Being “the Boss” of yourself or “scaffolding” for your child or your students requires learning to effectively and respectfully manage common issues such as ADHD, anxiety, stress, boredom. It involves cultivating fidget-buster coping skills that work for you (or your child / student). It involves educating yourself (or your child /student on the fidget-busting choices available and being proactive in initiating the necessary behavior modification strategies. Welcome to Part 1 of 3, two-minute reads on effective and respectful fidgeting.

Parents and teachers do well to encourage respectful fidgeting from their children and students. The respectful fidget doesn’t disturb others. Clicking a pen or tapping a pencil during class or a business meeting is distracting to others. Squeezing a stress ball or crossing and uncrossing your toes inside your shoes doesn’t disturb others and is therefore respectful way to fidget.

Giving yourself or a child permission to fidget is one way to effectively decrease the anxiety or boredom energy associated with behavior that is perceived by others to be “annoying” or “disruptive”

The respectful fidget can be used as an effective learning tool. Let’s look at doodling for example.  Doodling while listening enables one to better absorb what’s being said. Telling a student who has ADD (ADHD) to “stop doodling and pay attention” during a lecture effectively serves to paralyze that student’s ability to hear, process and learn what the instructor is attempting to teach. (See my blogs on the brain and ADHD for more information on the brain, learning and behavior.) 

Parents and teachers in particular, need to know that fidgeting is an expressions of the brain’s sensory-motor activity and is a normal, automatic response to neural stimulation deficit when an activity does not engage one’s full attention no matter the reason – boredom, anxiety, or ADHD for example.

Today, tomorrow – Have some fun with yourself / your child / student! Brainstorm 5 – 10 fidget strategies that you think might be both, effective and respectful. After you have created a short list of fidget options, take those options out for a test drive.  If you are the frustrated parent of a teen with ADHD, you should know that many teenage students are able to focus for a full hour on homework if they are permitted to listen to music or have the TV on in the background while working. 

Children in grade school tend to focus longer when their hands are kept busy while listening to a teacher or during other activity that requires being seated for an extended period of time. Some of my younger clients focus better when permitted to fidget while listening. They are given permission to wiggle their toes inside of their shoes, squeeze and shape balls of clay or SillyPutty, or, to chew gum (as long as they keep their mouths closed while chewing). One insightful and creative fifth grader discovered that knitting during our sessions together helps her to remember the skills she is learning in therapy and this enables her to put those skills to use in her classes at school.

No time like the present…  Take five minutes and add a few more fidget ideas to the list you created. After test driving your list of fidget strategies you / your child / student should be able to determine which fidgets work best for you / your child / student in any given location / scenario –  school, business meeting, church, or grocery store for example.

If you  are stumped for ideas, here are a few more non-strenuous and respectful fidget activity ideas in addition to doodling, walking and talking, providing background noise, chewing gum / sucking on a War Head candy, knitting, or squeezing balls of clay.

-Fidget toys / objects work well for both, adults and children. Pipe cleaners or jewelry wire to shape and bend, beads and string (or fishing line, wire etc) for beading, a smooth stone or large marble to “worry” in your pocket, thick rubber band to stretch and pull (keep away from your face and eyes and the face and eyes of other people – best for adults)
Use colored pencils or highlighters to underline / highlight words and phrases to enhance comprehension and maintain focus while reading
Listen to music at home, work or school… while doing homework or mundane chores, or while in bed at night going to sleep…
-Shake that groove thang / Stand up and stretch every 10 – 60 minutes.
*Parents, talk to your child’s teacher about the ways in which your child can respectfully fidget by moving his / her entire body frequently during classroom learning time.
Here are a few of ideas:

Place the child’s desk to the side and toward the back of the classroom to enable discreet fidget activity.
Assign the child two desks, so that he or she can self-regulate by moving from one desk to the other as necessary to relieve the anxiety or energy behind the fidgety behavior.
Replace standard chairs with exercise balls. The child will be balancing “softly” while she works at her desk.
Make use of Rebounders (mini trampolines)
Physical therapy peddler (similar to a small /portable stationary exercise bike)

On the job:
Take a coffee break or visit the restroom as an excuse to move.
-Do what I do, and run up and down the stairs in the office building several times.

Fidgets available on Amazon:
-Fidget spinners and cubes
-Exercise peddlers / Folding cycles
-Resistance bands

Fidgets available on Therapy Shoppe, Inc:
-Crystal Clear Thinking Putty
-Fidgeting Foot Band XT
-Textured Tangles

Being “the Boss” of yourself or the scaffolding for your child or students requires learning to effectively and respectfully manage common issues such as anxiety, stress, boredom, and ADHD. It involves cultivating fidget-buster coping skills that work for a particular individual. It involves educating yourself on the fidget-busting choices available and being proactive in initiating the necessary behavior modification strategies.

Adults and children alike, benefit greatly, when they understand what is going on in their own brains and in the brains of those around them. In general, all people do better in life when they are proactive – actively involved in choosing strategies to manage the sometimes crazy, mixed up neural activity taking place every moment of every day right on top of our shoulders.

If you are an older teen or adult or you are a parent or teacher of older teens, be sure to read Parts 2 and 3 of this blog – The Art of Effective and Respectful Fidgeting.