Restless? Fidget, Focus to Learn

We discuss the topic of restless behaviour and fidgeting. Very interesting topic and I provide insightful information about kids and their behaviour. Sally discusses Restless Leg Syndrome and how it can affect us. Have a listen, leave a comment or any feedback.

Restless? Fidgetting can help to focus

The need to move when trying to pay attention is a feature of children who cannot sit still and concentrate. Such children can only activate their reticular activating system in the brainstem by movement. As soon as they sit still, their reticular activating system “turns off” and their attention tends to wander.

This is important for learning because the reticular activating system is a column of cells within the brainstem, which sets the level of alertness and therefore plays an important role in sustaining attentiveness.

Sit still and pay attention?

As I did with my kids, teachers and parents often ask children to “sit still and pay attention” which is a contradiction in terms for these children.1

Those who are restless intuitively know that they can pay better attention by moving. This need to move can be an indicator of insufficient dopamine activity in the brain.2  In such clients, performance can decline and the need to move increase as attention slips which may be disruptive in a classroom. Movement can also facilitate the ability process instructions and to communicate. Rotz and Wright suggest that fidgetting distracts the part of the brain that becomes bored.3

Fidgets can be useful for the restless

If a child continues to fiddle increasingly as tasks become more difficult, this is understandable behaviour because it is an intuitive and automatic response to generate neurotransmitters to sustain attention. A small fiddle toy for a pocket may also be helpful. Fiddle toys are now widely available on the internet. Fiddle toys and Fidgets, like spinners or squeeze balls, are tools designed to sustain discreet movement and sensory input. They can be useful for kids who struggle with attention, concentration and listening.

Use a fidget correctly to be effective

The Fidget Spinner craze has arrived and they have now been banned from many classrooms because they can be misused and it is important to teach children how to use fidgets if you wish to use them effectively. If you want to try a fidget with your child, there are many choices. Experiment to find what works best. But I suggest that you avoid a fidget that looks like a toy.

Explain to your child that a fidget is to help support focus and concentration to allow them to complete tasks. When used correctly, fidgets can help to improve listening and attention, and even calm down or slow down the body and mind. A Fidget or fiddle toy is a tool to help focus, it is not a toy. Clearly explain when your child could best use a fidget such as in the classroom or when doing homework.

Set clear rules for the use of fidgets. Print the rules and place where your child can easily see them. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Before you use a fidget, think about whether you need it
  2. Only use a fidget to help with focus or attention
  3. Don’t use a fidget in a way that distracts others
  4. When you are finished, put the fidget away

And how do you fidget?

  • Fiddle
  • Doodle
  • Chew
  • Move
  • Play with your keys, phone, pen watch, jewellery, hair or nails

My tips for those you see who are restless

  1. Perceive the need to fiddle
  2. Understand the purpose – is it boredom or sensory overload?
  3. Permit the fiddle, wiggle or fidget because it can build attention and concentration

If you would like to take the next step with Harry Armytage, complete the listening scorecard here

To find out more about what Sally Estlin does, head here

[1] Krebs, C. A revolutionary way of thinking, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1998. pp218-220

[2] Lyon, MR. Healing the hyperactive brain, Focused Publishing, Calgary, 2000, p30.

[3] Rotz and Wright. Fidget to Focus: sensory strategies for living with ADHD

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