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.

Sigh. 

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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