Can Your Child Sit Still?

by Nancy Monson

It is a myth that children can’t slow down or sit still.  There is no reason why children have to be crazy, screaming wild banshees most of the time, with parents saying, “that’s just the way he/she is!!”  After 26 years of working with children of all ages, I have found that in the right environment, with care, attention, consistency and recognition of the importance of cultivating a quiet place both internally and physically,  most children can learn to be calm, centered, still and focused some of the time.  (Kids do have a lot of energy and play in them……)

We need to begin with truly wanting this for our children, for their benefit, not just ours (as parents, teachers and adults).  If this becomes a priority, we can look at the reasons WHY children can’t slow down:

We aren’t slow, we hardly stop!  We ourselves have to model and practice slowing down, taking time, listening well, sitting down to eat, and have some kind of quiet, contemplative time in our lives.  We just go, go, go from one thing to the next and so do our kids.  We need to face that our kids are a reflection of us, our culture, AND an educational system that doesn’t work for many kids.

  • A high sugar or carbohydrate diet that keeps kids pumped up and ungrounded.
  • Not enough physical exercise to move all that energy that kids have.  And they need to play!  Most schools have 15 minute recesses. That is way out of balance for what kid’s can handle on the other end, meaning, sitting and focusing.  Kid’s need to get really physical every day, not just once, but a few times.
  • Not enough social time. I recognized that my students needed time to play, create, talk, and work out issues.  When they had that, they could focus instead of being distracted by their friends all the time.  Difficulty with social problems can also be at the heart of what might be causing a child to act out.  
  • They all need to have some kind of specific slowing down and centering times each day. In our school we have something called quiet time for the younger children and stillness for the older children where they learn how to be still, calm, focused, quiet, and then how to take that into their next activity.  We have specific transition techniques we do when we change activities or if we are getting wound up: we stop, take three deep slow breaths.  They really do it and it works a lot better than getting upset with them.  
  • Too much time at the desk, with mental learning, and not enough exploring, experimenting, engaging, hands on, experiential learning. Some learning happens in reading or writing, but more learning happens in collaborative, meaningful and dynamic situations.  Desk time is over used and over valued.

So, what can you do to help your child contact, stay connected to and be able to access that deeper place inside where they CAN  be slower instead of out of control, where they can sit down and listen and focus when they need to, where they can learn, and apply that learning to many situations?

  • Look at their diet: how much sugar, how much processed food, how much whole grains and good protein?  Diet that is higher quality food and consistent really helps kids stay stable.  At both of our schools we have an organic whole foods diet and we see and feel the effects on the children in terms of mood, energy and health.
  • Look at the rate and rhythm of their day: is their balance and consistency?  Enough down time? Play?  Sleep?  Kids should have some quiet time alone every day to just slow everything down and to get free of the need for attention and constant stimulation.  
  • Look at their school: = is there any experiential education?  Are they interested in what they are learning?  How much is at a desk? What about recess and P.E.?  Do they get to move around the classroom or is it super structured?
  • Do they need help dealing with social problems?  Does the school value the need for helping kids learn how to communicate, solve problems and learn the road to good relationships?
  • What about the amount of physical activity in their day? If there isn’t enough, set strong limits on the television, computer and video or electronic games.  There is TONS of research finally about the harm being done to children who spend too much time with technology and not enough being physical and social, involved in interactive,  REAL LIFE experiences.
  • Do things slowed down with them: listen to music, take walks, spend time in nature, make sure to sit and eat all together and have deeper conversations.

If your child can’t sit down in school, (or anywhere) instead of just giving it up to their energy level, or threatening them, try and discover the real causes and what you can do to help them. A slowed down child is more in touch with their sensitivity, feelings, knowledge, and more able to navigate through life’s journey. If you just pick one of these things and come up with a plan, and stay consistent with it, you will feel the benefits, for the whole family.


© Nancy Monson, 2005. All rights reserved.

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