School Behavior

Quiet Ways for Fidgety Kids to Release Energy at School

Some kids with ADHD think better when they’re moving, or tapping, or humming — or doing all three. When those fidgets disrupt other students’ learning, though, we have a problem. Here, teachers and parents can find ingeneious ways to blow off excess energy without driving anyone nuts.

Hand of person with ADHD squeezing stress ball
Hand of person with ADHD squeezing stress ball

The problem: Children with ADHD are in constant motion. It is difficult for them to sit still for long periods of time so they may squirm in their seats, kick their desk legs, or stand up or pace while working. Often, they talk excessively or make noises while trying to sit still.

The reason: ADHD kids’ bodies and minds are like motors on the go. One study of ADHD boys showed that they moved around the room eight times as often as other boys, making twice as many arm motions. They were also fidgeting four times as often while seated for psychological testing.

The obstacles: Impaired motor control centers in the brain are the suspected cause of fidgety, hyperactive behavior.

Impulse-control problems also play a part; hyperactive children are unable to inhibit the impulse to move around. You can tell them to sit still or stop talking, but the behaviors may reappear within minutes.

Solutions in the Classroom

The number one thing teachers can do to help ADHD students squirm and fidget less is to provide physical outlets that let them regularly release pent-up energy and improve focus.

—Send ADHD students on errands. Ask your ADHD students to deliver a message to another class or take a note to the office. These tasks help kids build a sense of self-worth while providing an opportunity to stretch their legs and move around.

—Let students stand and walk around between lessons. One teacher, for example, put a mini-trampoline in her classroom for kids who got restless. In the beginning of the school year, everyone used it frequently; but after the novelty wore off, only the ADHD students who needed to use it continued to do so. Another teacher let students use exercise balls instead of chairs so ADHD students could move around a bit, but still stay seated.

—Provide fidget objects. These object can include worry beads, Wikki Stix, and squeeze balls — anything that can be quietly squished or handled. Not having to focus on staying absolutely still conserves the student’s energy for focusing on class lessons.

(Tip: Attach squeeze balls to the desk, so they don’t get hurled across the room!)

—Keep lessons short and provide frequent breaks. You can even do this during tests if you sense that a student needs to move.

Solutions at Home

Support your child’s need to expend energy by encouraging her to join a sports team or engage in regular physical activity.

—Choose the sport carefully. Children with ADHD aren’t suited for all team sports. Soccer, for example, is a better choice than baseball because there’s less standing around.

Children can also exercise alone — one student roller-skated each morning or would just run around the block so that she could sit still longer in class. Many children with ADHD do well in karate or other martial arts that teach discipline and concentration while also allowing for movement.

—Supervise as needed. Most children with ADHD need constant adult supervision to keep on task, but as situations improve, and the child matures, a parent can check in frequently rather than sit by the child’s side throughout the process.

—Don’t force your child to sit still. When your child’s past the point of controlling her need to move around, let her take a quick break. Tell her to run and jump around and then invite her to rejoin the family when she’s able. You can use this same strategy at church or synagogue, sporting events, and any other settings that requires kids to sit still for extended periods.

Some children with ADHD are better able to complete homework when given the opportunity to move around while working, or when given frequent breaks. Don’t expect a child with ADHD to hunker down for one long study period. Some kids read better while pacing, or may need to do their math problems while standing up.

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