Getting your fidgety child to sit and work can be a challenge!

Doesn’t this guy look too perfect? Most kids are not able to sit so beautifully for homework time. Here are some simple “OT tips” to get those bottoms on the chair and that work completed!

It’s Back to School Time! This means schedules, routines, and good old chaos for so many families. One thing parents complain about is getting their child to SIT for homework. I’ve got a few secrets for that! In the spirit of back to school, here’s a brief list of simple tips that will help YOUR fidgety child focus during homework.    This post contains affiliate links.

1.  Make a homework station

Assembling all your “homework supplies”  on a Lazy Susan will put everything in one spot. This is easy for your kids to grab, AND you can move it out of the way at dinner time. The kitchen table is NOT a great spot for all kids for homework; especially the little ones. Here’s why: Positioning is really important for comfort. The kitchen table is designed for grown-up bodies, not little kids. This is why little kids sometimes have a booster seat at dinner—it puts their bodies in the proper position to eat. When a child is sitting at a grown-up table, they have difficulty reaching the tabletop comfortably. They compensate by leaning forward on the table, sitting on their legs, or kneeling. This drives parents crazy because it isn’t the “proper way” to sit during dinner.  

If they can’t fit, what else should they do?

The same lies true when it comes to homework. Here’s the optimal position for a child.

  1. Feet should rest on the ground, with knees and ankles at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Feet and legs should make the letter “L”.
  3. Thighs are parallel with the floor, not slanting downward.

(If your child is sitting on their legs, kneeling, standing, or kicking their feet, check the setup of the table. If you have a child-size table, make that your homework table. It provides your child with the optimal position to promote shoulder stability, comfort, and neat handwriting). 

Correct—Table and chair are the correct height, allowing the child to sit up straight, elbows are resting comfortably on table and feet are flat on the floor.  

2.  Provide fidget toys

If you have a child that is constantly distracted, touching things, or banging their pencil, it may actually be smart to give them something to fidget with. There are fidget toys available at the dollar store such as little Koosh balls, stress balls, or even a rubber bracelet. Give them something to fidget with? YES. Like adults, some kids are tactile people, and they need to keep their fingers busy in order to concentrate. Give it a try—it’s a good idea to explain to your child that they can play with the toy while they read or do their work, not instead of doing work. If it makes your child more distracted, take the fidgets away. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s worth a shot!

3.  Try chewing gum

Oral motor input can be calming, organizing, and settling for children. It goes back to infancy when they suck on a pacifier or their fingers to calm down and get to sleep. Even grown-ups have oral motor habits or tendencies that are self-soothing; stress eating or eating while studying, smoking,  or constantly drinking water, coffee, or soda are a few examples. Children who are constantly putting toys in their mouths, chewing on their pencils, and sucking on their clothing may be seeking oral motor/sensorimotor input to help their bodies reach an optimal arousal level. An “optimal arousal level”  means that the child is not lethargic, hyper, or antsy. Children who put toys in their mouths, chew on their clothing, or bite their pencils at school may be seeking oral motor/sensorimotor input. Occupational Therapists and experts in self-regulation suggest that oral motor input is necessary for the organization of the nervous system. Therapists stress the importance of oral mouth stimulation in regulating attention and mood. Speech therapists and OTs often incorporate activities that require sucking, blowing, or chewing in order to facilitate increased attention with the kids.

Chewing Can Be Calming…

I’ve used gum chewing with kids who are constantly humming, talking, or whining because it gets their mouth moving (comfort for them) while quieting (comfort for me!) them at the same time. Try having packs of sugar-free gum at the homework station. Children love to chew gum and it is a great way to help them concentrate. It is also healthier than getting into a routine of mindless eating or crunching snacks during homework time.

4.  Use a Kitchen Timer

Kids who are really fidgety have a hard time sitting for long periods of time. A fun kitchen timer like a cupcake one is a great way to set scheduled movement breaks into your child’s routine. Figure out how long your child can sit and focus before they get restless or frustrated. Then let them set the timer. When the timer goes off, they get a quick break. Because these kids need movement, make it a movement break. You can write five or ten different exercises on index cards and then let them pick a card. So work for ten minutes, pick a card, do 50 jumping jacks! Now—set the timer again and back to work you go. This is a good system for all kids because it works when they are lethargic (to get their central nervous system organized and wake them up) or fidgety (to get their central nervous system organized so they get some of those wiggles out). Also, having a set “chore” to do during the break provides you with a start and a finish. Otherwise, your little one will wander off to watch a little TV, get all caught up in their show, and never come back!

5. Let them play first

Sometimes homework needs to be done right after school. The household schedule can be crazy and things need to get done. BUT – kids need to play. They sit inside almost all day long and then they sit on the bus on the way home. Fidgety kids (and even non-fidgety kids) need to get moving in order to have a good day. Recess periods are getting shorter. Kids have Physical Education class a few times a week, not every day. It’s a shame because spending less time moving limits a child from developing overall strength and motor coordination. Kids work hard to sit and get their work done. And that just doesn’t feel natural for a fidgety kid! So when they get home, send them outside to just swing on the swing, jump rope, play ball, or ride their bike. All of these activities provide sensory input, which is calming and organizing to a child’s central nervous system. So if possible, let them play!


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