Do you have children or students who are constantly fidgeting in their seats at school or at home? The child knows that he should be sitting still, but chances are, there’s something going on internally that is making it very difficult to sit still.
The specific reasons why your child is having difficulty sitting still in his seat are unique to him. However, some of the most common culprits for fidgeting behaviors include:
- Poor core and back strength and endurance…..It actually takes more strength to sit still than move around (Click here for more info on this)
- Sensory Processing Issues
How Can I Help My Child to Sit Still?
Although there’s not a “one size fits all” answer to this question as every child has different needs, here are some general suggestions to help you get started……
1. Talk- Try to figure out why your child is having difficulty sitting still? Talk to your child and ask lots of specific questions as to why he/she is struggling with sitting still. It’s amazing the insight that children will give you, if you only listen. If your child is non-verbal or can’t communicate well, observe the whole picture (i.e. what is happening before the child needs to sit, what is the environment like, are the demands of the seated task too difficult?) to help gain insight.
2. Move- Try exercise and movement before they have to sit still in their chairs. Simple movement breaks for 3-5 minutes doing things like jumping jacks, running in place, hopscotch , squats, or jumping over a line and back, etc… can help tremendously before needing to complete seated tasks.
Follow these exercises up with a 1-2 minute calming activity such as calming breathing games, or joint compressions If your child is at school all day long and is having issues sitting still, talk to your child’s teacher about incorporating some simple movement breaks into your child’s day to help your child sit still during seated work time.
3. Adapt – Listed below are several “secret tricks” that therapists use to help children sit in their seat and attend to the task at hand. These alone can be effective, but generally speaking, they need to be used in conjunction with steps 1 and 2 listed above.
- Use a Wiggle Seat- A wiggle seat is a cushion that your child sits on at their desk or chair which allows them to “wiggle” or fidget in their seat in a controlled manner. Wiggle seats give children who are fidgety, hyperactive, and “antsy”, a discrete and appropriate way to help them increase their attention, ability to focus, and alertness in the classroom.
- Use a Therapy Sitting Ball or Ball Chair- A therapy ball or ball chair operates on the same premise as the wiggle seat in that it allows the child to move or fidget while staying seated so they can better focus on seated work. The therapy ball and ball chair require more core and back muscle engagement than a standard seat, so if your child has a very weak core, they may only be able to tolerate a short duration on the ball or ball chair until their strength increases.
- Use Kickband – (Thera-band Under the Desk or Chair)- This is a simple trick that is very inexpensive but allows the child to move/ fidget their feet while sitting in class or at home. The Thera-band acts like a giant rubber band that the child can kick or push their feet against to allow them to move while still remaining in their seat, focusing on their seated work.
- Use a Compression Vest – From my experience, compressions vests are extremely helpful in aiding a child to settle into their seats at home and school. The compression vest works because it adds deep pressure and proprioception to the body. Deep pressure and proprioceptive input elicit a calming response in the body because they can lower stress levels, reassure the body of its position in space, and facilitate the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters responsible for mood and behavior regulation (Buckley-Reen & Dickson, 2015 and research from Edelson, et al.)
I have used these vests for children with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, and anxiety to help them sit still and focus in class with excellent results! Note- There are special protocol instructions for wearing compression vests regarding the frequency, duration, and fit of the vest. Please check the instructions that come with your vest or your local occupational therapist or physician for specific protocol information regarding the vest that you use.
There certainly are other options to try outside of the ideas listed above, but these are some of the best items I have used as an occupational therapist. However, as with any issue that’s individual to your child, the key is to find out what is going on with your child and tailor your approach to his individual needs.
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