You may recognize fidgeting when your child makes small movements with their body, generally their feet and hands. Their teachers may tell you that they often tap their pencils or wiggle around in their chair in the classroom. It’s something that most children do. It’s often linked with not paying attention. It often reflects restlessness and discomfort. Studies have even suggested that it reflects a wandering mind.
Even though scientists have come up with some explanations for why kids who have neurodevelopmental disorders fidget, they don’t know definitively why fidgeting happens. Some scientists think kids fidget because their brain’s need stimulation and fidgeting satisfy this need. Others say children’s brains aren’t capable of curbing the urge to fidget.
There is a lot of kids that have underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems these days because their movement is restricted. Your child needs to move their bodies around for hours at a time to develop a strong vestibular system. They also need to do this several times a week in order to benefit from it.
It seems that inattention causes mild fidgeting, however, certain disorders like ADHD and restless leg syndrome (RLS) cause serious fidgeting.
Children’s bodies aren’t as prepared to learn as they once were. Their sensory systems aren’t working properly and then they’re told to sit still, focus and pay attention. Children begin fidgeting to satisfy their body’s needs for movement and to turn their brain on. When the teacher tells them to pay attention and sit still, their brain “goes back to sleep.”
Your child needs to be capable of paying attention for them to learn. But, for them to pay attention, adults have to allow them to move more. And, since many schools have banned “fidget spinners”, people are likely beginning to have a different opinion on them. If your child fidgets, consider getting an evaluation from a pediatric occupational therapist.