Why Can’t my Child Sit Still? Strategies for the Overly-Active Child

Does your child seem to be constantly on the move or just can’t seem to sit still? This is a common concern that parents have of their wild child children as they are worried that this behavior can affect their child’s ability to pay attention in school, play appropriately with other children and participate at mealtime and homework time at home. Children who seem like they can’t sit still or can’t keep their hands to themselves may have a sensory processing issue and/or low muscle tone. Muscle tone is the amount of stretch muscles have at rest. Muscle tone cannot be changed, but the good news is that there are many strategies that can be used to increase their ability to sit still. It is easier for children with low muscle tone to move around than to sit still. When children move around, they are using more muscle groups and do not have to contract the muscles for an extended period of time; however, sitting still requires an individual to contract their muscles for an extended period of time therefore, children who have low muscle tone may not have the endurance to contract their muscles for very long.

Below are some strategies that will help your child sit still in order to maximize their educational potential:

  • Use a Move-N-Sit (AKA disco-sit) cushion. This is a rubber disc that is placed on the child’s chair. The rubber disc allows a child
    to move around in their seat. This will decrease the need to get up and move from his or her seat.
  • Participate in heavy work activities prior to sitting. Examples of heavy work include: erasing the blackboard, moving his or her chair or desk or carrying books back to the library. Heavy work provides a lot of input to a child’s muscles and joints, which can be very calming and regulating for the nervous system.
  • Allow the child to have frequent movement breaks. This will give him or her an outlet to exert the energy they have and get the movement they seek. By allowing your child to take short frequent breaks, they will only have to stay in once place for shorter periods of time until their next break.
  • Have him or her chew bubble gum or suck on hard candy. This is an example of an oral sensory strategy. Putting things in the mouth provides a lot of proprioceptive input to your mouth and jaw. This can sometimes substitute the need to physically move around which, in turn, allows the child to focus more on the task at hand.
  • Use a fidget toy. A child may be able to get the movement he or she seeks by playing with a small toy with their hands, such as a koosh ball or stress ball, without taking away from their own learning experience. It should be noted that a fidget toy is a privilege and should be taken away if it becomes disruptive.
  • Implement a strengthening program. Doing wall push-ups, sit-ups and Super-mans (laying on your stomach with your arms and legs elevated from the ground) can increase a child’s muscle strength. Since muscle tone cannot be changed, it is important to improve their strength. Speak with your doctor or a health professional in order to implement a safe and individualized exercise program for your child.
  • These are just some of the many ways that can improve your child’s ability to sit still in class or at home for extended periods of time. These strategies can give your child the opportunity to make the most of their educational experience and succeed at school!

Click here to learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder

Lindsey Miller

Lindsey Miller, OTD is a pediatric occupational therapist who graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Washington University in St. Louis with a Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. During her time in graduate school, Lindsey's research focused on the participation of adults with physical disabilities at work. Clinically, she has experience working with children with a variety of limitations, such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, brachial plexus injuries, sensory integration disorders, and orthopedic injuries. Lindsey has had several volunteer and internship experiences working with infants and children in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and schools. Her special interest area is providing sensory integration therapy. Lindsey is very passionate about helping children gain the tools and skills they need so that can live full and productive lives.

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  1. […] If your child has trouble maintaining focus during class, a fidget could be just what he needs to start the school year right.  If you have further concerns about your child’s ability to stay on-task in class, click here to read more strategies for the overly active child. […]

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