Children Who Can’t Sit Still Cure: Problem Solving Activities

One Sunday our family attended a rare, two hour long church meeting. My children are very used to sitting quietly through one hour church meetings, but sometimes they struggle a little bit on a two hour meeting.

About three quarters through the meeting this past Sunday my eight year old son asked if he could go to the bathroom. I told him he could, but to hurry back. About twenty minutes later my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Where is Porter?”

“I don’t know.” I said. “I thought he would be back by now. He went to the bathroom. We’ll need to go looking for him.” My husband sat back in his seat content that I was going to go look. “You will need to go look for him.” I smiled. “I can’t go into the boys bathroom.”

“Oh yeah. Oops. Sorry Bunny.” he whispered with a smile as he stood up and walked toward the door.

The closing song began. A few bars into the song, I saw Spencer, my husband, out in the hall passing by the doorway on his way to check the other bathroom in the building. My heart skipped a beat. The large church was filled with hundreds, or maybe a thousand people. What if something happened to my eight year old?

The closing song was now ending and I was anxiously watching the other doorway for my husband or son. My mommy mind started planning how I would not let anyone leave the building until I found my son. Again my husband passed by the doorway without my son.

The closing song ended. I was definitely feeling a bit anxious now. Then I saw him, my son was walking up to me, and in no time climbed onto my lap and folded his arms for the prayer.

Spencer passed by the doorway again and saw us and smiled.

I put my mouth close to Porter’s ear as I hugged him and whispered. “Porter, I told you to come right back. You didn’t follow that instruction. You were gone for a long time. When we get home we will talk about this and do a SODA (problem solving exercise) about this situation. Okay?”

“Okay.” Porter said as he laid his head back on my shoulder for the prayer.


Why Did Porter Disappear?

Has your child ever done this? I remember doing this very behavior when I was a child. I remember planning exactly when I wanted to have my one allotted potty break so that I could have some “hall time” for a break. I admit, I was a manipulative child. I played lots of systems. Getting out of sitting through church meetings was one of my common manipulations.

There are multiple reasons a child might choose to try to take a break from a church meeting, such as maybe they see a friend in the hall and want social time, or maybe they haven’t learned to sit for long periods of time yet. (this skill can be gently taught) However, the most common reason is that they start feeling bored and become preoccupied with changing environments. That is exactly what happened to Porter.


What I Should Have Done To Cure Boredom Before It Started?

Usually I am really good at preparing my children to succeed in situations before they are actually in the situations. I regularly practice deliberate, proactive parenting. My normal parent prep would have at least consisted of a good pre-teach about the upcoming situation. But, this last Sunday I neglected to even do this since we were in a rush to get to church on time.

If I was really thinking I would have also done a SODA with Porter the morning before church. This would have made the problem solving exercise we did after church unnecessary.


Porter’s Problem Solving Experience

I did a proper correction and practiced following instructions with Porter. Then, while sitting at the counter we started a written problem solving exercise called a SODA. Here is the SODA we did. I talked through this whole thing with him since it was a totally new experience. I even wrote this one down while we talked it out because I knew that on an empty stomach a lot of writing would be over whelming for him. Sometimes we do them like this, and sometimes Porter does them alone. But, I always give the situation. The children think up the rest.


The S.O.D.A.S.

Situation: I am at church and I feel like I am tired of sitting still.


1. Stay sitting

2. Go out and walk around

3. Color in my book

4. Whine


Disadvantages: 1a. It’s boring

1b. Might bet tired

1c. Might bother people

2a. Get in trouble

2b. Could get hurt or lost

2c. Daddy has to come look for me

3a. Might not learn things

3b. Might distract people

3c. I won’t listen to the speaker

4a. Get in trouble

4b. Someone will have to take me out and talk to me

4c. Earn extra chore


Advantages: 1a. Learn all about the church

1b. That you won’t earn negative consequences

1c. Learn to sit still

2a. Got a little break

2b. Not bored

2c. None

3a. It’s fun so I’m not really that bored

3b. Might make a cool picture

3c. Could make my happy

4a. Mom knows how I feel

4b. None

4c. None

Solution: Stay sitting with the family.

As you can see, doing a SODAS before church started would have been the best idea because it would have prepared Porter for what was ahead. Children are anxious by nature. They don’t have much control over their environments, and so are often ill-prepared for environmental success. The best thing parents can do is prepare their children for a successful social situation before the situation occurs.

Of course it is impossible to foresee every situation, but when at all possible, try to look ahead. People who have a social plan before the social situation happens are historically more successful.

This is just one of the tools I use to teach my children problem solving. If a child can problem solve, they can self-govern. The two skills compliment each other perfectly.


By Nicholeen Peck, BBC television star and author of Parenting A House United, and Londyn LaRae Says Okay.

Buy Nicholeen’s SODAS worksheet to copy and use for $1.00

Buy Nicholeen’s books, audio classes, and course


4 thoughts on “Children Who Can’t Sit Still Cure: Problem Solving Activities

  1. Thanks Bookslinger! All those years doing foster care for troubled teens really prepped me for helping my own children problem solve.

  2. I think these are some great ideas, and I can tell that you know your children really well.

    I think for me it is more likely that this would be my situation:
    This topic is “triggering” me, making me uncomfortable, in a way that is creating a desire to run away.

    My best solution, given the fact that as an incest survivor during talks on chastity, father’s, honoring parents, obeying parents, etc., all I usually wanted was to do was hide in the bathroom for a while. Since the molestation was still going on, and would until I was twelve, and the man who molested me was usually sitting in the same row with us, the only way to relieve my anxiety was to go ANYWHERE else than where I was.

    I am not saying that your assessment of the situation was wrong, I think that it was RIGHT because you know your son well and could give him the correction he needed. In my mom’s case, she didn’t know I was being molested, but she instinctively knew that forcing me to stay in the chapel, when I asked to go get a drink or go to the bathroom, usually ended up with me throwing up sometime that day, since I didn’t get some release to my anxiety at the time it was happening.

    I will enjoy using this tool with my children, but I will also be very careful to only judge my own children’s actions, because they are the only ones I know well enough to apply it to, with any discernment.

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