By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 113


Have you ever wondered why some kids just can’t seem to sit still?

Maybe you’ve tried giving them more movement or providing seating that allows them to wiggle… but it’s not working. Today, we’re going to explore some less obvious reasons why your child might be the wiggler in the group, especially during times like circle time or meal times. Get ready as we dive into the connection between core strength, posture, and their ability to sit still!

What you’ll hear in this episode:

The Hidden Connection: Core Strength, Posture, and Attention

Did you know that the ability to sit still and focus is significantly linked to core strength and posture? It’s not merely about a child’s willingness or desire to sit quietly; it’s fundamentally about their physical capability. Children with weak core muscles often struggle to maintain a fixed position, making them appear fidgety as they constantly seek a comfortable posture.

This fidgety behavior could be linked to seeking sensory input (like vestibular or proprioception). But an underlying cause that’s often overlooked is inadequate core muscle endurance. This can make it challenging for kids to support themselves in a seated position over time.

Let’s dig into why this is and what we can do about it.

Dynamic vs. Static Movements

Dynamic movement requires less endurance than static movement.

Just think about how much easier it is to do sit-ups than it is to hold a plank. Why is this?

Understanding the difference between dynamic and static movements is crucial. Dynamic activities, like walking or running, allow muscles to alternate between contraction and relaxation, reducing fatigue. In contrast, static postures, like sitting, require continuous muscle engagement, leading to quicker exhaustion, especially if core strength is lacking.

Signs of Weak Core Muscles

If you notice your child constantly shifting positions, leaning heavily on their hands, or even lying down during activities that require sitting, it might be a sign of weak core muscles. These are the little signals that tell us their body is trying to compensate for a lack of strength needed to maintain a static position.

Support and strengthen, but not at the same time

We talk a lot about how to support our kids “in-the-moment” and “outside-of-the-moment.” As a brief review, when our kids are expected to be doing certain challenging tasks (maybe the morning routine, writing, sitting at the dinner table), these are the times when we need to offer support and accommodations. This is not the time to be building skills or building strength.

So we’re going to break down two ways to help our kids: 1) supporting them and 2) strengthening their core muscles… but not at the same time.

1) Support

So what can you do to support your child’s postural muscles?

Before you think about solutions like weighted vests or wobble stools, consider this: such tools might actually make it harder for kids with weak core strength. Adding instability or extra weight requires even more muscle effort, which can backfire by increasing their movement to maintain balance.

So, what can you do to support your wiggler?

When we physically support our kids during times when they are likely to be very wiggly, it allows them to spend more of their mental energy to be attentive to what’s going on in the class and in whatever task is at hand.

2) Strengthening Core Muscles

Now that you know what kind of physical support a child with weak core strength needs, now let’s talk about how to build strength and endurance, which can gradually decrease their need to constantly reposition and shift their body.

Remember that this isn’t about challenging them in-the-moment. For example, when upright posture is needed and expected during tasks like fine motor activities in the classroom, this is not the time to use unstable seating like a yoga ball or wobble cushion that might challenge their balance and core strength.

But we can incorporate activities into their daily routine that build core strength. Some examples:

By integrating these practices into your child’s life, it’s not all just about compliance and meeting neurotypical expectations—you’re building the foundation of physical strength that supports all their future activities.

Looking Beyond the Surface

It’s important to remember that behaviors like wiggling are often a sign of underlying challenges, not just quirks that need correcting.

Whether it’s a sensory need or strengthening, each child’s reasons for moving are different. This is why occupational therapy can be invaluable, helping to discern the roots of these behaviors and addressing them with targeted strategies.

If your child struggles to stay put, it might be time to look a little deeper than just providing more opportunities to move. Understanding their physical needs and supporting them appropriately can make all the difference in how they engage with the world around them.

Episode Links

Why wiggle cushions AREN’T helping your child sit still
Laura Petix 0:00 Sitting on a yoga ball or wobble stool or wiggle cushion, or anything unstable. Yes, it quote activates and recruits core muscles and requires core strengthening. But remember, if we expect our kids to produce any sort of precision writing or drawing or to chew their food and pick up a fork...

Laura Petix 0:00 Sitting on a yoga ball or wobble stool or wiggle cushion, or anything unstable. Yes, it quote activates and recruits core muscles and requires core strengthening. But remember, if we expect our kids to produce any sort of precision writing or drawing or to chew their food and pick up a fork and spoon, they don’t need their core muscles challenged even more, they need it supported. Welcome to the sensory wise solutions podcast for parents, where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Lilyana a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new ot mom, bestie. I know my stuff. But I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 1 0:53 Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s try the podcast. Laura Petix 1:00 Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Today’s episode is inspired by an old Instagram story that I decided to reshare recently, that actually sparked a lot of interest from some of you in my DMs. So I decided that I needed to make a longer post about it. So here I am. This episode is for anyone who has a kid that has a hard time sitting still, during circle time or rug time. This could even apply to mealtime, or really any time your child is sitting on something that doesn’t provide back support, like a bench or a stool or the floor. Let’s just pick one specific thing. So we can all have that in mind. Let’s think about circle time. Kids are quote, expected to sit crisscross applesauce or at least sit somehow on their bottoms, maybe their legs straight straight out in front of them. However that looks but they’re expected to sit on their bottom on the ground and remain somewhat still. Of course, most kids will readjust and turn to their neighbor or move a bit. You know, kids or kids are wiggly. But there are some kids who consistently rock back and forth bounce on their legs, get up, move around or lie all the way down or have to prop themselves up on the ground. And what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Or most people who aren’t OTS minds when you or they hear that? They might think, Oh, they’re a sensory seeker, they need more movement opportunities? Or if they need to wiggle give them a wiggle cushion or a spin disc or a stool? Okay, well, first of all, those are not wrong. But what if I told you that a wiggly kid at circle time doesn’t always mean that they need a wiggle cushion or a spin disc or even more wiggles at all. I want to talk to you today about a hidden reason why some kids are wiggly, but aren’t necessarily sensory seekers. So I want to rewind to this is all coming from a time when my daughter was three. And she was in her first ballet class. I was watching from the outside. And at the end of valet, they always sat on the floor for like a 10 minute book that the instructor would read them. I watched my daughter roll on the ground, lean back on her arms, get up rock back and forth, go up and down on her toes. Like she did not stop moving. She was the Wigglies just one there no other kids were moving as much as she was it was a small class like, I think four or five kids, because this was still like in the height of the pandemic. But I was caught off guard for a little bit because I’m like she’s she’s not a sensory seeker. So the more that I observed her, you know, as a trained OT, who basically always clinically analyzes my daughter’s movements and behaviors. 24/7 I was like, okay, she’s not a sensory seeker. So what I was noticing was that her trunk and postural muscles were weak, or at least lacking endurance. So I often share this with parents who have their child assessed and their child is wiggly at school at carpet time. And I assess them do some gross motor testing and I say I think core strength is a is a huge issue here and postural endurance and the parents are surprised. They’re like what, but my kid plays soccer and never stops moving or If they do gymnastics, or they’re in swim like, they just are always running or climbing or jumping, doesn’t that mean they’re like really strong. I know it doesn’t make sense at first. But in order to sit upright, and hold a static still position, it requires some pretty strong muscles to coordinate and work together to maintain their position against gravity. So your flexor muscles, which are basically like your abdominals right on your tummy, and your extensor muscles, which are your back muscles, they need to co contract to balance each other out and contract at the same time and hold a certain position in order to maintain that upright posture. If your flexor muscles or your extensor muscles are not strong enough, or one is stronger than the other, you’re going to notice a child who constantly leans over or needs to prop themselves up or move around a lot. Why? Because dynamic movement requires less endurance than static. So just a quick example, think of how much more difficult it is to hold a plank position when you’re literally not moving, but just holding a straight up position versus doing setups. So when a child is sitting on the rug at circle time, we want them of course, to be able to pay attention to the teacher, right, of course, we want them to focus we want them to learn, we want them to participate to process all the information all of it. But when the simple act of sitting, just just sitting requires so much energy from their brain and their body, than the brain cannot properly allocate those resources to learning and communication centers and all of the things that they need in order to participate in a lesson. So let’s think about us doing a plank again, imagine if you were holding a plank position, like for at least two minutes already, like I literally don’t even think I could do that. But let’s say you’re holding a plank position for two minutes. And someone places a cup of full water on your back and says Don’t let this water drip. And then another person comes in and starts engaging in this like serious conversation with you or asking you these questions that are really hard to think about at that time. Would you be able to fully participate? Would you be able to do two of those things at the same time? Probably not. So what can we do about it? Actually, before I tell you what we can do about it, I want to first call out what you should not do. If you’re able to confirm that it’s your child’s core weakness or postural endurance that is the cause for their inability to sit still unsupported, here’s what not to do. I would not provide them with a wiggle cushion or anything to sit on that’s unstable like a wobble stool, a yoga ball. Those things require even more postural strength and endurance than just sitting and will most likely result in them falling over even more. I would not give them a weighted vest or anything weighted on the on the dollar truck. This is a really common like first line of defense sensory tools when you see a wiggle when you see like a wiggly kid, a an untrained OT, or someone who’s not an OT would say oh, like they need some something heavy to like hold them down and be more grounded, which could work for some kids. But for a child who is already lacking the postural strength to sit upright on their own, adding more weight to the trunk is definitely not going to help. The last thing that’s not going to help is just telling this kid over and over to sit still and stay on their bottoms. If it were that easy, they would do it in the first place. So those are not helpful, what is helpful. We need to think about how we can do some of the work for the brain, we want to take some of the load off so that the brain can focus on the lesson. So one of the things that we can do to focus on is support their posture, we want to provide them with external support for their trunk and postural muscles. So here are some ways that I’m thinking of to provide postural support for your child so that they can remain focused and upright for circle or Ragtime. So look into chairs that provide high back support and so that their feet can also touch the ground. So a really common one are those cube chairs for toddlers and preschoolers you can share To turn them upside down so that they have a deeper seat and higher back support. There are so many other options of floor seating options that provide back support, I’m not going to call them out here. But the idea is provide them with an actual chair that can support their back posture and that their feet can touch the ground. Because what also won’t help is providing back support, but their feet are dangling. So we want the back and feet supported sturdy support and stability. Another just makeshift option is finding a spot near the wall or the shelf that they can lean back against for support. Or if these are really little kids, and you’re in like a mommy and me library class, having them sit in between your their legs, having them sit in between your legs, while your legs are kind of outstretched so that they can have you supporting them, that helps as well. Or letting them do what they are doing as long as the teacher or the caregiver is okay with it. So some classrooms are conducive to being able to allow kids to lay flat on the ground during circle time. And it’s no problem. Some teachers are able to allow the child to stand and rock in the back of the group, or sit and rock at the back at the group. That’s that’s fine. As long as you know that. You’re not trying to stop them from wiggling just behaviorally, you’re either going to provide them support. So sitting is easier, or you’re going to be okay with the fact that sitting still for long periods of time is tiring for them. And they mean they may need to move or they may need to take breaks. So what about building postural endurance? Is that something that’s that’s important? Yes, this is important. And there are some very specific targeted ways to strengthen postural muscles for improving setting endurance, but you’re going to need to work with an OT and a PT for specific guidance on this to determine if it’s your child’s flexor or extensor muscles, or both that needs strengthening. And then each of those parts will have their corresponding exercises and activities to do. I’m not going to list them here because it depends so much on your child’s age, their current abilities and all of that. But the point is, yes, you should be working on strengthening these muscles. But here is the most important part. When upright posture is needed and expected. Like you need them to have an upright posture in that moment of time. Like at mealtimes. Like when they’re at the table at school, and they need to write something with precision or color or draw or do a spelling test. You need to be supporting their posture, not trying to challenge them or build their skill in that moment. As with most things I share here on the podcast, in the moment is always about supporting the child where they’re at so that they’re most successful then. But outside of those moments is when you build the skill. I used to see kids on my caseload, when I would go visit them in their classrooms or just talk to their parents who have identified that yes, they do have low trunk and postural endurance. And then I’ll see or hear that they’re sitting at their table at school with a wobble stool or a wiggle cushion. And I’m like, why? And the teacher or parent will say like, Oh no, I heard that. You know, sitting on a wobble stool or wiggle cushion actually activates core strength. And I know we’re working on core strength. Insert facepalm here. So sitting on a yoga ball or wobble stool or wiggle cushion, or anything unstable. Yes, it quote activates and recruits core muscles and requires core strengthening. But remember, if we expect our kids to produce any sort of precision writing or drawing or to chew their food, and pick up a fork and spoon, they don’t need their core muscles challenged even more, they need it supported. So always, always provide supportive seating for your child’s posture at tables if you know they have weak core and postural muscles. So let’s put everything all together and end with this. A behavior is not always what it seems. You could have a side by side by side view of two identical kids. Both are wiggly, moving around rocking getting up and leaving circle time. Kid A could be wiggly because they’re a sensory seeker and their learning would benefit from opportunities to move to wiggle. And you could probably give them a wiggle cushion or stool or heavy vest to provide whatever sensory input they’re needing. Could be could be wiggly, because they have poor postural endurance and are compensating by moving around. And their learning would not benefit from a wiggle cushion or a weighted vest. They would need to be provided supportive seating. And of course, there are lots of other nuanced reasons why kids wiggle or move or leave the group, whether it’s that they’re gifted, and maybe the academic content isn’t stimulating enough for them or if it’s auditory processing challenges, social emotional stuff like there’s there’s multiple other reasons why, but I in this episode, was only trying to highlight the postural endurance one. The main point is that if you’re struggling with supporting your wiggly kid, and OT is the best person to help you tease apart what’s going on so you can make sure that you are providing the best, most effective support for your child. I know ot isn’t the most accessible for everyone. So do with this information what you can try to advocate for your child as best you can. And I want to remind you that I do offer one on one consultations. If you want to learn more about how those work and how you can work with me, you can head to the OT Consult there will be a link below this episode. All right, I hope you learned something new. I hope some light bulbs went off. I will be back next week. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT butterfly. See you next time. Transcribed by




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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