It's very hard for me to have a relaxed talk with my son - 12 years old.

He does not like talking and if he does he is playing with his fingers.

This drives my crazy and it makes me afraid. I tell him friendly to stop it, he does it, and some seconds later his fingers grab the next thing and they play around again.

It is like one brain part is talking with me, and the other brain part is on feeling-adventure.

In general he is well and not ill. Most other areas (friends and school) are like most other boys in his age.

He seems to prefer military dialogues: Command and short reply.

.... but I don't.

It's very hard for him to explain the story of a video he saw. He is not stupid, he knows the story, but telling the overall story in two sentences is very hard for him. And if he tries his fingers and hands start to play and move...

Question: Is there a name for this?

Question: Is there a training to improve the ability to focus 100% on the communication?

And guess what: He likes math and hates languages at school :-)

Please ask if you don't understand something. I am not a native speaker.



Sorry, I don't know a name for this behaviour, but rest assured, your son is probably very much focussed on your conversation. Those seemingly distracted movements actually may help him to focus. This is a similar mechanism as doodling (random drawing) while talking on the telephone or other people absentmindedly tapping their foot. Basically an outlet for some pent-up energy and something happening on a subconscious level. That is why it's so incredibly hard to stop: it is not something he actively chooses to do.

Having lived for decades with a partner with the same quirk and now a son who follows in his footsteps big time, I know how distracting this behaviour can be, but I also learned the hard way that they can't really control it.

It is important that he realizes that there are scenarios, like a presentation at class, where he should at least try to keep it under control or pick a suitable object to manipulate (hint: not a ballpoint pen, the click-click will drive everyone mad), but in everyday conversations, let him be. The more pressure you put on him, the worse it will get and the more relaxed he is, the less will the fingers dance.

  • 1
    Yes, I know pressure is the wrong way. Thank you for your feedback. The sad thing is, that I can't follow his voice if he does movements and these movements create sounds ... Yes, I guess I have to work on the receiving part .. on my part ... maybe I could close my eyes. The strange thing: He does presentations before the classroom well. There he has a clear roadmap and knows what he wants to say. Maybe it's more my personal problem. Maybe I played to much chess when I was young. I can focus on one thing well, but if there are several inputs I can't follow at all :-)
    – guettli
    Apr 24 '16 at 15:16
  • 2
    @ghettli: Why not try to find something he can carry everywhere, and doesn t make noise? I know some people who carry a paper pen evrywhere for the express purpose of playing with it rather than tapping on the table, clicking a ballpen... As a bonus, he ll always have something to take note with :)
    – DrakaSAN
    Apr 24 '16 at 18:01

Question: Is there a name for this?

Yes; generally it's just called fidgeting. People do it for different reasons; maybe they're bored, maybe they have high energy and they're restless being still, etc.

Is there a training to improve the ability to focus 100% on the communication?

For whom? I assume you mean the child, but are you focusing 100% on the communication, or are you focusing on the fidgeting he's doing?

It's not my intention to bring you up short. I'm only hoping to point out that interactions are a two-way street between different people. It's easy to be distracted by things your son is doing, and it's easy to interpret this as him not giving you his full attention, but you don't know what's going on in his head.

You can't force your son to keep his hands still, or to be more descriptive than he wants to be. You can ask for these things, but before you do, please consider what effect this will have. It important that your son knows how he answers is less important than what he says/thinks, and that how you feel when he answers is not more important than how he feels. So, maybe asking only when something is really important to you is better than trying to bring this behavior under better control the majority of the time.

I know people who don't like making eye contact even during superficial conversations. My job isn't to change them, it's my job to manage my end of the conversation. Of course, if it were my child, I would want the best for them, and would want them to learn to be comfortable making more eye contact. So I would encourage eye-contact, because I equate it with more successful social interactions.

It turns out that one of my adult kids is like that. And I did try to get him to make more eye-contact. And I was wrong. He is a very successful kid in every respect (and this isn't just the mother in me speaking.) Even with his less-than-my-ideal amount of eye contact.

But yes, there probably are a lot of things you can do to get him to be more attentive during conversations. But he has to be motivated to change. That's a lot harder to figure out, as is who benefits the most from trying to change a good kid's behavior.

I understand this difficulty you're having, trust me. I really do, and I sympathize.

When he's talking about things he's very interested in, does he talk more and fidget less?

  • 1
    My question was about restless fingers and your hint about the eye contact matched very much. My parents both studied natural science (mother biology and father physics). Discussions in my childhood were often about being right or being wrong. Now I am doing the same with my son, but I am willing to change. I try to have more eye contact since some weeks, and I think it works very well. Thank you very much for your answer.
    – guettli
    Aug 1 '16 at 14:35

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