“…he can’t stop shouting out.” “…she doesn’t sit still.” “…he’s always distracted or distracting others.” “…she’s always talking.” “…socializing is more important than learning.” “…he just wanders around the room.” “…she’s always turned around in her seat.” “…he’s spends a lot of time off-task.” “…every time I look, she’s out of her seat.”
At Thanksgiving this year my cousin and his wife were sharing their frustrations about hearing something similar said at parent teacher conferences about their 5 year old daughter who is in pre-k. My first thought was, “Duh! She’s 5! She’s a little ball of energy!”, but my second thought was “How can we help her find ways to channel that energy positively?”.
Regardless of the age, every child will have days when they have a hard time sitting still, staying focused, and not shouting out. Some more than others. Think about yourself. When’s the last time you had to sit through something you weren’t really that interested in? Were you focused? Were you talking when you weren’t supposed to be? Did you find reasons to get out of your seat or play on your phone?
It’s not just 5 year olds. My middle school students still struggle with those basic concepts. I still struggle with them! When I was in a boring college class, those first two were real tough! Even now as a 32 year old, if I am not interested or involved in what is being discussed, then I will get fidgety and distracted…or the opposite! If I’m excited about the topic, I might start a side conversation with someone near me or shout out my ideas. It’s human nature. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not ideal in the classroom or the workplace, and for those situations, you need to give your children as many tools to effectively, professionally handle boredom, distractions, and the urge to blurt out.
So, here’s how you set your child up for success!
- Give his/her teacher a head’s up (a couple times): I say “a couple times” because the beginning of the school year is CRAZY, and even the best teachers can forget what they hear/read during those first few weeks. So mention it during open house, but then drop the teacher an email or give her a call just to check in. As long as your approach is concerned and genuine, the teacher should be thrilled! There is nothing more exciting for a teacher than knowing her students have parents who support them.
- If you know that your perfect little angel happens to also be a cross between the Energizer Bunny and a cheetah hopped up on Red Bull, then it’s always good to let the teacher know. Knowing that ahead of time will allow the teacher to afford your child more grace and patience as she gets to know him/her in the first few weeks.
- You can also ask that your child sit near the outskirts of the classroom or towards the back so that he/she is less of a distraction, or close to the light switch or room door so that they have an extra excuse to get out of their seat any time the lights need to be switched on/off or the door needs to be opened/closed.
- You might also request that when possible, the teacher ask your child to pass out papers, sharpen pencils, or run simple errands so that he/she has a reason to be moving around for a positive purpose at an appropriate time.
- There are a few other options to keep your child’s hands and feet busy so their minds can stay focused in class like fidgets, doodling, and chewing gum in class, but you will definitely want to touch base with their teacher to make sure they feel it will work in your child’s particular situation.
- Appropriate times to get out of seat: Spend time reiterating when it is ok to get out of your seat. Help them understand why they need to stay seated when the teacher is talking, during class presentations, or whole group discussions. Now, I know that my 6th graders have been taught since kindergarten when it is OK to get out of their seats and when it is not, which I remind them of constantly and have posted on the walls in my room. BUT I also know that even the best kid can forget those expectations, because they are still learning the very difficult art of not being self-centered. “My pencil broke. I’m going to sharpen it” goes through their little brains. They don’t stop to think that getting up, walking across the room, using the sharpener on the wall, and walking back to their seat might be a distraction to the teacher or other students. They aren’t purposely trying to disrupt class, they just aren’t thinking past themselves. Some children are very aware of how their actions affect others. However for some, learning to put others first just takes longer. All of them can benefit from conversations with you about the importance of something as seemingly simple as when to get out of their seat.
- Teach your kids to think ahead. Usually the first few minutes upon entering the classroom are used to get settled. When they walk into the classroom, especially in middle school when they are switching classes, their first thought should be “What do I need at my desk?” Every class has a list of materials that are expected to be in class every day. It will most likely include a pencil, paper, and possibly a textbook.
- Think even further, is your pencil sharpened? If not, sharpen it. Maybe even have a spare one ready. Will there be down time when you might need a silent reading book? Do you have allergies or a cold? Grab some tissues to keep in your pockets.
- Explain that there are inappropriate times to be out of your seat without permission. Basically anytime that someone is addressing the entire class or there is a group discussion, you need to remain seated. It is distracting and disrespectful to get up during this time.
- The only exception would be if you REALLY have to go to the bathroom or if the class is taking notes and your pencil broke and you need to get out of your seat to handle those types of things. In that case, raise your hand for permission (don’t shout it out like that cat!) and the teacher should gladly allow you to quickly go and come back. And! If they had thought ahead…they would have gone to the bathroom at the allotted time and had a spare pencil sharpened. At least, in my perfect teacher world. 🙂
- One important note; there is a major difference between a child who genuinely wants to do the right thing but just physically can’t sit still and a child who is choosing to break the rules or is being defiant. TRUST your child’s teacher to know the difference, especially after 4th grade. Your child is SMART and will quickly learn to work the system to play parents vs. teacher. It is vital that parents, teachers, and students remember that we all share one goal: to see your child grow into a successful independent intelligent and self-sufficient adult (not a 30 year old living in your basement).What other tricks have you learned to help the kids with extra energy? Leave me some examples in the comments below!