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Fidgeting to Help Your Child

misbehaving siblings“She won’t sit still at the dinner table.” “He pulls his sister’s hair and provokes her when I’m driving.” “He wants to crash into everything.”

Wiggly, squiggly kids are challenged to conform to standards that are socially acceptable and keep them safe. Yet fidgeting for them is purposeful. In fact, we all must fidget a little bit to keep ourselves alert. Without movement, our arousal system goes down. Think about sitting perfectly still for 30 minutes without some kind of shifting. You’ll likely be challenged.

For children with sensory challenges, simply saying, “Stop fidgeting!” or “Keep your hands to yourself” is unlikely to help. Your child needs movement. The question is: How can you allow your child to move and behave in a socially acceptable manner? Without accommodating his needs, you and others will remain frustrated with him and he’ll become labeled a troublemaker.

Have a supply of things available to occupy your child’s hands.

For example, have a box of squishy toys or toys he can take apart and put back together in your car. Anticipate the problem and ask him to choose a toy for the drive before you start the car.

Make it easier for your child to sit at the dinner table.

Get a “move and sit” air cushion or improvise a cushion to allow your child to move and sit at the dinner table. Use a beach ball with just a little bit of air so that it’s pliable for movement. Or take an exercise band and tie it to the legs of your child’s chair so that he can use it to move his legs while sitting at the table.

Develop a customized sensory diet.

How much movement does your child need to help himself? A sensory diet is similar to a nutritional diet in that each person needs a particular amount and type of food to function well. In the same way, fidgety children need help discovering the sensory diet that helps them focus and release energy. Working with an occupational therapist, you can help your child develop a customized sensory diet.

For example, if your child wants to crash into things, you can offer him a crash landing pad made from pillows or couch cushions. But without structure, he can become overly stimulated. Occupational therapists have experience fine tuning appropriate strategies. For the child who crashes, structure may include instructions like: “Every time you crash count until you get to 15 and then stop” or “Sing a song while you crash. At the end of the song, stop.” This kind of structure engages cognitive functioning so that the child won’t seek crashing at random times and won’t get over stimulated.

Not all strategies work for all kids. Some children are under stimulated and need different strategies. Chewing on ice might help the under stimulated child, but for another child chewing on ice could be agitating. An occupational therapist can help you develop the right strategies for your child.


To schedule an evaluation or to get advice about your child’s challenges, call or email a CHC Care Manager at 650.688.3625 or caremanager@chconline.org

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