.

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, particularly boys, 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… which is a great help to the teacher if children are not disruptive but it’s a BIG ask for many younger children who have just started school.

TIP: Movement is also CALMING for children who may feel anxious or stressed, or bored. It would be helpful to accommodate their needs and help them adjust, instead of going against a natural flow.

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;

  1. 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’?
  2. Ask your child how they think they can manage their movement in the classroom, so they don’t disturb others.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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)
  9. 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.
  10. 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 jiggle, or suck a pencil while they are learning, it is not ‘bad’ behaviour.

With your help, they will learn that there is a time and place for everything and they will find a way to manage their ‘fidgets’, so they are comfortable with who they are, while being aware how their behaviour affects others.

Can you think of a mum that would benefit from reading this? Why don’t you share this with them using the buttons below and let’s celebrate our children’s energy! 

Avatar of Arnaum Walkley

Arnaum has been a Parenting Counsellor for over 25 years, assisting and nurturing parents in developing their own unique parenting skills, and how to develop Conscious Parenting skills. In this time she has been involved in South Australia and other states and communities as an Early Childhood Worker, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Parenting Educator, Public Speaker, Counsellor, and Writer focusing on child development and parenting.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar of The Oscars
    The Oscars Reply

    “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… ” I’m interested to know more about this sleep mode as a result of staying still. Do you have more info?

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