10 Ways to Help Your Child Work Out the Wiggles



If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD then you’re not alone.  The latest figures from 2011 indicate that 6.4 million children have received that label, and most are being medicated for it.  I’ve always had a problem with the ADHD label.  It doesn’t account for the many gifts that these kids have (including creativity, novelty-seeking, and hands-on expertise), it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that many of these kids simply are developing later than so-called normal kids (their brains mature on average two to three years later than typically developing children), and there is no clear understanding of what causes it and no tests or biomarkers that definitively diagnose the condition.  In fact, ADHD is defined primarily by its three key behavioral symptoms:  hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity.  It’s clear that these behaviors are very real, however, and that parents and teachers need help in coming up with strategies that will lessen their impact in school and at home.  Here are several strategies that can help achieve this goal:

For hyperactivity

  • Let your child fidget when he studies:  As counterintuitive as it may seem, research suggests that allowing your child to wiggle while he does his homework actually helps him focus on the material;
  • Channel your child’s hyper energies into the expressive arts: In a sense hyperactivity is simply energy with no place to go (except all over the place). The arts (painting, clay, collage, drawing, drama, music, puppets) provide a healthy channel for all that wired energy to flow through within a constructive manner;
  • Make sure your child gets enough exercise:  Recently the Tour de France sponsored a special ‘’Outride ADHD’’ campaign which promoted bicycling as an important method to deal with ADHD symptoms. Other suggestions include:  running, hiking, soccer, basketball, swimming, and hocky;
  • Build, borrow, or buy wiggle furniture:  There’s a whole new sub-set of ergonomic furniture that allows kids to wiggle as they work (see above). Examples include stability balls to sit on (giant balls sometimes used for Pilates and other exercise routines),; ‘’bouncy bands’’ (elastic bands tied to a chair’s front legs that allow kids to kick against without disturbing others), and ‘’wobble chairs,’’ stools made of flexible plastic that allow 360°movement without fear of toppling over.

For distractibility

  • Teach your child mindfulness meditation:  Research supports the behavioral benefits of sitting quietly for anywhere from two to thirty minutes while paying attention to one’s breathing and simply noticing the different thoughts, feelings, and sensations going on inside and outside one’s body. Younger children can focus on a candle, an inner image (e.g. a peaceful vacation scene or happy party), or a favorite musical selection.
  • Teach your child self-monitoring skills:  Help your child to become aware of how she’s attending to her homework by using an app like MotivAider, which delivers random vibrations or sounds that signal your child to ask himself: ‘’am I focusing on my work right now?’’
  • Strengthen your child’s working memory:  Studies have shown that many kids diagnosed with ADHD have problems with working memory. This is the ability of your child to hold in his mind several items at the same time without forgetting them (such as directions for doing a school assignment or a list of chores to do around the house).  You can help train this ability by playing games (e.g. Concentration), singing memory songs like ‘’My Aunt Came Back,’’ or setting memory challenges (e.g. put several items on a tray, let your child see them for 30 seconds, then cover the tray and have your child name all the items.

For impulsivity

  • Use music to focus and calm:  Ask your child to choose music that will help him focus on his homework.  Please note that it may not be your favorite music (suggest that your child use earphones if the music will disturb others). The proof of the pudding is whether it  actually does help him study more effectively.  For some kids it works, for others music actually distracts them.  The only way you’ll know for sure is to try it (you may need to work with your child to find just the right music that helps him focus).
  • Teach emotional self-regulation skills:  If your child has emotional ‘’meltdowns’’ then he is not using self-regulation in dealing with his difficulties.  Help your child recognize the ‘’triggers’’ that alert him that he is about to ‘’lose it’’ (e.g. rapid breathing, flushed face), and guide him in choosing strategies that will help him de-escalate his behavior and find better ways of responding to negative events.
  • Make time for your child to play:  One of the reasons we have an epidemic of ADHD in our society is that our kids don’t play like they used to.  Give your child time during the day to engage in non-technological play that involves make-believe and doesn’t depend on parent supervision (examples:  building a cardboard or wood fort, playing with miniature soldiers or other minature figures, dress-up, puppet shows, games with child-created rules).  

These are just a few of the many non-drug strategies that you might consider to help your child work out the wiggles.  Using them in conjunction with ADHD medications, or instead of ADHD meds (or at lower doses), may produce a happier, better behaved, and focused child.  [Note: all decisions regarding changes in medications should be done in conjunction with your child’s physician].

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. has been an educator for over forty years and is the author of 16 books.  You will find many other non-drug strategies in his latest book:  The Myth of the ADHD Child:  101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion (Tarcher/Perigee).