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Restless or misbehaving?

By Nathan Rice

I was in the front row of the auditorium as the speaker shared the story of his life. Timothy sat next to me, moving a small, plastic, bendable snake across his lap.

The snake made its way up one leg, down the other, and curled into a spiral before reversing course. Soon he held the snake above his head, zooming it across the sky. I did not want him to distract those around him, so I guided his arms gently downwards as I whispered to him, telling him to keep the snake below the top of the seat. He did well during the speech, and he understood a lot of what the speaker was trying to convey.

It can be difficult for children to sit through a speech or event that is geared toward adults. It can also be difficult for adults to know how active they should allow children to be during these times. I’ve seen many adults handle children in situations like this in many different ways.

Some adults use children’s ages, as well as the possibility of ADD or ADHD, as an excuse to allow children to disrupt anything or to misbehave continually.  They allow kids to get away with all sorts of behavior in the names of understanding and enlightenment.

Others take the exact opposite approach, being extremely stern, declaring that kids of all ages “should know better.” They believe that kids should be able to sit quietly for long periods. They make no allowance for the biological makeup of children or consider the difficulties that come with legitimate cases of ADD or ADHD.

I’ve learned that neither of these approaches is great. These all-or-nothing attitudes almost always lead to frustration for adults and kids alike.

Adults must understand that children, especially younger ones, are not biologically meant to sit still for long periods of time. It’s just not the way they are programmed! Children not sitting still for an extended period isn’t always due to bad behavior. It’s simply the way their minds and bodies work. Adults must consider a child’s nature when children are asked to sit still and be quiet for extended periods.

On the other hand, children should not be allowed to disrupt continually or be disrespectful to those around them. It is important that they learn how to remain quiet or relatively still when it is needed.

Adults must be willing to learn the difference between children being children and children being disrespectful or disobedient. This can take some discernment and the willingness to learn a child’s nature as well as their ability to remain quiet, listen or sit still. It’s the responsibility of the adult to learn the difference. As you learn, you will be able to tell the difference between restlessness and misbehavior.

There are many tricks to help children who need to remain seated or quiet for a while, such as allowing them to bring small toys, a coloring book or activity sheets that can help them stay active but quiet.

All the tricks in the book, however, will not help if we take an all or nothing approach. We must understand the nature of children while still holding them accountable for their behavior.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.