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Today I received a call from my daughter’s school counselor.  She informed me that my daughter’s teachers had noticed this week that she was rocking in her chair, self-stimulating.  I have to tell you I wasn’t really expecting this call, but that I wasn’t shocked either.  It wasn’t the first time I have had this issue with her.  My daughter is an amazing child, but every December before the holidays… that excitement combined with her energy always creates some type of challenge.  Honestly though, I still I got off of the phone and cried.  This is one of the hardest issues to deal with in school or to write in this blog, but I know it needs acknowledgement.

My daughter started rocking or wiggling in her highchair since she was probably around 6 months old.  When I noticed, I would simple take her from the highchair and start another activity.  It took me a while to figure out what she was actually doing, probably kindergarten when her teacher asked me about it. That is when I began my research.  So over the years, I have talked to my daughter about this very carefully as not to scar her sexually in any way, but also manage this behavior at school.   I have told her that she can wiggle in her room, but not in front of others.  I told her this was private.  But like anything else we tell our children they need reminders along the way.  She also needs outlets for her boundless energy.  Getting a trampoline when she was four years old was a lifesaver!

At the end of 3rd grade after being questioned by her frequently and viewing a great Oprah show on “how to talk to your kids about sex”, I decided to tell her how babies were made.  She is so gifted and curious about everything.  She just couldn’t figure out why she looked like her daddy!  I kept it simple and it satisfied her curiosity.

So, back to my call today…my first reaction was just a reaction of tears, but as a mother I knew I needed a plan.  The problem has presented itself again and I need to deal with it.  So, when my daughter arrived home we had a long private talk.  First I told her about the phone call and explained that her behavior was distracting to others and to the teacher.  Then I let her talk and tell me what was going on from her perspective.  A month earlier we had talked on the topic and she assured me that she wasn’t wiggling at school any longer…so I reminded her of that and asked what was going on this week that made her start.  She told me that she was frustrated because this week she didn’t have outdoor recess with the weather turning so cold.  It seems to be an issue after lunch when she doesn’t get outdoor recess.   I really think the self-stimulation is completely related to the hyperactivity she shows.  She needs some type of outlet to this crazy energy.   We have been working so hard to keep her emotions intact, that this is how the energy was being channeled.

Then I took my turn talking and I told her in much greater detail this time, about sex and our animal instincts.  I explained all about girls and boys using all of the proper words, as always.  Then in the best way I could, I tied the two topics together.  I wanted her to be aware of what she was doing so that she could understand when and where it is appropriate.  Self-stimulation it is a normal behavior, but obviously should not be done in her 5th grade classroom.

Where others may think she is slightly lacking in self-control at school, I think she is doing an amazing job keeping it all together.  I see, hear, and feel her energy everyday as she exuberantly tells me of her day, details of a book, her countless ideas, or watching when she can’t sit still as she eats her dinner.  I could have totally overreacted to the phone call today, but instead I thought it through and hopefully I have helped and not done any harm.  She will need more reminders, but that’s okay.

In conclusion, I wrote an email, similar to this blog, to my daughter’s teacher asking if she could bring a stress ball to school for moments when she feels that energy.  The teacher responded very positively and is also going to allow her to get up to get a drink from the water fountain when necessary as well.  I know with Megan’s intense energy, fervor for life, and accelerated knowledge, she will grow up doing whatever she chooses well.  Don’t let an embarrassing topic keep you from speaking openly and honestly with your child.  I believe it can really help preserve their self-confidence.

Parent Blogger Amanda Lane is the mother of a 10 year old son and 12 year old daughter.  Amanda has been married for 15 years and works as a Clinical Systems Analyst the hospital in her rural community.  She hopes to give hope and confidence to others as she writes about her journey through parenthood.


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  • Miss Pam Says:

    AS a certified counselor that deals with kids of all ages, I found this an honest and refreshing way to handle the problem. I am a christian and unfortunately many christians (and others also!) forget that God made sex. It’s natural and just like everything else in life, we train our children about what is and isn’t exceptable. If the child was punching another in the nose, it would be easier for the parent and teacher to deal with, than a sexual/body issue.

  • Never A Dull Moment Says:

    Way to go! I am a mom and also a family doctor and this issue comes up often in my practice (and my house). Almost all children do this in the preschool years. Some have a lull in early elementary school and then start back up again around age 9 or 10, some never stop. Exploring and learning about one’s body in this way is normal and appropriate. Also far more desirable than waiting to learn about these feelings with someone else too early. Early masturbation does NOT lead to early sexual intimacy with others.

  • mysnowbunny123 Says:

    my son in day care was briefly was doing this, and when the director brought me in to tell me about this I was so emmbarassed and felt like he was judging me like i had my son around people that might be “touching” him. I was totally freaked out and also felt scared that the day care was going to call cps or something because of how this guy was talking!
    I am a stay at home mother and am married to my sons father and we are a close family, and I never leave my son with anyone ( he never had babysitters) and the only time he is without me and his father is when he sometimes spends the night at grandma’s house on a saturday, and i pick him up on sunday morning, and he loves it because my mother spoils him & the sleep in the livingroom watching kids movies & she allways gives him treats that he usualy does not get at home.
    Anyway, I reaserched this behavior & spoke to my counselor about it, and found out It was a normal thing kids do, some more than others, but thankfully, this behaviour did not last very long at all.
    I also took him out of that day care, because of how the director seemed judgefull and not understanding at all.

  • ChicagoMOM Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. My daughter has engaged in similar behavior we characterized as “rocking” or “wiggling” since she was an infant. At one point her daycare thought she was having a seizure and we had a neurological evaluation done. She’s now in Kindegarten and told me the kids complained that her wiggling was causing the table to shake during snack time. My husband and I had always know the behavior was related to self-soothing since she only does it in the late afternoons and evenings when she’s tired. It’s not uncommon for her to get flushed and breathless while engaging in this behavior, so I felt like a big fool when she expressed to me that she liked to wiggle because it makes her “wee-wee feel excited”. I’m relieved to read that my instincts regarding how to handle the situation were similar to yours. We had a talk and I explained that it’s OK to wiggle in private but not in front of other people. I even offered to put a “wiggle chair” in her room and she proceeded to let me know it needed to be a “hard chair made out of wood”. I don’t want to scar her or make her feel shamed, but obviously I don’t want her ridiculed at school either. I have a feeling this is much more common that we might think, as my next door neighbor has always joked about how much her daughter “loves her car-seat”.

  • archie Says:

    So relieved to see this blog. My 5 year old daughter has done this for as long as we can remember. It started in the highchair, as an infant she would push herself against the bar in the middle, quickly thereafter she started “flexing” against the belt in her car seat. We thought the behavior would stop when she transitioned to a booster car seat with nothing in the “middle”, but she discovered that crossing her legs and rocking or flexing does the same job. She often holds her breath when she does it. It seems a little better lately, when she was 4 it seemed like everytime she sat down no matter where she was, her legs would automatically cross and she’d start. She seemed to be completely unaware she was even doing it…like a reflex reaction. Now it seems to be more when she’s tired or stressed. It’s odd to watch, it drives my husband crazy, the most we say is, “please uncross your legs”, or “please sit still”, and she does for a while, but goes right back to her “position”. We usually end up just making her stand up and do something else and the behavior stops. We’ve never “named” it to her, and we’ve never told her she was wrong or bad for doing it, I wonder if giving her a time and place for “flexing” would stop her from doing it everywhere she sits…she’s reaching the age where she can understand a little that some actions are done in private..this should be one of them…and her pre school teachers have mentioned that she “crosses her legs” a lot at school too.

  • Help! Says:

    I have been experiencing the same problem with my seven year old son. He has been self-stimulating since he was four. We can’t recognize the cues that precede the behavior, they simply seem to come up randomly. We explained to him that this is a private thing and it should be done in his room and are constantly reminding him of this at home when he does it, but is now becoming a problem at school. He is doing in his class room (rubbing against chairs and wiggling on the floor) and now we’ve learned that he is also rubbing on a pole at recess. His teacher helps to remind him not to do it but it doesn’t always work. The office has have several reports of this behavior from several people so it’s becoming huge distraction. He has seen a counselor very briefly for this but it obviously stayed unresolved – we didn’t really feel that he helped us. My husband and I don’t know what to do or how to handle it from here :( If anyone has any insight, I would greatly appreciate it.

  • Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Says:

    To ‘Help!’: It sounds like you are pretty concerned about your son’s behavior. We do suggest working with local supports when this type of behavior reaches the point that it is causing distraction in the classroom chronically and frequently. You could discuss his behavior with his pediatrician or give counseling another try. The goal is to gain a better understanding of the behavior and from there you can come up with a solution. It’s important to remember that he’s been doing this for 3 years and it will take some time to change the behavior pattern. Sometimes it does take a while to see a change when working with a therapist. James Lehman suggests that you ask any therapist for an assessment, a treatment plan based on the assessment, and a timeline. For example, you can ask what changes you can expect to see after x number of weeks. Have patience. Changing behavior is a tough process.

  • Kristen Says:

    My best advice to anyone is to talk to your child gently about the topic. Then ask your child if a stress ball or getting up for a drink of water in class would be helpful. Then discuss the options with their teacher. When the teacher notices the behavior the teacher could ask the student to get a drink of water or run an errand in the classroom. As a parent we can manage the behavior at home, but I think it is important to meet with the teachers and give them a plan since they are managing so many children. Follow your instincts on what is best and don’t overreact to this behavior. Each child is different so try listening to their possible solutions as well.

  • OT Says:

    If your child exhibits other signs of difficulty with sensory integration, I would recommend an evaluation by a pediatric OT.

  • mom3 Says:

    Thank you all! Same, 6months and on. Thought it was under control at home (only in her room if necessary) Sitting on foot in Kindergarten circle time prompted teacher to have everyone ‘sit on floor properly’ to redirect. Thought that was it. Learned of the problem being pervasive and multiple times a day (almost continual) at the end of grade 2 (new teacher came in and brought it to my attention). It had been happening every school day – too many times to count for Grade 1 and 2!!! The teachers had shared the redirection to ‘sit in the middle of your seats’ to redirect my daughter without alerting the others in the class as to what was going on! Her Grade 3 teacher was very helpful in dealing with some anxiety issues that seemed to accompany the behaviour. Now in Grade 4 there are less causes for anxiety in the class the but the behaviour has returned as bad as in previous grades perhaps because the teacher is less aware or inclined to intervene (male teacher). I’m at my wits end! I know she can do better, the kids are good not to notice, but it is very odd behaviour and they are sure to notice soon. I’m tempted to take time off work to do behavioural intervention in the new year (sitting near her and interupting the behaviour)We’ve done some ‘worry workshops’ and had some child psych assessments, but nobody has been very helpful in making a difference so far. She turns 9 in a few days, and I need help! Aside from taking away her classroom chair, I can’t think of anything else! Please continue to offer suggestions! Many thanks!

  • D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Says:

    To “mom3″: Thank you for writing in to Empowering Parents. This can be a difficult topic to broach with a child. From what you have written it seems as if you believe anxiety may play a role in this behavior. It might be helpful to talk with the school counselor for some ideas on how to talk to your daughter about this as well as ways it can be addressed at school. Perhaps the two of you could meet with the classroom teacher and discuss interventions that have worked in the past and come up with a plan of how it can be addressed this year. Another thing you might consider is having her seen by her pediatrician or primary care provider. There could be an underlying issue that is prompting this behavior. Her physician may be able to give suggestions around addressing this situation as well. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenging situation. Take care.