The Struggling Learner Scenario: Can’t Sit Still

This is the second scenario in a five-part blog series, The Struggling Learner Scenario.  If you’d like to start from the beginning, read The Struggling Learner Scenario #1.

Scenario #2: My son is ALWAYS moving!  We believe he’s too young for ADHD medication.  He’s a very picky eater so we aren’t prepared to eliminate any of the few foods he actually eats, either.  He has some vision issues for which he attends vision therapy.  He will work with me on learning intervention activities at home, but less than 5 minutes later all he wants to do is play, play, play.  He simply can’t seem to sit still.  I’m so exhausted.  What can I do?


Image alt: Smiling boy upside down preparing for a head stand, with a caption above the image that reads: The Struggling Learner Scenario: Can't Sit Still.


First of all, my compliments to you for doing everything you can to help your child.  Give yourself some props for any progress you have already made.   My first tip for you is this…


Use Movement to Your Advantage

In my experience, even if ADHD is a key factor, even if constant motion is a sign of a dysregulated nervous system attempting to find balance, sometimes students NEED to move in order to learn at their best.


The motion is what helps them process information, so by gravitating toward games that require movement they are essentially telling us what they need.  Our natural tendency, of course, is to try to get them to sit still.  In this case, I would advise against that.


He wants to play games?  Turn your learning intervention activities into games as much as possible.  He’s likely “telling” you that he needs his education to be much more interesting and engaging than the typical sit-still-and-complete-this-worksheet approach.


Even if you simply add a physical component to what you are doing, you’ll probably tap into your son’s stronger learning channels than if you were simply working on a pencil & paper task.


For instance…

Building memory?  Let’s say that you’re building your son’s auditory memory of number sequences, and let’s say that you’re practicing 3 numbers at a time.  Rather than asking him to repeat the numbers that you say out loud 3, 7, 5, why not bounce a ball back and forth to each other during the process?


You say 3 (bounce), 7 (bounce), 5 (bounce).  He says 3 (bounce), 7 (bounce), 5 (bounce).   Now keep going!


You can use this same approach for spelling words, or simple math problems, etc.


With ADHD, the novelty of any activity can wear off pretty quickly.  If that’s your experience, keep switching things up.  Instead of a ball, try a jump rope, or a trampoline, or squirting a target with a squirt gun.


These are just suggestions.  You are the expert about what your child enjoys best, so get creative with it!  Just keep moving.


My second tip for you is this…


Change Your Mind

At the moment, you may believe that your son’s constant motion is a problem, that he really SHOULD sit still, that it’s your job to reign it in.  Unfortunately, the more you resist it the more exhausted you become.


To that I say, give yourself some grace.  What if an active, wiggly, squiggly child wasn’t a bad thing?  What if that’s just the way he learns?


I get it, we all want to conform to social norms in some ways.  You can look into fidget spinners and chair bands that allow kids to keep moving even when they’re sitting.  And you can look into ways to quiet the nervous system.


Those with ADHD can have multiple channels of sensory input vying for their attention all at once.  Consider experimenting with white noise to offer at least one of those channels something else to do.




Keep Learning

Your son has his own unique and beautiful way of learning.  Do your best to meet him where he is rather than trying to make him fit into something entirely unnatural.


The more you learn about your child’s specific needs, the better you will serve him.   The more open you are to seeing life from his point of view, the more creative your solutions will be to his particular learning challenges.


Oh, and keep learning about what YOU need, too!  Need a break for a little while?  Fun fact: Giving yourself some respite is NOT indulgent, it’s absolutely necessary.  Take it.  No, really.  Put it on your calendar right now!   Consider this your official permission slip to do so.  You’re welcome.


Want to read the rest of the series?

#1) The Struggling Learner Scenario: Poor Handwriting

#2) The Struggling Learner Scenario: Can’t Sit Still

#3) The Struggling Learner Scenario: Afraid to Learn

#4) The Struggling Learner Scenario: Intervention Doesn’t Stick

#5) The Struggling Learner Scenario: Sounds Out Every Word