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Fidgeting, Wiggling, Doodling: 3 reasons to encourage these ‘naughty’ behaviors at school

Remember a few years ago when fidget spinners were a big deal? If your child is the right age, you may have even been one of the families on the receiving end of a communication from your child’s teacher or school administration announcing the ban on fidget spinners. This is one of many things banned from schools with the explanation that they are distracting– gum, headphones, certain types of jewelry, etc.


I understand how this comes to be. Think of the last time you were with a child and took a long car trip, or waited a long time for your food at a restaurant or stood in a long line. Did they wiggle? Fidget? Ask ‘how much longer?’ Of course. It’s developmentally appropriate. Now imagine that times about 25. Yes, 25 sweetie pies all wiggling and fidgeting 6-8 hours a day in their classrooms. Teachers deserve a crown, a throne, piles of treasure and donuts for their amazing abilities. It’s hard to manage that amount of movement and potential for distraction. I can understand why many schools create so many limits. 

Yet, fidgeting, wiggling and doodling are typically an attempt to adapt to the circumstances. Said another way, your child is probably engaging in these things in an effort to be GOOD not bad. To get their movement and stimulation needs met, not to be troublesome for the classroom. 

3 Reasons to Allow a Child to Fidget

  1. Your child probably isn’t getting enough exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that only about 5% of children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.  In addition, numerous pressures on schools have led to up to 40% of school districts within the U.S. reducing or cutting recess. Recess is associated with improved social and emotional outcomes as well as academic achievement (memory, attention, grades, attendance, and classroom behavior!). You can see why shortened recess is a problem. Less opportunity for movement can lead to excess energy.
  2. Your child probably feels anxious. Particularly at the beginning of the academic year, as children are transitioning to the new structure of school, to a new morning routine, to a new teacher, and perhaps a new classroom or building, they will be nervous. There will be unknowns for them as they learn about what’s expected of them. They may be standing up in front of a new classroom of peers or being called upon for the first time this year. Some anxiety is to be expected. Anxiety can look like restlessness, agitation, and tension of the body. Exercise, particularly frequent and short bouts, is a great natural way to reduce anxiety. Yet, this isn’t available to a child during the vast majority of their school day. What is? Wiggling. Little movements like tapping toes, clicking a pen, and nibbling on pencil all exert nervous energy. Doodling on the corner of their page may also be cathartic.
  3. Your child is probably bored. We’re all bored numerous times a day! This is actually NOT a bad thing, but it does mean that the brain is under-stimulated. The human brain will seek a cure to its boredom which can lead a person to their most curious and creative moments. Diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety, depression and sensory integration disorder (sensory processing) are all related to stimulation needs. The body tries to accommodate and get the brain to the just-right-place of stimulation and when it does, it can be present in the moment. This is why you may pick at your cuticles during a work meeting or drum your fingers while you wait for an appointment. Interestingly, research suggests that fidgeting can release neurotransmitters in the brain that mimic the effects of ADHD medications and support better concentration and sustained attention. A child who can fidget is actually more likely to be able to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

Tips for improving your child’s concentration and attention

  1. Appeal to your teacher, school administrator or district if your child’s school has cut back on recess, takes recess away as punishment or uses it as a time for kids to catch up on overdue work. 
  2. Ensure that you’re allowing plenty of movement time for your child elsewhere. Try an activity like yoga or taekwondo which both support physical and mental fitness.
  3. Find out what your child’s teachers do to encourage movement and share resources on ways to incorporate classroom movement.
  4. Find out if the teacher will consider gum chewing (or chewelry), standing desks and cozy corners that allow for various sitting positions or lying down (read: wiggling), midday walking breaks, standing up instead of raising hands, incorporating drawing during assignments, rotating stations in the classroom, listening to music or doodling as a way to fight boredom and attention issues.
  5. Teach your child mindfulness and meditation. Meditation also supports improved attention and concentration.
  6. Be sure that your child is getting enough sleep. Stay strong during bedtime battles. A rested brain operates from a full cup and won’t be distracted by tiredness or need as much stimulation to stay alert.
  7. Pay attention to your child’s diet and talk to a doctor about your child’s eating habits. A malnourished brain is also more susceptible to concentration difficulties. The gut is the second brain after all. Some people especially need predictable snack and meal times and need to eat more frequently. Many teachers are willing to offer snack times during school day (and definitely will with a doctor’s note).

Join Dr. Kate Sage for “Happy Belly, Happy Kid: A parents’ heart-to-heart

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

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Your Inattentive & Restless Child

As a parent I know how important it is to be able to read your child’s signs. While you may have been able to know what each cry was asking for when your child was a baby, knowing what is at the root of distraction and agitation now that they are a much older and more complex being, is another animal altogether. 

Even if you do have a pretty good sense about whether your child might be wrestling with a fear-based school, social, or general anxiety, or the more neurobiologically-based ADHD, knowing if both are co-existing and how to meet your child’s needs around all of the symptoms accurately and adequately….is simply not simple. 

My hope is that you won’t expect yourself to figure it all out on your own, since we all know how the saying goes about the village it takes to raise a child. And may the following nuggets of guidance help you weave your way toward understanding the distinctions between anxiety and ADHD, where their crossover lies, and some ways in which you can intervene on the home front to provide some support.

How do I know if it’s ADHD or anxiety?

  • Key into clues about whether incomplete tasks are due to anxious perfectionism or to impulsivity-based distractedness (related to ADHD).
  • Notice if instances of impulsivity happen often and even when situations are calm and safe, which would indicate ADHD. 
  • Ask about any worried thoughts that happen for your child…these are often the foundation for an anxious restless and focus-less child. 
  • Ask or notice if your child is showing a collection of physiological or physical signs of anxiety (such as nausea, tense muscles, increased heart-rate, and sweating); these are not going to show up in such a clear and collective way if only ADHD is present.
  • You may notice more social concerns coming from your child when they are dealing with anxiety moreso than with ADHD, since anxiety, and not ADHD, lends itself to an increase in sensitivity to social cues.

Why is it that ADHD and anxiety can look so similar?

  • Both ADHD and anxiety result from decreased and changed activity in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), which is a place of high-level thinking. Consider the PFC like the control center of the brain, and one of the main reasons we are so distinct in our behavioral capabilities in comparison to other animals. The PFC enables us humans to engage in a great deal of planning, organizing, concentrating, and self-control.
  • The reasons why the PFC goes “offline” when anxious and when ADHD is present are different. This is important because it means that treating them will require us to be on the lookout for different things and to use somewhat different responses.

What can I do about my child’s symptoms?

  • Although the supports for anxiety and ADHD should be different, daily mindfulness and exercise activities create a powerful duo in combating symptoms of both. This is because these activities target executive functioning and sensorimotor processing, which are key to bringing the PFC back “online” and integrating mind and body for managing the present moment effectively.
    • There are a few online sites that I recommend to many of my clients, such a GoZen and GoNoodle. They provide exercise and relaxation activities to help a variety of symptoms related to both diagnoses. Intuition Wellness Center offers a few online resources that focus on breathing and mindfulness that you might find helpful, too.
    • I often also recommend Me Moves and Brain Gym for kids who experience symptoms of ADHD. 
  • Games that hone the different aspects of attention will help “train” the ADHD brain so that it can settle into a focused state and complete tasks effectively. Good examples of such programs can be found on the ADDitude online magazine website.
  • Whether managing ADHD or anxiety, organizing the home and school environment is key to helping your child succeed. Set routines, preparation for what is coming next, and setting up work, play, and relaxation stations at home are all valuable factors in this equation. 
  • Often ADHD, as well as more severe forms of anxiety, are treated with psychotropic medication. An evaluation with a medication provider can help answer your questions and concerns about the pros and cons of this aspect of treatment.
  • A psychological evaluation is one of the best ways to determine if ADHD and/or anxiety is at the root of the symptoms you are seeing in your child. Importantly, a formal evaluation by a trained specialist can allow your child to receive the supports they need both at home and at school, owing to the diagnosis and list of recommendations (specific to your child’s strengths and areas of need) that come out of this.

To learn more about what might help you and your child in navigating attention and restlessness related challenges, please join me for our Parents’ Heart-to-Heart education series about this very topic, on Tuesday August 21, 2018, from 7-8:30pm.


REGISTER NOW for our Parents’ Heart-to-Heart on “Your Inattentive & Restless Child.” Tuesday, August 21, 2018 from 7pm-8:30pm

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written By: Lindsay Lennertz, PsyD; Clinical Psychologist at Intuition Wellness Center


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Dr. Kacey Greening is Getting Back to Her Roots

It’s hard to find somebody as dedicated to learning as Dr. Kacey Greening. After years of working primarily in college counseling centers, Dr. Greening made a bold move and re-routed her career path back to her original plan: working with kids and families.

And the timing couldn’t have been better. Just as Dr. Greening was launching back into pediatric work, Intuition Wellness Center opened a position for a new clinical team member. Her thoughtful approach to her work, gentle presence, positive attitude, and devotion to ongoing training are just a few of the many ways that Dr. Greening won over the Intuition Wellness team. There’s also a lot more about Dr. Greening to like…

Who is Dr. Kacey Greening?!?

Where are you originally from? I was born and raised in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Favorite vegetable: Carrots.

What do you do to relax? Some of my favorite ways to relax are hiking and mountain biking, watching college basketball, and spending time with my husband, family, and friends. I also love to cook and bake.

Name an unusual thing that you know how to do that many others do not: I grew up watching my dad compete at his Archery club so I learned how to shoot a bow. It’s a lot of fun and a great stress reliever.

Name a guilty pleasure: Watching my favorite Netflix reruns.

What’s a professional topic that you get especially excited about? I’m a big believer in self-compassion. I practice it daily, many times a day! My hope is that in being kind towards myself it will encourage people to be kinder to themselves too.

What led you to decide on joining the Intuition Wellness team? Working with kids, young adults, and families has been a passion of mine since I started working in this field. Intuition’s mission to inspire others to live in health and joy is consistent with my own philosophy, and I wanted to be on a team with people who share my values. Another key factor that led to me joining the team at Intuition is my colleagues. When I was getting to know the Intuition team, I instantly felt a warmth and a kindness that put me at ease. I was also impressed by their commitment to continued growth and quality services. I remember thinking that Intuition was a work environment where I would be supported and challenged to grow, while also being able to offer support and challenge others to grow.

What if someone is feeling nervous about coming in to see you? Is there something they should know? My personal approach is that everyone needs some support and help from time to time, myself included. Engaging in counseling can be a wonderful form of self-care. I know that for many people reaching out for help, it can take a lot of strength and courage, which is one of the reasons why Positive Psychology is so important to me. I think being mindful of pleasant and meaningful experiences are just as important as being mindful of the areas we’re struggling in. When I provide counseling, I not only try to be attentive to the areas where a person feels stuck, but I try to use their strengths to problem solve and create healthy changes.

What’s something that parents and kids might like to know about your approach? I work very hard to find helpful strategies that are consistent with client and family values. I enjoy using art, therapeutic games, and creative approaches to identify client and family needs and to build a trusting relationship. I also incorporate skills from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Positive Psychology, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Many of the things that are important to me as a person also come through in the therapy room, such as kindness, creativity, and collaboration. When I work with clients and families, I see my role as being on the journey with them and collaborating with them to decide what’s best for them.

For more updates on Intuition Wellness Center’s services and programs, subscribe to our newsletter or pop on over to our Facebook page for lots more great stuff.

At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by: Dr. Brandy Baker, PsyD and Dr. Kacey Greening, PsyD

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