Why ADHD children need to move in class

Shutterstock.com/ Tatyana Dzemileva

Think back to when you were in a classroom. You likely had a strict teacher that told you to sit still and pay attention. It was tough, but it worked. We got through school and learned a little bit about behavior along the way. However, as we learn more and more about psychology and about the different needs of children we are starting to realize that one rule is not the ideal solution for all children. With the growing cases of ADHD in schools, we need to better understand how to treat each individual in the best way.

A new study has now shown that children who have ADHD will focus better if they are allowed to move. If we keep telling them to sit still it may feel like we are helping them to focus and follow orders but we are just interrupting their normal behavior and what they need to do to focus. By telling an ADHD child to stop moving you are telling them that their natural behavior is wrong. They will look at other children who are sitting still with ease and think they are bad, this will impact their self-esteem. In reality, they are not bad at all and they should not be punished for their different needs. 

The issue is that by moving, children are likely distracting other students and are usually breaking the rules. Breaking the rules and distraction are big issues in schools. Instead of giving up on movement, we need to think of ways to allow movement in class that help students to deal with the need to move and that doesn’t distract other kids.

One of the best ways that I have seen employed by a number of schools is the use of an exercise ball. Most schools are very willing to let a child sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair as long as you provide it. This allows the child to make constant small movements and remain focused on the class. The first time one of these balls appears in class it may cause a stir. If you want to avoid that, talk to other parents who may want to use the solution as well. If a number of kids bring in exercise balls at the same time, it won’t be so strange to the others.

The other solution that I really like is the stress ball. I like this because it is so simple, cheap, barely noticeable and not even that strange to see. If you get your child a couple of fun looking stress balls that they can squeeze and play with during class it will help them to focus and not distract anyone. Most ADHD kids spend their time tapping their pencil or moving their leg, it helps but it can be noisy and distracting. A stress ball meets all of their requirements without any of the noise.

There are many other solutions available too. You could ask a teacher if your child can spend some part of the standing at the back of the class. You could even get some resistance bands that people usually use for the gym and attach them to the legs of the table. Then your child can move the bands with their foot whenever they feel like it.

In essence, we need to change our perspective on movement in the classroom. While before we looked at it as a no-go because of the impact it had on other students and the lack of respect it showed the teacher, that has to change. We now know that it can help many students that have a hard time focusing and they should not be punished for this need.