Restless Feet: What, Why and Management Strategies

Occupational Therapy
Restless Feet: What, Why and Management Strategies

When working on an activity that involves sitting down at a table children tend to indulge their free feet in the activity too – this we call the ‘restless feet’.

This includes, but not limited to:

  1. swing the feet back and forth,
  2. kick the therapist or parent’s legs (not that they intend to;), or
  3. intertwine and figit constantly with their legs.

All of the above may result in the child shifting focus off the task at hand. We have listed here few reasons why children retort to such a tendency and how you can help them.

  1. The child’s feet are left dangling making her feel uncomfortable.

WHY? When the height of a chair is too tall for the child, her feet don’t touch the floor; instead, they are left dangling from the chair causing a certain amount of discomfort that could lead to restless feet.

STRATEGY: Having chairs the right size or adding a foot rest can allow the child to concentrate on the activity better without being bothered by emptiness underneath the feet. 

The other option is you could sit down on the mat instead of sitting on the chair and table. Sitting down on a mat will allow her to concentrate better on the activity rather than the movement.

  1. The floor could be too cold for the child to pay attention.

WHY? A cold floor can be distracting, since temperature works as a sensory input. Having a constant unpleasant tactile stimuli can lead the child constantly moving the legs for warmth.

STRATEGY: Putting a mat under the chair or making the child wear socks can help him feel comfortable and focussed on the task at hand. 

  1. Repetitive or intense activities that are too hard for the child to cope.

WHY: Repeating the same task over and over again or setting goals way above the child’s coping abilities may trigger the child to look for secondary sensory stimuli such as kicking around with the feet.

STRATEGY: Giving a child an activity that he finds complex and is not mentally ready for or is simply out of his level of understanding, can cause  him to feel anxious and stressed out - resulting in the need to constantly move. Plan activities that are relevant to the child’s age, cognition levels and appropriate to his/her interests and abilities.

  1. The child might be in need of physical contact to feel connected with the therapist or parent, and hence might try to rest their legs on the parent or therapist’s legs.

WHY: Helps children feel safe and secure.

STRATEGY: This is completely normal and shouldn’t be discouraged. Denying such connectedness may cause attachment issues and will further distract the child from learning. Go ahead with hugs and other means to help the child feel connected with you.

Constantly moving around and playing with the legs can certainly be a distraction for you as well as the child. We hope the information provided here will help you and your child. If you found this useful, don’t forget to share it with a friend.

By, Shyam KM – Occupational Therapist

Chitra Thadathil – Speech Language Pathologist

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