It is really difficult for my 8-year-old son to sit still unless he is playing with Lego’s or blocks, which he can do for really long periods of time...

 How do I get him to sit still at dinner and his teacher complains he gets out of his desk too often. Should I be concerned he is hyper active?

There is a difference between hyperactivity and someone being kinetic.  There is actually a type of intelligence called “Body Smart” or kinesthetic intelligence, based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  People (children and adults) who are Body Smart typically best express themselves and process through movement and muscle. This type of intelligence can be demonstrated through large and/or small motor such as seen in athletes or dancers as well as brain surgeons who have excellent fine motor control.  When your child is using Lego’s he is demonstrating his fine motor talents. Since your child has long periods of engrossed attention when playing with blocks that is a strong indicator he is able to focus his attention through his body, which is indicative of a kinesthetic learner, not being hyperactive.  Consider how block play is constant fine motor movements, which may be actually helping your son to focus.  Finding ways to keep their bodies in slight motion or with hands-on type learning activities best supports kinesthetic learners.

For example, letting these children stand to work, rather than sit, at a desk or workspace, may help them focus.  Other suggestions are to try using large exercise balls for their chair at desks, dining room tables and even for watching TV. The constant movement needed to stay balanced actually helps kinesthetic learners stay focused and engaged.  There are also seat cushions that are slightly inflated and are made out of the same material as exercise balls. These can be excellent and more subtle alternatives for helping them sit still and stay focused longer in public places such as at their desks at school or at social events like weddings. Giving a child a few pipe cleaners to play with at dinner or social events can again help them focus their bodies.  It might be helpful for your son to do longer tasks like completing homework by taking quick body breaks, like taking small 5 minute breaks bouncing on an exercise ball or jumping on a small trampoline and then go back to the task at hand.  Sitting sit for long periods of time actually will break kinesthetic learner’s focus or attention and can cause kids to zone out or fall asleep.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming because your son is moving that he is not necessarily paying attention or being disrespectful.  I have taught many children who squirm and wiggle while listening to a story but they have total recall and understanding of what they heard. Sitting still is not necessarily the equivalent to listening or paying attention, especially for kinesthetic learners. Consider how it can be easier to listen and really pay attention to a radio show while doing the dishes. This is an example how many of us can focus better while doing a little physical activity at the same time. For kinesthetic learners movement and muscle activity is how learning about any subject occurs most easily and how they best focus their attention.

Often schools and social pressures of conformity end up creating biases against certain learning styles and intelligences, such as kinesthetic intelligence.   So parents of kinesthetically intelligent children often have to learn to understand and appreciate this as a type of intelligence and then advocate for and educate others how to understand and best support their children to be successful. Interacting and discussing kinesthetic intelligence with your son can strengthen his own self-concept and self esteem, rather than thinking something is wrong with him.  You can teach him about kinesthetic intelligence so he can learn how to help himself learn more easily and advocate for himself.  Good luck!

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