Can’t sit still? 7 expert ways to help your child focus

Wiggly children exist and they are wonderful, smart and excellent additions to the classroom. 

Can’t sit still? 7 expert ways to help your child focus

Meet eight-year-old Jonathan. He doesn’t like to sit up straight in his chair at school and prefers to work with his knee on the chair, his behind in the air and his forearms resting on the table. His mom says at home they call him the “upside-down boy’’ because when he reads, does homework or watches TV—his feet are always higher than his stomach and he often changes positions.

All across the U.S., parents and teachers are wondering if and why kids are wigglier now than they used to be. According to the Center for Disease Control, 11% of all kids (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an increase of 43% between 2003 and 2011 (the last year for which figures are available.)


While ADHD experts attribute these increases to greater awareness of the condition, there are also other things going on in a child’s world that can create hyperactivity, distractibility and impulsivity—the three key symptoms of ADHD.

According to human development pioneer, Dr. David Elkind, author of the classic best-seller The Hurried Child, we’ve narrowed the range of normality. A child who used to be called wiggly now is considered attention deficit disordered. But not every wiggly child has ADHD. Some do, and that’s OK! (And please do consult your child’s pediatrician if you think this is a concern.)

Either way—ADHD or no ADHD—there are some strategies you can try at home or at at school to help your kiddo focus.

Here are seven ways to help your wiggly child succeed:

1. Promote exercise

There’s increasing evidence that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces ADHD-related behaviors. Make sure your child gets a chance to expel some energy before school, perhaps by playing catch in the backyard, seeing how fast he can sprint down the street, or going for a quick walk with mom or dad before the school bus arrives.

2. Offer a nourishing diet

Sending your child off to school with a balanced breakfast consisting of carbohydrates and protein (e.g. eggs and toast, bean burrito, or oatmeal and yogurt) will help him pay better attention in class. Also, cut down on fast-food as much as possible since new research is suggesting an association between junk food and ADHD-related behaviors.

3. Teach relaxation skills

Whenever your child feels especially wiggly at school, teach him some key relaxation techniques. For example, suggest that whenever he feels the need to move in class, he should take a deep breath, hold it for a count of five, and then exhale (and repeat this 2-3 times.) He could also make his arms and legs stiff like a robot, then let them totally relax like a rag doll (and repeat this 2-3 times.) Or, you might suggest that he visualize a positive, relaxing scene (for kids with an ADHD diagnosis, it might be something quite active, like a monster truck rally!). These strategies can reduce stress and provide a constructive channel for pent up energy.

4. Speak with your child’s teacher about the value of fidgeting

There’s new evidence suggesting that kids diagnosed with ADHD actually focus better on their schoolwork if they’re allowed to fidget in class. Of course the fidgeting should be done in a manner that’s not disturbing to others. Some teachers use “bouncy bands’’ which are elastic strips attached to the legs of a desk that the child can bounce his feet off of silently (bungee cords might work as well.) Meet with your child’s teacher and see what options, if any, are available for her.

5. Make sure your child gets enough sleep

Insufficient sleep at night (less than 8 or 9 hours) can set your child up for inattention and irritability the next day. Set consistent times for getting to bed, restrict media in the hour before sleep, and help your child establish comfy bedtime rituals with soft pillows, stuffed animals and anything else that helps him relax.

6. Promote a strong physical education (PE) program at your child’s school

One likely reason for the surge in ADHD diagnoses over the past decade has to do with the way schools have cut back on recess and physical education programs in an effort to devote more time to academics. As we noted in strategy #1, kids with an ADHD diagnosis need to have regular times for expending surplus energy and exercise. PE is an important part of that effort.

Work with your school officials, PTA chapter, or other school group to establish a PE program that is more than just waiting for one’s turn at kickball. Or, try to prioritize after-school activity and movement—get your child involved in a sport that she loves like soccer, basketball, or track and field (either as an extracurricular activity or with a community team.)

7. Foster good home-school communication

Sometimes a child’s behavioral problems at school can be tied to a poor relationship with his teacher. Start the year out by introducing yourself to his teacher(s), inform her of his strengths and his unique style of learning (e.g. ask if he can be allowed to sit with one knee on his chair seat if that really helps him focus), and set up lines of communication where the teacher can report on how things are going at school (texting can be a quick and easy channel.)

Wiggly children exist and they are wonderful and smart and excellent additions to the classroom. They just need some guidance and assistance from the adults around them. Unless your child’s teacher has “wiggle furniture’’ (e.g. stand-up desks, stability balls to sit on, or wobble chairs that move in all directions), you’ll need to be diplomatic in suggesting ways in which your child’s energetic nature can be softened in the classroom.

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.


Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!


Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.


Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌


Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.


Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.


Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.


Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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