Study Suggests Fidgeting May Help Children with ADHD

child doing schoolworkChildren with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) are accustomed to warnings to stop fidgeting. Their busy brains can overload their bodies, and the stress of having to sit still and fight boredom can cause fidgety behavior.

Kids with ADHD, though, often insist that fidgeting helps them focus. And based on the results of a small study, they might be right.

Fidgeting: a Helpful Tool for Kids with ADHD?

The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, argues that fidgeting may help children with ADHD retain more information. To test the effects of fidgeting, researchers assigned a series of tasks to 52 boys ages 8 to 12. Twenty-nine of the boys had ADHD, while 23 had no symptoms and no diagnosis.

Researchers found that children with ADHD who frequently fidgeted performed better on the tasks than children who avoided fidgeting. Children without ADHD who fidgeted showed the opposite result, performing worse on the tasks.

“The assertion that children may focus better when fidgeting makes a lot of sense,” said Carey Heller, PsyD, a Bethesda, Maryland-based therapist who writes about ADHD for The Good Therapy Blog. “Lots of individuals with ADHD are able to sustain attention better when they are fidgeting. The trick is to provide an outlet for fidgeting that is not disruptive or distracting, either to the child or other people.”

Helping Children with ADHD to Focus

The study was small, so more research is needed to explore precisely how and when fidgeting helps children with ADHD learn. For now, the study’s authors argue that fidgeting may help children with ADHD remain attentive during challenging or distracting tasks.

Heller suggests a number of ways that parents and educators may be able to use movement to help children with ADHD learn and pay attention.

“Have your child use exercise bands on the bottom of their chair and push or pull their legs on them,” Heller said. “Engage in subtle stretching during class, such as crossing the legs to stretch the hamstrings. Hold a stress ball, large eraser, or other similar item, or use a very small bicycle—just the pedals and a small stand.

“If managed well, fidgeting can be a great asset to improving focus.”


Children with ADHD ‘learn better when fidgeting’ (2015, April 20). Retrieved from

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  • camp


    April 21st, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    I can definitely see this being a help if the child is more of a kinesthetic learner.

  • Bartley


    April 21st, 2015 at 4:41 PM

    I suppose in some ways everything that I have ever thought that I knew about ADHD has always been the opposite of true.

    Like when I found out that many medications that people with ADHD took are stimulants, that is the exact opposite of what you think would work.

  • Olivia


    April 22nd, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    I don’t even have ADHD but I still learn things and retain information better when I am up moving around. There is something about sitting still that just zonks me out and even if I pay close attention I still cannot hold onto anything that I read. But if I can get up and move around a little while I am reading or even listening to a presentation there is a much better chance that I am going to remember more clearly what I have obtained. Of course all of my teachers in school hated me, said I was a disruption but it’s just how I seem to learn best.

  • Landon


    April 23rd, 2015 at 6:05 PM

    Help them what? Pay less attention to what they are supposed to be doing?? I am not sure that I can go along with this because I was always told to sit still and do my work and that is what I did.

  • april


    April 26th, 2015 at 10:48 AM

    But Landon, those are the things that could be holding some of these kids back! What difference does it make if they are sitting in a desk or not if it is not disrupting others? I would much rather allow these kids to move around and get rid of a little of that excess energy and lEARN something than to wast all of that energy on being still and really not being able to focus on anything but that.

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