Why Can’t They Sit Still?

Q: I’m writing to you as a third- grade English teacher (and a parent) about a subject I am sure concerns many mothers, fathers and educators.

My own children, bli ayin hara, do not have major behavioral issues, so teaching students who constantly pop out of their seats and who sometimes instigate class fights is a great challenge to me. I put much time and effort into preparing creative lesson plans (I know that some children find it harder to concentrate by 1:30 in the afternoon), but some students just don’t sit still to listen — no matter what I’ve planned. I know that some kids are medicated for ADHD, but I think it wears off by the time “English” comes around. There are times I feel I’ve made progress with a child — and the next day we’re back to square one.

Why are there so many students who can’t sit still? Can you give me ideas on how to deal with such children?

A: Children who disturb the equanimity of the classroom and the home are clearly a great challenge to teachers and parents.

The source of this acting-out behavior is often multifaceted. Some children exhibit symptoms of ADHD; some are challenged with severe sensory issues; and some children’s emotional issues play themselves out in this way at home and in the classroom.

A wise teacher (and parent) will try to determine the cause of this behavior. While it is not within the realm of the average classroom teacher (or parent) to discern the differences between a child with ADHD and one with sensory issues, through professional testing and evaluation subtle differences reflecting children’s strengths and weaknesses can be observed and accurate diagnoses formulated. It is true that some children do not accurately reveal their strengths in a single session or even two (as they can exhibit “performance anxiety” and totally “freeze” with an adult stranger); however, certain observations can be extremely accurate.

An observation sheet filled out by parents and teachers is an essential tool towards understanding a child’s needs. This question-and-answer form helps a professional better comprehend the day-to-day behavior of the child being evaluated.

A child dealing with severe sensory issues is comparable to a person who constantly feels the need to scratch himself (due to severe itchiness). The continual discomfort of noises that may seem like explosions to him is enough to keep him squirming and very uncomfortable. Overstimulation of anyone’s five senses can cause great irritation. Sensory integration is a natural process that most people experience at an appropriate developmental stage. However, for those who do not, specific therapies geared to these issues need to be implemented to improve acclimation to the home and class environment. Asking a child’s occupational therapist for suggestions on how to respond to the child’s restless behavior can be of help to both parents and teachers.

Children with ADHD have their own challenges, stemming from biochemical causes. Again, a parent and teacher observation sheet is of great help to someone who is attempting to evaluate the child. Whatever the child’s biochemical makeup, it is not an excuse for impulsivity and out-of-control behavior (as mentioned in previous columns). Medication can be helpful, but has its limitations. If positive reinforcement techniques are not implemented with medication, improved outcomes are less permanent.

Children with emotional issues which cause them to be agitated and restless are reacting to a problematic home situation. Ways to act towards such children differ, as each home situation requires a different response. Some children thrive on structure, as it adds a sense of security in the face of their ever-changing home life. Others need constant positive verbal reinforcement from the adults around them to help encourage them in their most stressful circumstances.

More specific ways to respond to the restless, impulsive child will be discussed in next week’s column, iy”H.