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The Upside of Fidgeting

Keeping my 7-year-old son on task—and in his chair—can be even more challenging than homework itself. He pops up, flops around, taps his pencil, bangs his legs. But recent research suggests all that movement may actually serve a purpose, keeping kids alert and providing stimulation the brain needs to tackle tasks. This is especially true for a child like my son, who has ADHD. The skinny on little squirmers:

All Kids Fidget

When asked to perform tasks that require "working memory," which involves recalling and manipulating information, all the children studied were more active than during tasks that didn't require it (such as watching TV or playing a video game). But kids with ADHD moved twice as much. That makes sense, says study author Mark Rapport, Ph.D., a University of Central Florida professor of psychology whose earlier research shows ADHD kids have significant deficits related to working memory. "We think part of their brain is under-aroused," and therefore needs the extra stimulation, he says.

ADHD Kids Can Sit Still

"People used to think that kids with ADHD were always hyperactive," says Rapport. Actually, they're not. Call it the Star Wars effect: When Rapport turned on that movie, all the study subjects—even those with ADHD—sat still. Fidgeting also dropped noticeably when kids painted or performed other tasks that didn't rely on working memory.

Teachers Can Help

Talk to your child's teacher about acceptable levels of movement at school, where many of the tasks—reading, solving math problems, processing instructions—involve working memory. "You obviously can't have them running around the classroom," says Rapport. "But some kids do better kneeling on a chair, standing up, or sitting in a rocking chair. There's nothing the matter with that."