Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less


I’m consistently awed by the wisdom I have gained from my child. And this past week, I can add more of that to the list, where his instincts were on target to solve one of my problems, while my preconceived ideas fell short.

From the moment Brett pulled himself up for the first time at the age of one, he was on the move. He has many amazing qualities, but his inability to sit still?  That is not one of them.

Or so I thought.


just like Brett on his ball…1-2-3, 4-2,3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0

We were first alerted to his fidgety tendencies in Pre-k. He was constantly swaying into people’s space. Not quite able to keep in that single file line. And always a bit out of step in the circle. He reminded me a bit of Tacky the Penguin, have you ever read that book? Unlike all his penguin friends, Tacky marched to his own drum.

Brett is in third grade now, and has definitely improved. My theory is he spends all the energy he can muster during the school day trying to do the right thing, but once home, he is all over the place.

At mealtime, it’s always a challenge.

We have an open living room, dining room setup. And so when it’s time for us to sit down to eat, he’ll show up for a bite, then he’s gone the next, launching himself off the couch or scooting across the room. A few years ago I bought him a product called a disc-o-sit (nicknamed the wiggle cushion) hoping this might keep him in his chair so he could at least move and sit at the same time, and it did help for a few years until it was replaced by something even more fabulous in his eyes.

When Brett was about 6, My brother Greg visited. At the time, he recommended I learn to use an exercise ball. Inspired, I went out and purchased my own big red stability ball. But once Greg left, I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it seemed too big for me.  It promptly went downstairs out of sight, out of mind.

A few months later, I purchased a new exercise program and received a blue stability ball as a bonus.

Oh great I thought, just what we need, two stability balls taking up space downstairs!

The blue one was smaller than the red one, and Brett took one look, one jump on this thing, and the two were inseparable. Until that is, a week later he happened to bounce on the ball while holding a bamboo skewer, pointed down. In a matter of seconds, the blue ball was no more…

Brett was horrified; he ran downstairs, found the underutilized big red ball, that was actually a little smaller now, deflated from inactivity. And this has been his savior ever since, and a permanent fixture in our living room. He rolls the red ball to the table, next to his chair, while eating. He bounces or lays on it, or sways back and forth. He’ll stretch forward or hang backward. He bounces while watching movies, just hanging out talking and while listening at family read time before he goes to bed.

When friends and family come to visit, they think this is odd.

a little balancing practice...

a little balancing practice…

Why is he not able to sit in his chair?

At meals, kids should sit. When you are reading together, kids should sit and listen.

When watching a movie, shouldn’t he be sitting on a couch?

Why do you let him do this?

You must be pushover parents…

Brett and his intense need to move around and fidget are on my mind this week, as I try to solve a similar problem of my own.

Newly-inspired by the goals I set a few weeks ago, I’m finding in reality, a few of my goals cancel each other out. Here’s the dilemma: I just don’t know how to live an active lifestyle if I’m on my rear-end writing. Or learning to paint. Or learning a new language.

When I sit for long periods of time, I think about Brett and his need to move.  This must be how he feels every day: restless, uncomfortable, trapped. I feel if I sit for as long as I need to write something, or research, or study, I’ll grow roots! My legs and rear-end begin to numb. I can feel my thighs expand, soften, as I sink further and further into that chair…

Thinking it through this week, I realize there are two separate issues to address:

1) I need to maximize time spent off the chair, ensuring I’m getting the extra movement I need to balance out those big blocks of inactivity.

2) And I need to see if there are workstation options that may help me not feel so awful when I do sit down for long periods of time.

I started my search for answers, realizing immediately there’s no shortage of media coverage on the topic of sitting. I learned through many sources that sitting too much makes you die sooner, and that it is also considered by some as “the new smoking.

Then I saw an article in the Daily Beast that actually got me thinking about combating issue #1. The article recommends people incorporate a variety of squats at random times throughout the day. For example, instead of sitting around on the couch watching commercials during a TV show, get up and squat. Or take a 10 minute break at work, to get in a few more. And perhaps while waiting for a train, you might try a few more. In no time, taking advantage of these breaks can add up to a substantial amount of activity.

There is one part of the article I don’t agree with, and that is the assumption these movements can replace formal exercise: for me, that wouldn’t work. But the wheels started spinning, and I began to experiment. Not just with squats, but with lunges, and stretches and balance moves…

Here were a few places I started to add activity:

  • Lunge or Squat while folding laundry
  • Plie squat and hold while blow drying my hair
  • Random kicks while standing around thinking. That one worked well except for the time when I clipped my dog in the jaw –oops! Note to self for next time? Watch for family members before trying…
  • One legged balance poses and wall squats.
  • Squat while emptying the dishwasher.
  • Squats in the kitchen while waiting for my pan to heat up.
  • And of course, lots of static and ballistic stretches while standing.

Awesome, this will work! Now onto issue #2, assessing my workstation…

As I researched different chair and desk options, I came across the term Active Sitting.

According to Wikipedia:

Active sitting occurs when seating allows or encourages the seated occupant to move. Also referred to as dynamic sitting, the concept is that flexibility and movement while sitting can be beneficial to the human body and make some seated tasks easier to perform.

I found a variety of chairs designed for active sitters, how does one even choose? But then I came across this article in the New York Times , and had to laugh that the possible answer could be staring me right in the face.

I looked up from the computer, scanned the room until I located it off in the corner. The big red ball.

I walked over, rolled it back to my computer and was about to take a seat to test it out by my computer.

Brett caught me in the act.

Are you going to sit on my ball?

Embarrassed, I said no. Pushed the ball back over to him, and took my regular seat in the dining room chair.

I thought about the old wiggle-cushion. And the red ball. And how we used to try so hard to make Brett sit in his chair until finally giving in because we just didn’t want to fight it anymore. How is it that my kid knew he need to move, or fidget, to restore his active/sitting balance throughout the day, and was drawn to Active Sitting all along.  He found his answer instinctively, where we adults have to research at length to find the answer from supposed experts.

Adults have been making fidgety, active kids feel bad for not being able to conform to the right way, the expected way of sitting properly, when repeated evidence shows the right,  proper and expected  way, over time, is really very wrong.

Get a load of this quote I found about fidgeters, also from Wikipedia:

Fidgeting is considered a nervous habit, though it does have some underlying benefits. People who fidget regularly tend to weigh less than people who do not fidget because they burn more calories than those who remain still. It has been reported that fidgeting burns around an extra 350 calories a day.

I don’t know anyone who would mind burning 350 additional calories just by some extra movement, do you?

Perhaps it’ll look funny for all of us to be moving, lunging, squatting, standing, kicking, fidgeting, and balancing all around the house, but I think it’s a good plan to set in motion, starting now.

My son has proved to me yet again, his instincts are spot-on.

And we will once again become a household with two big stability balls floating around the living room.

Only this time we’ll know what to do with them!

How do you combat inactivity throughout the day? Are you a fidgeter? Or too sedentary? What types of lessons have you learned from your children?

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and please share this post. Once you are done with that, get up, stretch, and 10 Squats please!

30 thoughts on “Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less

  1. That’s SOOOO awesome! I should start doing those little exercises too while doing work around home. I just wonder what my hubby’s initial reaction will be! Haha! Thank you so much for a great post!


  2. Ah, dinner times. We have SO much fun with those. No way would my husband accept the ball idea but my son is getting better – or worse? He sits still, mostly, is what I mean. I guess it depends on how you look at it!
    I, on the other hand, am going to do some squats and stretches when I start cooking dinner in a few moments.
    Let me know how the ball works as a work chair, though. I had considered getting one when I was still at work.

    • Have fun with it! My favorite squat location so far involves squat/pull laundry from dryer, come up with the folded piece, and repeat …you can actually do that at a good pace! The ball works with us because we have this open setting where he has a lot of room to move around. I think if we had to eat in a dining room or a smaller space with breakables around, it could be a disaster! Thanks for your comment and always for your awesome support!

  3. The stability balls are the best! We used to bounce Jade for hours and hours on one. Rich and I would have to take turns because as soon as we stopped she would start crying. She had an occupational therapist that suggested it. I cannot remember how it popped, but it was devastating for her. LOL. We really should replace it. Have you seen the videos where they are replacing the classroom chairs with stability balls?

    As for me, I have been a leg jiggler since I was a kid. It drives everyone crazy in my family. I do feel my butt turning to mush. I try to do squats or have weight near by to squat with to keep the restlessness at bay.

    • Lorrie, thanks so much for your comment, that’s interesting about the occupational therapist recommending the ball. With Brett, they recommended the little seat, but not the full thing…that he discovered on his own. I have not seen the videos about classrooms but that’s encouraging to hear because of course that’s where my mind went next, to wishing the kids had something there. It’s so hard for them during the school day, and actually, unnatural in my opinion, to make them sit there for so long. I like the weighted squat idea too, sounds like you have already find some good solutions already!

    • Belinda, thank you for stopping by and for your comment. I am not sure I have seen that video but will take a look today. I am completely with you though on the theory about school killing creativity. I actually read a great essay about it a few months ago and started to write a post about the theory, but haven’t been able to make it all work out into something cohesive. I for one believe my creativity was hindered by my school–particularly in the sciences, and just the ability to choose a career we might really love vs. one we should have because you can make $$….thanks again! Oh, and here’s that essay I was inspired by: http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/

  4. Growing up my home environment was one where women and girls did not exercise or do anything physical. I remember having to sit but always moving my legs and feet up and down and sideways in intricate patterns. Drove my mom nuts. Also used to squeeze my glutes in time to music playing on the radio. As an adult I am very sedentary (all those years of training, lol) but make an effort to walk more. I do leg lifts in the kitchen while waiting for food to cook or I might do incline pushups using the countertops. Like you, formal exercise is an essential part of my day. Since using FitBit have discovered that I average 5000 steps per hour during workouts. As a child my son could not keep still and we did not try to calm him. At meals he would come to his chair and place one knee on the seat with the other leg firmly planted on the floor, in essence standing up. Worked for him, worked for us, and best of all, no power struggles or admonishments.

    • Oh my gosh, I love this comment. Great idea about the glute squeezes…who would have thought of that, And incline pushups on the countertops? I’m trying that this morning! I think most of us don’t even know this is a problem but as I think it through there are so many places to add extra activity. I’m getting curious about the fitbit to quantify all of this to see how much of a difference I can make….must think it over, numbers do drive me crazy too, but perhaps I’ll take the plunge….

  5. Many years ago, a personal trainer suggested I use a stability ball instead of a chair when I’m working at the computer. I never followed up on that suggestion. After reading your post, I think I will. Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh great!! I’m so glad to help bring that top-of-mind for you. I’m testing out the red ball this morning and it’s interesting. It has helped with the numbness so far but I have to work hard to keep my back up and not slouched. I guess you do need to do that with a regular chair too–just something to get used to! thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

  6. I’ve found myself wondering the same thing over the past year. Am I moving enough? I am grounded in a chair, way too many hours a day. I too workout on daily basis, but feel I don’t get enough movement during the day. I have tried to pay attention to the “down” times and react to them. My hubby & I watch 1 hour of tv in the evening together. Most couples are snuggling while watching. I am on the floor stretching throughout the program. I am always doing lunges or squats in the kitchen while waiting on water to boil or the oven to preheat. And, I have tried to get up from my chair every hour on the hour, stretch, walk around and drink some water before returning. I would like to think it is doing some good here and there. Keep up the great blogging & thanks for sharing!

    • Sounds like you are doing great Christy! Now that I’m consciously thinking about it, I have been trying to do the same thing–especially during shows at night. You can get quite a bit of stretching in on a 5 minute break and still go snuggle back up on the couch. So far today, since I have been thinking about it, I have already included 30 squats: at the beginning and middle of my very slow dog walk, and in the morning while just standing around. I’m sure there will be more. So glad you stopped by and shared some ideas!

    • it might be!! You have been blessed most of your life with that built-in fidgeting metabolism. Thanks for your comment and reading…love to see it!

  7. Wow! When I read this wake up call Robin I remembered I was a fidgety kid and wondered where that girl was now. I definitely need to get off my butt and spend more time moving and this is a motivating article that will help me along my way. I do insert yoga stretching breaks into my online time and I do ride my exercise bike twice daily for brief periods. I dance every day with the vacuum cleaner and/or broom. I do squat properly to pick up things but that doesn’t happen a lot. I do use my hubby’s exercise ball part of the time I’m on my computer. In order to keep it in balance I need to use all kinds of muscles in my feet and legs that don’t get exercised. I don’t do random kicks but will be doing them now when pacing and thinking about what I’ll blog on. I’m eying the stairwell as a possible exercise insertion because we live on the second floor above our ground level studio. I’m taking the fidgety advice I found here and I’m thanking both you and your son for it.

    • Timethief, thank you so much for stopping by and your great comment. I’m so glad this spoke to you and gave you some ideas. Yours certainly have been inspiring and helpful to me. It sounds like you do a lot already to get off that chair! But having the plan in place to at least rev-up, or formalize the activity is all you need. Already since I wrote this, just because it’s top-of-mind, I have been able to add a good 60-70 squats and a few lunges and other moves throughout the day + quite a bit of stretching added at the end of the day when I’m usually sinking into the couch. It’s amazing how easy it is, and quick. Basically it’s at times I’m just standing around, waiting for things! I think the stairs is a great idea, a few laps while you are thinking of blog posts? Perfect! Keep me posted on how you do!

  8. Pingback: My Year in Writing: 7 Lessons Learned | A Fit and Focused Future

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