Rather than always trying to change the child, what are some techniques for ways to help a "wiggly kid" function in the classroom better without it just being about "sitting still"?

The methods I used with my middle school kids were to allow them to stand if they wanted to, offer fidgets, allow for noise canceling headphones when independent work was being completed, offer up hands on and active lessons (more labs than lectures - nature hikes, field trips as often as possible, dramatic presentations to illustrate a process. . . etc.) I also made sure to include a wide variety of assessment styles (presentations, writing of papers, quizzes and tests, they could write children's books or a song. . . etc. whenever possible)

They generally worked well. Do these same things work as well in elementary school? What have you done that I don't mention here?

  • Could you provide more details of the problems the student is facing? It is difficult to give solid suggestions for coping without solid examples of problems. Some important info I feel is needed: is the child diagnosed by aphysician as having ADHD? was this diagnosis suggested by the teacher or school representative? What are the problems? What are the consequences of the child's behavior? Please expand your question.
    – Paul Cline
    Jul 10, 2012 at 22:08

3 Answers 3


I think when it comes to kids with ADD/ADHD, it's important to teach them coping mechanisms. I've known kids who memorized baseball stats because they were REALLY into baseball and this was able to help them focus. I've taught students who would doodle/draw to help keep them focused, but they were still listening and paying attention. Generally, a good coping mechanism is something that they are interested in that keeps their attention without disrupting others. It might be working math problems, doing crosswords, Suddoku.

Sometimes it's important that they just have a task to do. So, if they finish their work and are just waiting around until the next lesson or for other students to finish so the teacher can move on, allow them to run a note to another teacher/collect finished papers/etc. Something that allows them to expend a little energy.

I've had limited success with letting some students do their work standing up. It depends on the student, but towards the end of the day when all the sitting still is getting to them sometimes just being able to stand up and stretch their legs is helpful.

The goal, of course, is to have a good coping mechanism in place so that by the time your student reaches high school, he/she can manage it on his/her own.

  • 2
    as an adult ADDer, I can say standing up has really changed my work habits for the better. Some schools are now adopting desks for all students that offer that as an option: standupforlearning.com
    – DA01
    Jul 10, 2012 at 20:38

I've worked at a school for kids with learning differences (mostly ADHD), and here are some suggestions that we've used:

  1. Try to have the child seated as close to the teacher as possible. It makes paying attention come more naturally, and makes is easier for the teacher to refocus the child without singling them out. A simple tap on the desk or eye contact from the teacher can refocus the kid without even saying their name.

  2. Give the kid a fidget device, hopefully with the teacher's approval, to hold in class. A stress ball type thing works well. Kid can fidget quietly without distracting others.

  3. Teach the kid what to do instead of what not to do. For example, taking notes is a great way to focus on what is going on and leaves less free brain time available for distraction. This may be a little advanced for middle school. Other things TO do in class include looking directly at the teacher, trying to guess what facts will be on a quiz, listen for the most interesting fact in the class lecture to remember and tell to parents at dinner.

  4. Teach child ways to release energy while seated. Flex and relax fists, thigh muscles, abs, etc.

  5. Encourage the teacher to use all types of learning in lessons, visual, oral, kinesthetic... This may be completely beyond your control, but you might could help encourage the school and teachers to expand their teaching methods.


The solution is to develop a curriculum that's less about sitting still and reading quietly and more about hands-on discovery and invention.

In the US, that can be tricky, depending on where you live. In major cities, you may have luck finding schools that cater more to that type of learning style.

While not specifically about ADD, this article in SLATE hit a nerve with me:


In the end, ADHD isn't necessarily an issue about the child as much as it is an issue of a mismatch of the child's learning style to the school's overall teaching style. Unfortunately, due to logistics (and, at times, politics), most of our schools are given the task of education the majority sometimes at the expense of the minority.

  • It's easy to say "hands-on discovery and invention", rather harder to impliment in an eighth grade algebra class. There's simply too much to learn, and it's simply impossible for the students to "discover" or "invent" even a trivially insignificant potion of the subject. It's abstract, it takes focus, and it takes practice. The student will need to learn a way to focus and practice. Standing can help, breaks, etc., but don't blame the teacher for the nature of the subject.
    – Marc
    Oct 1, 2014 at 4:37
  • @Marc I'm certainly not blaming the teacher. And you are correct, all of this is easier said than done. As I stated, the education system, by necessity, isn't in a position to tailor curriculum on a per-student basis.
    – DA01
    Oct 1, 2014 at 4:46

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