- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

Our son just turned 5. He always has been full of questions and overall is a really good boy except for the fact that he doesn’t seem able to sit still. It’s driving me nuts.

When he talks to you, he constantly is moving his arms and legs, fiddling with things and walking back and forth. When he sits down to watch a movie, he is in constant motion, squirming, rearranging himself, getting on and off the chair and so on.

When we have company, it gets even worse because he becomes so excited. When other children come over, it’s absolute chaos. Nonetheless, when he’s at preschool or when he and I are playing a game or are focused together on any single activity, he sits still.

How do I get this child to slow down before I buy a rope and strap him to the chair?

A: Your son obviously is afflicted with “Saint Vitus’ Dance,” a malady that is not unusual in young boys. (Note: I am fully aware that there is a legitimate abnormal movement disorder known as Chorea sancti viti, which is Latin for Saint Vitus’ Dance. However, I am using the term in the colloquial sense, not to imply that I am diagnosing this child with said disorder. The preceding message was brought to you by my attorney.) In fact, if 50 years ago a mother had sought advice concerning this problem from an older woman, the latter simply would have said, “He’s just a boy.” (By the way, I strongly encourage you to forget about the rope-and-chair thing unless you want to be the subject of tomorrow’s headline story.)

The bottom line is that your son is otherwise a “really good boy” who is able to sit still and focus when he’s at school and when the two of you are doing something together. He obviously has a pressing need to be active or actively absorbed in a task, a need that watching television doesn’t come close to satisfying. The fact that he can sit still selectively means “he’s just a boy.”

(Note: A small minority of girls also qualify as having the colloquial form of Saint Vitus’ Dance. I should therefore point out that a girl so “afflicted” is not “just a boy,” but rather a highly active girl. The preceding message, etc.)

In light of the fact that this is your biggest problem with your son, I encourage you to count your blessings and overlook as much of his squirming and general “dancing” as you are able to overlook. On those occasions when you are unable to overlook them, just tell him the truth: His inability to sit still is really bugging you.

Just say, calmly but with conviction, “You’re really bugging me, as in driving me nuts. If you can’t sit still to (fill in the blank with the situation at hand, as in ‘watch this movie’) then I need you to go to your room and find something to do to calm yourself down.”

Before company comes over, simply tell him that he is welcome to be a part of the group as long as he can control his movement level. As soon as it becomes obvious that he’s unable to do so, don’t threaten or reprimand him. Rather, at the very first sign of SVD, take him aside and tell him he has to go to his room until the company leaves.

In short, you are under no obligation to be a witness or host to his SVD episodes. On the other hand, there’s probably not much you can do to “cure” him anytime soon. The good news is that most boys eventually outgrow SVD or at least find appropriate outlets through which to channel it. In my case, for instance, learning to type helped a great deal.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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