Fidgeting to Focus

It may seem counter-intuitive but fidgeting actually helps us focus. Our bodies are designed for movement. Physicists would tell us that we are never still.  That nothing is truly still.  Everything vibrates.

fidgeting helps focusKids love to move. They want to run, swing, hop and….fidget.  Kids love to fidget – some more than others.  I think its because as children we are naturally curious about the world around us. We have a physical need to reach out & touch it, hold it, rub it, sit on it, taste it, smell it, throw it and so on.  It is our innate curiosity that compels us to do this and when our kids are small, for the most part (as long as its not dangerous or involve poo) we actively encourage them in this.  After all it is how they learn about their environment.

But kids have a habit of growing up and as they do we are less inclined to tolerate this kinesthetic learning.  We expect our children to be still.  To sit quietly on a chair.  To sit for hours at a desk in school and then come home later & do the same.  For many, this is doable, not enjoyable but doable.  For others it is nigh on impossible.  There is no way on this earthly world that they can stay still at their desk.

They are squirming in their chair, gnawing on a pencil, tearing paper, kicking the seat in front of them.  Very often they are unaware of what they are doing.  From the outside, observing them, it can be very easy to assume that they are not paying attention but this may not be the case.  Fidgeting can actually be a way of focusing.  It gives the body something to do physically while the mind is engaged in learning.

When children come to us at Hummingbird Learning Centre, their parents stay for the session as well.  Thinking that it must annoy me, parents will often interject, telling the child to put things down or to sit still.  The truth is; I’m never bothered by it, in fact I will often give a child something to fidget with.  You see, its not the child fidgeting that is the issue. It is way the observer reacts to the fidgeting that is the issue.

Believe me there was a time when it would have driven me crazy, but now I realise that it is simply fulfilling a physical need and not a sign of disinterest.  I know that fidgeting actually helps many children to focus so I made a conscious decision to change my reaction to it.  I cannot control how any child fidgets, but I can control how I react to those actions.  By choosing to see a fidget as a positive it no longers bothers me.  When it no longer bothers me, the kids can only use it to help themselves get focused rather than attempt to distract me with it.

If your child tends to fidget, allow them to. Give them something to fidget with, a stretchy toy, some marla, let them doodle. Put a boundary on it – ‘you can play with that as long as you keep looking up’.  Check in to ensure that they are listening. Ask them open ended questions or for their opinion on what was discussed – you’ll be amazed at how much more they are taking in.  If they are very distracted, remove the fidget and tell them they will get it back once they pay attention. The need for that physical release will motivate them to get the fidget back and remain focused.

Elaine Sparling is an Irish Mammy, a recent convert to cycling and CEO of the award winning Hummingbird Learning Centre, based in Adare Co Limerick.  She can be contacted at  on Facebook and Twitter or through her website

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