5 Reasons some kids can’t sit still

Do you have a child who just loves to move and won’t sit still? Well, the truth is your son or daughter is probably not making a conscious decision to move – it is likely that they just can’t sit still. Occupational Therapists in Sydney’s northern beaches explain why.

Why kids can't sit still - occupational therapists in Sydney's northern beaches explain

It is important to remember that children need to move far more than adults do, so there is definitely an element of ‘typical’ in kids who struggle to be still.

However, there may be more to your child’s difficulty controlling their level of activity, and if you know the reason, you are in a much better position to help them.

Possible causes of your child’s high levels of activity:

  1. Your child’s postural muscles may be unable to hold him/her upright for an extended period of time.
    We have muscles that are powerful for a short time and are responsible for fast bursts of movement (fast burst muscles). We also have muscles that are closer to the skeleton that are not as powerful but they are able to ‘switch on’ and stay ‘on’ for an extended period of time (slow burst muscles).Often, kids’ slow-burst muscles are not as strong as they need to be and do not provide the necessary stability required for staying in one place for an extended period of time. In this case, kids can either look very ‘hunched’ or they tend to move around very quickly.Kids who move around because their muscles can’t hold them upright are relying solely on their ‘fast-burst’ muscles, which is why they need to move.
  2. Your child may not be able to ‘turn down the volume’ on certain sensations.
    Our environment is full of sensations that are unimportant to our functioning and survival.Most of us are able to ignore these sensations and pay attention to the important things, such as the teacher’s voice and the worksheet on the desk.If your child cannot ‘turn down the volume’ on these sensations, your child may over-orient to sounds and visual input in their environment and feel the need to investigate EVERYTHING.
  3. Your child may not be getting enough sensory input from their vestibular (movement and balance) processing system.
    This system is located in the inner ear and gives us information about where we are in space and how we are moving.Kids who need extra movement input from their vestibular system often swing on their chairs, rock back and forth, jump up and down and roll around on the floor.They may also just get up and walk or run around.
  4. Your child may not be getting enough input from their proprioceptive (body awareness) system.
    Your child’s proprioceptive system is made up of the muscles and joints of the body.
    When we use our muscles and joints against resistance, we are activating this system and sending more information about where our body is.Kids who need more proprioceptive input may fiddle with small objects, bump into their peers, run their hands along walls, lean on others and run around.Kids who have been sitting and not moving for a long time

    may benefit from a ‘short movement break; that gives their body the input it needs.

  5. A combination of all of these, or none of these.
    That’s right – unfortunately these are only some of the things that have an impact on a child’s ability to sit still.
    If we are unwell, have a headache, are tired or even very excited or angry, sitting still (and paying attention!) is much more difficult. It’s the same for your child.


Motivation is a huge driver of attention. So, there is a big difference between your child sitting still to watch television for a long time and sitting still during circle time at preschool, when listening to the teacher in the classroom or sitting for a meal!

If you think that your child’s inability to sit still in having a negative impact on his or her learning or behaviour, seek professional advice.

Call Kids First now to discuss your child's needs

What can you do to help your child?

If you are concerned that your child cannot sit still during non-preferred tasks, or moves around more than his/her peers, it is advisable to seek advice from a health professional.

Occupational Therapists who have experience in supporting children with sensory processing can often suggest strategies that will help your child to ‘harness’ their natural enthusiasm for life and stay calm, focused and be able to concentrate when they need to.

Contact Kids First by email or phone on (02) 9938 5419 now to find out how our experienced Occupational Therapists can help your child

Find out more about Occupational Therapy at Kids First

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