How to help a child who finds it hard to sit still on the carpet

I am constantly asked by teachers in school how to manage a child who can’t sit still at carpet time so thought it would be useful to share some ideas. I often observe children at this time and these children stand out immediately as they are easily restless and fidgety and distract themselves and the children sitting near them. Oh what to do with these children other than send them away from the carpet, which may be a short term solution but doesn’t help the child or support them to change their behaviour.

These children can activate a whole range of feelings in the adults that are trying to teach them, including frustration, annoyance, irritability and rage, all of which are perfectly understandable but none of which will help the child to change their behaviour. I have seen even the most patient of teachers rise to frustration as they are asking the child politely for the seventeenth time to sit still. You may be familiar with this yourself, you consider yourself to be quite patient and understanding and have good relationships with the children you work with, but having to manage children who show us this behaviour on a regular basis can be a challenge for anyone!

Firstly, it can be useful to think about why a child may be showing us this behaviour. For me, any behaviour from a child is trying to communicate something to us, and it is our job as adults working with children to try and work out what that is. As adults, we can choose to ask for support when we need it, we can reassure ourselves when things are difficult and we have an understanding that difficult things pass and tomorrow is another day and things may feel different then. Children however experience the world very differently; they do not have the same language skills as adults or the same level of cognitive understanding and have not yet developed the skills of positive self talk and self soothing. Children show us how they are feeling and what they need through their behaviour and therefore children who are happy, settled and feeling safe in the world are able to relax, concentrate, sit reasonably still and engage with their learning. There may be a range of possible reasons why a child finds it difficult to sit still at carpet time including:

  • Feeling anxious or worried about something at home or school
  • Not having enough sleep or being hungry
  • Preoccupied with relationships with parents or carers


  • Show the child how to sit, this may sound odd but it works, so sit on the floor with a child and show them how to position their body in a way that’s comfortable and enables them to sit easily.
  • Consider practicalities such as where the child is sat, can they see you easily, can they hear you, are they near distractions, have they got enough physical space.
  • Show the child on the clock or give them a timer so they know how long they are expected to sit for, how many of us have been in situations where its hard to listen and we become preoccupied with how long it will last and thinking about our escape.
  • Make the child a carpet mat to sit on, let them choose some coloured card, cut out a circle large enough to sit on easily and decorate it if they wish. Give the child the responsibility for getting the mat and putting it away. This has worked well with many children as it shows them the parameters of space that is theirs, very helpful with children who find this hard. Show the child how to sit on it and keep their arms and legs inside the shape.
  • Acknowledge even the smallest of successes, for example, “I can see you are trying so hard to keep your legs still, well done for trying.” Sitting still on a carpet is a task that many adults, myself included would find very difficult, so consider how long the children need to be sat for and how realistic it is to be expect them not to move. The whole class, including those who can manage to sit still would benefit from moving their arms and stretching at least every 5-10 minutes. Good luck, practise patience and perseverance with anything new you are trying.
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