My 3 year old son is generally very well behaved and plays well with others. However, he just wont sit still when we need him to. He is good at staying still when he is focused on something, but as soon as he isn't stimulated enough he is off.

My wife and I don't want to stifle his personality, and force him to stay at heel like a well trained dog, yet we want to be able to encourage him to sit down quietly when required, respond to direction, and not make simple tasks like getting dressed in the morning into a stressful event where I have to chase him down. Shopping trips, church services, train rides and story time are all sources of stress at the moment. Perhaps we are being unrealistic, and it is just his nature, but it seems like his peers are able to do it.

Since he has only just turned three, we have almost a year before he starts school, and we want to do the best for him so that he can thrive in a school environment. What are some techniques we can use that will encourage him to remain by our side when asked, and to sit down quietly when the situation requires it.

2 Answers 2


The general rule of thumb is that a child's attention span should be one minute for each year of age. So, 3 minutes is acceptable for a 3 year old.

It sounds as if his need to move is the biggest problem for you. It is interesting that brained based research indicates that movement actually maximizes learning so our model of sit and learn is likely not the best strategy. However, creating ways to move while being in a small space may be beneficial.

Here are some strategies that I have used.

Have him sit on a ball positioned inside a ring that keeps it from rolling, a small inflated pool ring, or a small inner tube. The ability to wiggle and yet stay in place gives many children the vestibular input they crave while confining them to a limited space.

Deep pressure can also give proprioceptive feedback that is calming for other children. Placing heavy books (phone books from large cities work great) in backpacks or require heavy work such as moving heavier objects from one place to another are calming activities. Of course, the books and objects should not be too heavy.

Others can sit more calmly when bunched tightly getting great proprioceptive input. Holding in your lap curling knees to chest and giving deep hugs is calming position for many. This is similar to swaddling but only using your arms.

Some children will be calmer after swinging, jumping, running, or rough housing. These activities also give deep proprioceptive input that the nervous system needs for optimal attending and sitting.

Also, a supportive chair matched to the child's size is beneficial. Arms on the chair should give support for the upper body. The depth of seat should match the child's size from hip to knees and the feet should touch the floor for stability.

Also, having a bag of fidgets may help keep his interest. These toys should allow pulling, twisting, or biting and give cool sensations while holding in the hand. Putty, gak and sensory toys that squish, stretch, vibrate with a unique texture are calming to many.

You might get other ideas from researching information regarding sensory integration strategies.


3 years old is a bit young for a diagnosis, but it sounds like this might be ADHD or a related issue. (My wife has the same problem = it's a hereditary condition. My dad gave it to me, I gave it to my kids).

Again, you really can't diagnose it properly for a few years yet, but you could start looking into behavior modification options.

Keep in mind ADHD isn't necessarily a detriment...it's just a different way of being. Unfortunately, a lot of us live in a society where ADHD doesn't always fit in, so one needs to look at other options (behavior modification, various medications, change of routine, etc.)

A simple solution to try and start with would be to try and introduce routine and schedules. Create a daily schedule with large icons. Draw a picture of clothes, then a picture of food, and explain that "It's now getting dressed time" and when that's finished, you and your child can update the schedule together "It's now breakfast time!".

We ADDers thrive on rigid schedules and kind of fall apart when left to our own devices...oh look...SQUIRREL!

  • 2
    I really hate the term "ADD/ADHD". Its not my personality type, but I have a lot of friends who fit into that category, and I strongly feel it isn't a "disorder". I don't even agree with the "Attention Deficit" part. People typically diagnosed with ADD/ADHD don't have a deficit of attention. They merely change the subject of their attention much more frequently.
    – user420
    Oct 18, 2011 at 16:02
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    I certainly agree. As I mentioned, it's really just a different way of 'being'. It's only a disorder when one is forced to fit into the non ADD-mindset structure (which is what most schools need to be). Keep in mind that a lot of ADDers end up being artists, musicians, inventors and entrepreneurs. It can definitely be a asset. ;)
    – DA01
    Oct 18, 2011 at 16:07
  • Absolutely. There are some tasks, skills, or even careers for which "ADD"-mindset isn't just beneficial, it is absolutely essential for success.
    – user420
    Oct 18, 2011 at 16:34
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    I think it is a bit early to talk ADHD (newideas.net/adhd/child/toddler). However I guess that doesn't mean that I can't read up on what has been learned from treating kids with ADHD.
    – Modan
    Oct 19, 2011 at 13:27
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    I think DA01 may have misread the "my wife has the same problem" statement. My reading is that "my wife has the same problem keeping our son still" but DA01 seems to take it as "my wife has the same problem sitting still". Which is it? Oct 19, 2011 at 15:42

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