Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fidgety Kids: It’s About the Brain, Not Just the Body




If you have a youngster at home, you probably notice they like to move…A LOT! I have two young boys and in recent months I have especially begun to notice how much they like to fidget and move. My older son is almost five years old and I was beginning to worry about his ability to sit in a kindergarten classroom next year. Then I came across this great article that has been floating all over the internet entitled, Why Children Fidget: And What We Can Do About It. Given that it was written by a pediatric occupational therapist, I felt pretty good about the validity of its content. The author makes the point that many children today have a very difficult time sitting still in classrooms. They are constantly fidgeting. Some teachers or parents start to think many of these children may have ADHD due to their inability to sit still. According to this article, there may be something much more basic and simple going on in these situations—the children need to move much more to adequately develop balance and strength. This movement, as the author describes, helps “turn on their brains” so they can focus on academic topics. Here’s how the author describes it,
 Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”  

Wow, what an eye-opener. I had a sense of this issue before but I never thought of it in these terms before. Have you ever noticed how much better your child sits still or focuses on school work (or similar task) after they have played really hard? I certainly have noticed this with my son and this makes think this issue is really at work for many children.

We have known for years that there is a “movement crisis” in the United States. Rising child obesity rates is some evidence of this (although multiple factors may be at work), but now it seems that rising rates of ADHD diagnosis may be related to a lack of movement and open-ended play time. Of course, there are children who have clearly-defined and diagnosed ADHD, but this article makes me wonder if some kids may just need much more exercise and movement in their lives to help them focus better.


This recognized need for more movement for our children is not new. At least one recent pediatric study showed the benefit of recess time (even 20 minutes) for improved classroom behavior. Hopefully, as more research of this type comes to the forefront, more schools will maintain or perhaps expand recess or break times to allow children more time to move.



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