Fidgeting and focus in 7 year olds

fidgeting in 7-year-olds and adults
A closet fidgeter

The Summer Holidays were over and it was back to school for the girls and back to work for me.  My girls are now almost age 7 and 5 and have just made a start in Year 2 and Reception.  This is quite a milestone for me, my youngest now being in school full-time.    I dedicated some time to getting them both school-ready again, including some reading and writing practice, impressing on them the importance of ‘listening the first time’ to teachers, enjoying their learning and taking pride in their work.

My youngest settled very well, very quickly.  Reception still involves a lot of play and play-based learning.  It’s not a great deal different to her nursery class so far.  In Year 2, however (and to some extent, Year 1), the pressure on the children has increased considerably.  This year will see my 7-year-old take her Year 2 SATs (which, I believe, may be being scrapped in a few years’ time – but not yet!) which requires a lot of preparation and the ability to focus and concentrate for a period of time.

We’re still just over 3 weeks into the school year and already I’ve faced parenting school-challenge number 1 – how to help your child to focus.  Yes, my 7-year old was find it hard to “remain on task”, I was told.  She gets “distracted easily” and crucially, she “fidgets a lot”.  When I pressed the teacher to explain what exactly was happening, I found that the fidgeting was the biggest problem.  She has been given her own chair to sit on during carpet time, to “help her to focus”.

We took this on board as parents after week 1 and tried to understand what was happening.  We’ve tried a few things both at home and at school which I’ll explain in a while – they seem to be gradually working and helping our daughter to settle and enjoy her class.  But first I wanted to reflect on this phenomenon of fidgeting.

As I write this, I realise I’m intermittently bouncing my foot up and down and playing with my bottom lip.  Yes, you guessed it – I also a fidgeter.  Listening to my daughter’s teachers brought back some interesting memories of my own school days.  I distinctly remember being told to stop fidgeting whilst I was on the carpet!  As I paid attention to my own behaviour, I realise that rarely do I sit still (my husband will tell you that I sit completely still only after 8pm at night).  At work, if I have a particular report or presentation to write which requires concentration, I fidget.  I wouldn’t say it’s particularly noticeable to colleagues (maybe it is..maybe I should ask!) but I do move around in my seat, chew on my nails and mess with my feet or twirl my hair.  As per my ‘workstation assessment’ instructions, I get up at least every 20 minutes to walk around, chat to a colleague, make a cup of coffee or go to the loo.

The key point here is that I wonder if my fidgeting helps my concentration.  I certainly do manage to get the work done and to meet my objectives and targets.

A quick google of fidgeting in children throws up a few surprises.  There’s been a lot of research in this area, which seems to suggest that fidgeting does in fact help with concentration in some people, and particularly in those with ADHD (spawning the advent of the Fidget Spinner).  It can be a good stress reliever.  Fidgeters tend to be more prone to mind wandering or daydreaming – they have active imaginations and can be very creative.  Intriguingly, fidgeters tend to be thinner according to one article, burning around 200-300 more calories per day.

I found this interesting on a number of levels.  Is fidgeting genetic?  Why do some people fidget and not others?  Is fidgeting ok after all, and could it actually be helping my 7-year-old to focus?

The last point is a tricky one.  It’s been helpful to understand the motivation behind my 7 year old’s ants-in-your-pants-ness, but if I’m honest, my research was just the validation of what I already know.  She’s an energetic girl with a lively mind.  She doesn’t really like sitting still – it’s not in her nature.  Even if she’s watching TV at home, she will bounce from sofa to sofa, or just get up and do a few laps of the living room because she feels like it.  She likes sport (don’t know where she gets that from!) – particularly monkey bars and tennis.  But she’s also bright, enjoying learning musical theory currently and learning about science.  As her teacher told me (begrudgingly?) “she’s obviously taking in enough.”

It wouldn’t be OK to say “oh fidgeting is fine, do as much as you like as it’s your nature”.  The feeling at her school is that she can achieve more, or ‘take in’ more, if she can sit still for longer periods of time and that with less fidgeting, she’ll be less distracted.  Is this right?  I think, from observing my own behaviour, that it’s a balance.  I’m clearly a natural fidgeter, but over time I learned not only when to fidget, but how to focus whilst fidgeting, or even how to fidget acceptably!

My husband and I were also keen not to impress on our daughter that there is anything ‘wrong’ or ‘different’ about her – because there isn’t.  Some people fidget and some don’t.  Some people bite their nails and some don’t, some sit with their legs crossed, some don’t.  For school purposes, she needs to find a way to have a bit of a good old fidget, at the right time, whilst retaining her ability to listen and learn.

Simple, surely?  Well, at least we wanted to keep it simple and not make too big a deal of it for her.  So our method has so far been this:

  • Everyone’s different:  by this we just mean to let her know that some people fidget and some don’t, using myself as an example.
  • Practice makes perfect: If she fidgeted too much in the first week or so, then it doesn’t matter.  Like playing the piano, practising her own particular techniques takes time.
  • Techniques: We’ve also practised some simple ‘thumb twiddling’ and ‘foot twiddling’ techniques that aren’t as annoying to the teacher but still release a bit of energy.  We’ve also practised simple deep breathing – although this was not as effective!
  • Play when you can: Reminders that she can fidget and run around to her heart’s content at break times and lunchtimes.

We did briefly consider something like a fidget spinner, or bracelet she can fiddle with.  We did use something similar when she was around 4 years old – a fidget necklace.  But to us, and considering where she’s at and how she’s coping, we felt this was too much and perhaps a bit of a backward step at this stage for her.  I can totally see their usefulness, however!

So far, so good and we will see how the fidgeting progresses, or not, over the coming year.  Are you a fidgeter?  I promise, it’s an interesting exercise to monitor your own fidgeting in the course of one day!



Working Mum of two, living in Didsbury, Manchester, in a house which breeds washing, mushed up raisins and various toys in the brightest primary colours. Oh, and the odd empty wine glass.

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