Fidgety kids, ADHD kids, and kids who can’t sit still, oh my!



It appears our society has a real big problem with fidgety kids and kids who can’t sit still. More children are being diagnosed ADHD, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Children being diagnosed with ADHD went from 7.8% in 2007 to 11% in 2011. Many more teachers, childcare workers, church volunteers, and even parents wonder if the children in their situations are ADHD.

Because of the type of children I minister to, I see this suspicion come up often with children. I’m not here to debate if a child is ADHD or not. I’m not a physician, therapist, or counselor so I can’t diagnose any child.

What I want you to think about is what we can do to help these active and fidgety kids so they

  • Can increase attention spans
  • Can be attentive to the Word of God
  • Can learn in school what they need to learn
  • Will be able to feel better about themselves
  • Will be able to connect and form loving relationships with teachers, church leaders, parents, and other important people in their lives

From my personal observations children of divorce or kids in trauma have a lot of pent-up energy. Their stress levels are high. Their anger creates energy. But many of these kids don’t have opportunities to get rid of all this extra energy.

Many researchers are noticing more and more fidgety and hyper kids in the classroom. A recent report by Angela Harris, the founder of TimberNook and a pediatric occupational therapist, tells about visiting an elementary classroom. She talks about what she sees in this fifth grade classroom while a teacher reads a story. The kids never stopped moving. They were squirmy and fidgeting as if they literally couldn’t sit still.

Now we know from research and from people like Angela Harris and her work with fidgety children that these kids need to move. She says in an article in the Washington Post “Why So Many Kids Can’t Sit Still in School Today” that “many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement.” In other words they have no core or inner strength due to the sitting that is either required at school or self-inflicted due to being on computers, iPads, computer games, or watching TV. These kids need exercise!

Another report from Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism says that just 4 minutes of active physical movement will improve children’s attention span. These quick spurts of energy are called “FUNtervals.” They can be silly and fun movements, but they are movements that give kids with pent-up energy an opportunity to work through and get out some of that energy through fun things. These FUNtervals finish out a story line from classroom activities, expounding on the story or lesson that was just presented.

The activities are fast paced, use the whole body, and include squats, jumping jacks, running on the spot, and other such large muscle movements. They work because kids’ attention spans are increasing. Who knew something so fun and active would increase attention spans?

I encourage all church leaders and children’s ministers to think about increasing the physical activity used in church classes. This can be done through praise and worship music where the kids get active. It can be done through fun, game-type movements.

Other research shows the brain needs our bodies to do cross lateral and cross midline movements. Our brains need our bodies to stretch.

In DC4K, DivorceCare for Kids, we use “Alphabet Stretches.” While not done for 4 minutes, they still use a lot of large muscles, whole body movements, cross lateral and cross midline movements. The exercises were created to get the kids up and moving, to laugh and to connect with Scriptures in a fun way. Get creative but get the kids moving.

Here are two of my favorite Alphabet Stretches:

  • The letter “I”: “Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him … Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter’” (Genesis 21:3, 6 NIV). Isaac, in the Bible, means “laughter” or “one laughs.” Put your hand on your hips and rotate your hips in a circle. Laugh deeply from your stomach while saying, “Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee, ho-ho-ho.” Switch directions and repeat.
  • The letter “J”: “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin” (1 Samuel 17:45 NIV). Circle your arm over your head and then thrust your arm forward, pretending to throw a heavy object. Do the same with the other arm.

What can you do in your situation to help kids release energy and to increase their attention spans?


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on November 12, 2014.

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