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How to help children who fiddle and fidget concentrate more at school

There are a number of children who are unable to sit; rocking and fidgeting in their chairs and touching and tapping inappropriate items. This can be quite irritating for teachers, teachers assistants and parents, especially when children fall off chairs, or leave their seats when they are expected to remain seated and are generally disruptive to the class.

Why do children fiddle and fidget?

Some children have trouble regulating their sensory input making them easily distracted or seeking out sensation to calm their nervous system. Fiddling with small items or objects can give children the right input to help them regulate sensory systems, by filtering the extra stimulation. Once children can self regulate they feel calm and alert, allowing them to sustain concentrate and aid learning.

This is why it is now more acceptable to fiddle but they need to be the correct items, and items which are suitable for a classroom environment.

Most children fidget from time to time, but children with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, dyspraxia, dyslexia and sensory processing difficulties are more likely to fidget more and be distracted.

Adults learn to self regulate in a socially acceptable way, using every day items. For example, we often doodle, wind and unwind the telephone cord, or play with our pen. We do this naturally, almost subconsciously, to keep us focused, and perform better in our thinking.

What we can do to help?

1. Provide children with fiddle items. Ideal this items needs to have a variety of surfaces, such as lumpy, squishy, different materials, and it can helpful if the item can move. These can be everyday items such as sponges, pencil grips, stress balls and bubble wrap, stones, beads and paper clips. Children tend to become desensitised to the sensory benefit of an item, so use it for short periods during the day, when the child needs to concentrate and swap the items over the course of the day.

If you wish to, you can also purchase specialist fidget items from our shop.

2. Provide children with a portable patch of fabric the child can put in a pocket and rub to help them feel calm and alert. The materials can be smooth, like silk, or scratchy like Velcro. These can be discreet, allowing the child to concentrate during group work or circle time.

3. It maybe helpful to talk to your child’s teacher and ask if your child can get up and walk to the back of the classroom (movement breaks) and stand for a few minutes. Research has demonstrated that some children benefit from sitting on an exercise ball, move n sit cushion, rocking chair, stool or even stand, although this can be quite difficult in a large classroom. If not possible in the classroom but some children may benefit from wrapped elastic thera-band or spandex band around the chair leg for children to pull with their feet. This needs to be done under full supervision.

4. Research also tells us that children who exercise and use big muscle groups can help them to learn better. So playing outside, jumping on a trampoline, walking to school (if possible), stretching and yoga, playing tennis or kicking a football ball are all good solutions to be used before and after school.

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