Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Why Do Children Fidget and Should We Embrace It?

Over the years, scientists have come up with numerous explanations as to why children fidget. Fidgeting very often occurs when a child is involved in carrying out a task that is not interesting enough to sustain their focus.

It is believed that the additional motor-sensory input gained through fidgeting can stimulate a child’s brain, satisfy the brain’s need for stimulation and allow the child to focus on the task at hand.

Fidgeting is a common symptom of some neurological and developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and some sensory processing disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Another train of thought is that children are not getting enough exercise. They are not getting outside and moving around enough, which is why they lack concentrate when in school and learning in the classroom.

Children are spending too much time sitting down. It has been raised as an issue for many reasons right across the UK in recent years, particularly in terms of childhood obesity, the risks of overuse of screens, parental fears and liability issues about children being left free to play outdoors without constant supervision, and increasing pressure from busy time schedules and educational demands.


A recent study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that sitting down is replacing physical activity from the time children start school, from as early as seven years old. Seven years old! It is no wonder that our children are so fidgety.

How Fidgeting Helps Children with ADHD to Focus

In the UK, it is thought that ADHD affects between 2-5% of school-aged children. The NHS cites common symptoms as a short attention span, restlessness and impulsive behaviour.

A recent study into how children with ADHD process information, revealed that they could perform much better in school if they could fidget. Their fidgeting and restless movements are an important part of how they remember things and work out complex tasks.

The study, carried out at the University of Central Florida, discovered that children with ADHD performed much better if they could move, for example by riding an exercise bike or playing with an activity ball, whilst performing work related tasks and tests.


It also found that movement serves a purpose and is only apparent when a child needs to use their brain’s executive functions.

It suggested that rather than trying to reduce hyperactivity in children with ADHD, parents and teachers should be doing exactly the opposite. While letting them run riot is not the idea, their “movement should be facilitated” in constructive ways so that they can “maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities”.

How to Manage Fidgeting

Fidgeting is a double-edged sword. It can help some children to learn, but if not properly managed, it can interfere with a child’s performance at school and even disrupt the rest of the class.

The trick is knowing what to look for and how to manage it. It sometimes requires us as adults to change our own perspectives and comfort zone boundaries to embrace movement rather than challenge it. By implementing some simple strategies, this can certainly be done.

The problem now is that children are going into school with their bodies less prepared for learning than ever before. This is happening as early as EYFS, as the recent studies have shown.

Children are too sedentary in their lifestyles, their sensory systems are not developing fully, but they are asked to sit still and pay attention. It’s a vicious circle! They start fidgeting to try and get the movement their bodies are craving to be able to focus, so they are told to sit still.

This makes their brains just want to go back to sleep! If they don’t get enough movement at appropriate times throughout the day, they cannot pay attention when they must. And if they cannot pay attention then they cannot learn. It’s as simple as that.

The best approach is to try and reduce excess fidgeting and restless behaviour by providing suitable outlets for movement.


It’s a case of activating the brain enough to hold and maintain a child’s interest, without conflicting with the main task of learning. It sounds much more complicated than it is! Here are some great ways to go about it:

There are things that can be done inside to help displace or channel movement. Small “fidget toys”, are small enough for a child to hold in one hand and manipulate with small movements while they are listening or reading i.e. putty or a squeezy foam ball.

Half an hour of movement and playtime each day is not enough! They need to be moving, running, jumping, climbing, stretching their muscles and breathing in the fresh air for an hour at the very least every day!


Children with ADHD and other sensory processing disorders have particularly short attention spans.

Given the opportunity for shorter, more manageable activities throughout the day, with ample time for regular breaks and bursts of playtime in between, may help reduce a child’s fidgeting during school and at home.

Author bio

Emma Homan is an educational copywriter for Pentagon Play and a mother of two who enjoys sharing information on parenting and education at school. Pentagon Play are one of the leading providers of school playground equipment in the UK. You can visit their website here – www.pentagonplay.co.uk

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