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My Son Won’t Sit Still! 8 Strategies to Help Him Focus and Help You Stay Sane

As the mom of two sons, I know endless jumping, drumming and spinning leaves even the most serene parent gasping for oxygen. Holy Hyperactivity, I know it well.

I know head-first sofa death dives and coffee table break-dancing. I know tender patches just beneath a boy’s chin, which burst open and require butterfly bandaging. I know the desperate sound of my own voice ranting, “You are not a squirrel!” at the top of my lungs.

Boys have tons of energy. It’s our job as parents to supply enough opportunities to flush the energy from their systems. Without opportunities, boys can’t stay truly focused, sit still at school or sleep well. For boys with ADHD, the opportunities are even more critical.

In their book Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life With Attention Deficit Disorder (2005), Edward Hallowell and John Ratey say physical activity is crucial. “Exercise stimulates the production of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which is exactly what the medications we treat ADD with do.”

Attention disorder or simply boys being boys, parents need advice for balancing our kids’ need to leap and head-bang with our own need for… um... sanity. Here are fresh ideas to help them burn energy and help them learn the skill of being still.

Eight Strategies to Keep Boys Active

Anthony Rao, Ph.D. co-author of The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World (2009) advises, “As long as what your son is doing is not dangerous, or dangerously annoying to you, let him do it.” The following simple suggestions culled from his book have worked for families seen in his practice.

For younger boys:

1. Take younger boys outside every day. Let them stomp in puddles, play at the park, run around the yard and ride bikes.
2. Time your son while he runs. My own sons loved being timed, especially when I threw in theatrics and a beaming smile on my face to help them feel like Olympians.
3. Develop a twisted sense of humor about their energy. Rao says, “Many young boys bounce on the couch, crab walk across the floor, spin around in one place, hop in place, and do other odd things seemingly for no reason.” See humor rather than oddity.
4. Encourage karaoke and shaking of the booty. Singing is a great physical activity for emotional release, especially when they bust a move.
5. Think exercise ball and mini trampoline. “Often, when a child is acting up or frustrated, it can be good to redirect him to an activity such as this, rather than argue or spend countless hours coaxing him to be better behaved.”

For older boys:

6. Consider martial arts. As an alternative to often over-stimulating team sports, martial arts provide healthy physical movement. In addition to conditioning, boys learn to use their voices assertively, develop better listening skills and feel more competent.
7. Don’t forget swim lessons and soccer. Soccer burns a lot of energy, and swimming is one of those sports where kids get to move the whole time rather than wait in line or stand out in a field. Rao says parents should think beyond traditional sports to get them really moving.
8. Try gymnastics or dance. Both of these activities build confidence and coordination. While there may be stigma attached for boys, they remain excellent disciplines for boys who may not thrive in football or baseball.|

Learning the Skill of Being Still

The Way of Boys contains these tried-and-true ideas to teach impulse control:

1. Sit still drill. Designate a particular time each day to practice. Decide on a small reward to offer (i.e. a cookie or a penny), set an egg timer, and allow him to hold and focus on the timer as he sits. “It really helps boys to feel that the time they have to conquer is real, something they can hold,” indicates Rao. For younger boys, start off with one minute, and if he can stay calmly in his seat, reward and praise him. Do this every day, increasing the time by 30 seconds.
2. 20 minutes of daily outdoor play is good medicine. Rao says for kids with ADHD, as little as 20 minutes outside yields hours of improved focus, which may be as good as medicine. Research shows that emotional control and decreased aggression are associated with outdoor play.

As a mother of two formerly stillness-impaired sons, my advice is: Model calm yourself and trust that your son will not still be coffee table break-dancing when he is in college (wait… that’s not… maybe just listen to the experts!).

Michele Ranard, M.Ed., is a freelancer with a background in professional counseling and academic tutoring. For more information, visit


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