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My Kid Can’t Sit Still

You notice your child struggling to sit still, having difficulties focusing and engaging with their school work, or just can’t sit at the dinner table. You’re wondering ‘why can’t my kid sit still?’

It may be because of vestibular seeking. Let’s take a look at what vestibular seeking is, but first, we need to understand the vestibular system. 

What is the vestibular system?

The vestibular system is responsible for providing us with information about our head position, movement, and spatial orientation.

It’s your vestibular system that is telling you that you are sitting upright. If you were hanging upside down your system would register that and let you know. Certain input to your vestibular system is what makes you feel dizzy, for example spinning or riding a rollercoaster. 

What is vestibular input?

We get vestibular input through activities such as:

  • Spinning
  • Hanging upside down
  • Rolling
  • Rocking
  • Jumping

As we move through space or change the position of our head our vestibular system takes in that input. As you can imagine some movements are more intense (spinning really fast), whereas others may be more subtle (turning your head to look behind you). Both of these movements affect our vestibular system, which is taking in the information to help you know where you are and how you are moving.

Some people can be more sensitive to input, becoming dizzy or upset with what may be considered a gentler movement. Others may seem not to be phased by movement and want more. In this blog, we’re discussing those who need more. 

Vestibular seeker

A kid that struggles to sit still may be trying to fulfill a sensory need for more vestibular input. Kids with sensory processing disorder have difficulties taking in and processing sensory input. Some can be overly sensitive to input (avoiders) and others can want more input (seekers). 

So if you notice your child:

  • Falling out of their chair
  • Hanging upside down
  • Spinning in circles
  • Jumping from couch to couch
  • Always on the move

There is a good chance they are seeking increased vestibular input. Their sensory system is needing more input to be fulfilled and regulated. 

Kids are good about showing us what they need. Your child may not say to you, “I need more vestibular input!” But they are showing us with their actions. 

They are not always great about actually fulfilling that need in a successful and safe way. That’s where some guidance from you can help. 

Tools for the seeker

If you know that your child is a seeker of movement (vestibular input) make it a point to provide multiple sensory breaks during the day. For these breaks to be most successful perform focused vestibular activities. 

Remember to stimulate your vestibular system it’s about head movement and positioning. 

Here are some examples: 

  • Hanging upside down
  • Helicopter spin- hands out to the side, spin each way 10 times
  • Rolling across the living room
  • Windmill: Stand with your legs apart, hands out to the side, bend over and touch your hand to the opposite foot
  • Jumping: star jump, frog hop, mini-trampoline
  • Saumersaults (if safe!)

At times you may notice your child become overstimulated or overexcited after performing vestibular activities. If this happens I recommend performing vestibular input with a focused task. Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Instead of your child spinning freely around the room, try having them spin and toss socks into a hamper, or identify how many fingers you are holding up 
  • Roll across the room to get a puzzle piece, then roll back to put it in place
  • Hang upside down while playing eye spy, rolling a ball back and forth, or stacking blocks 

Including a simple hand-eye coordination activity, keeps your child focused on a task while still getting the input they need. At times this helps to provide the input in a more regulating and fulfilling way. 

Try it with your child and see if you notice a difference.

Sensory diet

We can’t talk about sensory seeking without mentioning that our sensory system is complex. Vestibular input is not the only type of input. We need to approach the sensory systems as a whole and make sure we are also providing plenty of heavy work (activities that engage the muscles) to help with improving overall sensory regulation. 

A sensory diet is a great way to provide well-rounded input to our sensory systems. Read up more about sensory diets here

Let us know in the comments, is your kid a mover? Do they become overstimulated or more focused with vestibular input?

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