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Family Matters

Why It's Great to Have a Kid Who Can't Sit Still

Got a kid who gets into everything? Here’s why it’s a (very) good thing

Most of us don’t see our kid’s antsy behavior as something to brag about. “No one says, ‘My child is doing such a great job fidgeting!’” says Laura Jana, M.D., pediatrician and author of The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today That Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow. “But in the adult world, we value that restlessness—we talk about jumping into action or reaching for the stars.”

And even though science tells us that physical activity plays a huge role in boosting brainpower, many people expect kids to sit still while they learn. It’s time to rethink that mindset, says Dr. Jana. She says a kid's "wiggle skills"—physical and intellectual restlessness—are essential for thriving in today’s world because it’s good for their bodies, their development, and their brains.

Thankfully, all kids are born with this urge. The real challenge is for parents to resist the temptation to keep kids sitting still more than necessary. Here's how to strike the right balance:


Let your toddler have room to roam at home by providing a safe space: put a gate in front of the stairs, use outlet plugs, and keep sharp objects out of reach. As your child gets older, remember to gradually take away some of the barriers, Dr. Jana says.

Swaddle with care

“I'd never say don't swaddle,” says Dr. Jana. “But sometimes swaddling calms babies so much that they just lie there without moving.” If you’re not getting ready for sleep, let your baby have (supervised) tummy time or roll around on a play mat.

Expect some bumps

It's important for kids to experiment—and fail—which, for toddlers and preschoolers, can mean falling and getting hurt, says Dr. Jana. So, pick the kid-friendliest playground and let your child run, run, run.

Be an active reader

It's easy to want kids to sit by your side and snuggle up for a story. But they may need to move around while you read. In fact, some kids process information better if their hands are busy or they’re standing up, says Dr. Jana. So if your kiddo wants to, let her draw, play, or wander around the room as you read.

Give them other outlets

When kids are older and in elementary school, teachers will expect them to sit still more and more. Help your child learn how to do it in socially appropriate ways, says Dr. Jana. Find out from the teacher if kids can get up for a drink of water, keep a hair-tie around their wrist to fiddle with, or stretch at their desk. And, of course, the more chances kids have to get their wiggles out during recess or classroom changes, the better.