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4 year old boy, constantly playing with hands.
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4 year old boy, constantly playing with hands.

My 4 year old son is a very bright and energetic child, but we've had a problem with him playing with his hands.  We first noticed him doing this, when he was around 3 years old, when a teacher friend recommended that we see a doctor because it looked like self-stemming.  Of course we panicked, videoed him doing this, and took it to his doctor, who assured us that our son was not self-stemming, but was just playing with his hands as a form of entertaining himself.  Our son is aware that he does it, and he often hums, or makes car noises while doing it.  When we ask him what he is doing, his response is that he is doing something; whether it is pretending to steer a car, playing the drums, or using an air compressor.  So we just assumed that he had a vivid imagination.

After his doctor assured us nothing was wrong, we watched when he did this.  He is an only child, and up until last year when he started preschool, he didn't get a lot of interaction with kids, so we attributed his "playing with hands" as something he did when he was bored and wanted to entertain himself.  Or when he stopped taking naps, we thought that he would play with his hands, to keep himself stimulated or awake, so as to not rest and miss anything, but we have never been able to pinpoint when and why he does it.

He started preschool, last Spring, and in the days that I volunteer in his class room, he does not appear to play with his hands, and his teachers have never brought it to my attention that he does this.  However, his teachers have mentioned that he has days where he has no interest in engaging in school work, and acts almost as if he is overtired and doesn't want to pay attention, but they have also specified that he is verbally more advanced than the other kids in his class, and his critical thinking skills, memory and retention is far above kids his age, but when it comes to sitting and focusing on work, he loses his attention quickly.  I have asked if they think that he has the signs of ADHD, and they specified that he doesn't show symptoms of anger, or frustration that many ADHD kids have and they just think that he requires a lot of hands on stimulation to keep his attention.

Lately, at home, he has seemed to lose all interest in playing with his toys, and only wants to play with objects, with his hands, that he can twirl around.  Anything that is long and straight, like toy spoons from his play kitchen, or the toy tools from his tool box.  He still makes the humming noise, or the car sounds, while doing it and when we ask him why he is doing it, he claims that he likes to play with his hands, so it appears, for the most part that this is a voluntary action.  I've tried to set up little "centers" around the house, encouraging him to use his hands and brain productively, but as soon as I leave the room to fold laundry or cook, he goes back to playing with his hands.  If I spend the entire time, engaging with him with 100% of my focus on him, encouraging him to do or play with things, he does not play with his hands, but the moment I leave the room, he begins playing with his hands again.  He will be 5 years old in June, and at this age, he should be able to entertain himself for periods of time, without me leading or guiding him.  

Is there something that I should be doing?  Do any of these behaviors sound familiar with any disorders?  I have researched so many things, but everything that comes up, like high-functioning autism or Aspergers suggest social issues, which is the opposite because our son is a social butterfly; or OCD suggests constant fears, in which he also does not have.  Somebody suggested that he might just be a highly intelligent child that has a constant need for mental stimulation and knowledge, which would make since, because he constantly is asking questions about everything, and needs to know how everything works, but I don't want to wing off that assumption, especially preparing for him to start Kindergarten in the Fall.  I need to know how to prepare his teacher, or better yet, him based on something that may or may not inhibit his learning in the future.  Any suggestions would be great.  Our doctor already said it was nothing to worry about, a year and a half ago, so I don't know if revisiting this conversation, with his doctor, is a good idea, or maybe taking him to a specialist, like a child psychologist, is a better idea to point us in the right direction.  Or, you can tell me that my child is just being a 4 year old and he'll grow out of it, and that'll be okay too.  
12 Comments Post a Comment
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5914096_tn?1399922587
Your son is entertaining himself with his hands!  Please keep in mind that he is only 4 years old. Don't just assume a disorder.  Symptoms of disorders occur in all environments, not selected environments.  If I suffer from a cold, I have the cold everywhere I go.  It is obvious that either your son isn't engaging in this behavior at school or the teacher feels that this behavior is age appropriate.  Either way, he is only 4 years old!  Let him be a child without having to feel like there is something wrong with him.  
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Avatar_f_tn
I appreciate your straight forward response.  I agree, he's just an energetic 4 year old boy.  Although please don't label me as a parent who thinks that something is always wrong with my child.  I just haven't observed other kids his age engaging in this behavior, and when a third party individual brings up that what he is doing might be considered a "warning sign" to something else, as a parent you often spend more time observing these behaviors to see if there is anything that you can be doing to assist them so that it doesn't negatively effect them.  In an age where ADHD has become overly diagnosed to children, not because they have the disorder, but because they are just energetic children, I am aware that many people jump to the disorder conclusion if children don't fit the stereotype.  I was simply just trying to determine if there is something I can do to help him use some of that energy productively, and was curious if other parents had similar situations with their children and what advice they could offer.  
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973741_tn?1342346373
I there.  I would recommend that you look up sensory integration disorder.  I think you express several things that ring bells for me with your son that were the. same for my son when he was 4.  He was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder.  

I was so upset at the time about this as I had no idea what this would mean for my child.  however, I saw that he needed some help.  We began doing occupational therapy which was wonderful and addressed the sensory issues my son was having.  He also had something of a finger roll thing, fidget that he did.  Now, my son had some other more classic things going on (classic sensory) such as he didn't like seams in his socks or getting his hair brushed.  He did have some trouble with social interaction with is peers.  He had trouble with handwriting.  And some other things.

OT was wonderful (my son thought it was like play . . . their goal, they make it like play so kids enjoy it and WANT to go) and I can't tell you how much my son benefited from it.

So, while I was initially afraid of what a diagnosis of any sort would mean for my son it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.  it allowed us to address things that he struggled with.  He's now 10 years old and flourishing.  He too is quite smart with straight A's and academic accelerated classes, he plays sports, has friends, plays the violin, is into theatre, swims competitively, etc.  I in all honesty do not think it would be possible had we not gotten on the path we did when he was younger which included putting a name to the struggles he was having.

Now, he does at times seem to do better with a fidget at school.  It helps with focus and gives him something to do with constantly moving hands.  His teacher keeps a basket and hands them out to several kids at the same time so he isn't singled out.  Works really well and something to consider down the road.  good luck
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Avatar_m_tn
  I agree with specialmom - check out this link.
         http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/
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7640633_tn?1393023294
I'm sorry, but if I had trusted my son's primary doctor's opinion, my son would never have gotten the therapy he needed. From his 3rd year until his 13th year, everyone dismissed my concerns because they did not interact with him for more than 10 minutes at a time during doc visits. My son's doctor was only familiar with two symptoms that point to autism; social "problems" and ritualistic behaviors.

My son's issues were noticed by 2 very dependable teachers who were the motivators behind getting my son tested and assessed for his disorder. Since then, my son's life has improved quite a lot. However, he started therapy late in his young life which put him significantly behind in several areas.

My son's doc told me that my son was very high on the intelligence level but because my son communicated calmly and intelligenly with the doctor himself, there was no reason to worry.

Please do not ignore a behavior your child exhibits if it interrupts or effects negatively, his or her daily life. Worst advice I have ever heard.

See a specialist for your child.
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Avatar_f_tn
Hi there.

My step son is 11 and he plays with his hands at the dinner table and he walks his fingers across the table or bangs his hands on the tables. I try and get him to stop and just eat dinner, it works for the most part. I worry that those behavior will get him picked on at school, so I do try and correct it by telling him to eat dinner and sit still. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I don't want those behavior to follow him in school. I tell my wife, but he's her baby and sees no wrong in the behaviors. So, I'm just lost in it all.
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Avatar_f_tn
He is an only child so considering that this behavior on occurs at home and not at school I wouldn't personally be worried. In the many years I have spent teaching children I have learned this first hand. Children that spend most of their time with adults before grammar school takes place tend to have some very "corky" ways of entertaining themselves. Almost 90% of the time their behavior ne'er becomes an issue anywhere but at home with their parents. I use the word issue lightly because it's only an issue if it made I to an issue by the parents. These children almost never display this behavior at school or around other peers their age. If you feel their May be more going on then I would definitely recommend and support a second opinion because you know your child better than anyone else. Good luck, god bless, and I hope you get the answers you are looking for.  
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Avatar_m_tn
   I think that Mmarkey makes some very good points.  IF you are concerned, do ask his teachers if they are noticing any of this and if it is a problem.   Usually, in a class setting this is not a problem.  One on one with parents it is much more noticeable.   And, you must consider that what he is doing might be in regards to what is going on at the dinner table - he is bored, or whatever.  Try involving him in whatever discussion is going on.
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Avatar_f_tn
My son is 7 years old, in 2nd grade and the teacher has observed that he plays with his hands about 30-45 minutes a day. I have seen this behavior and it can be very distracting. He doesn't flap his hands, but rather makes shapes and sound effects. He tells me he does this when he gets a new idea or when he is bored. My personal opinion is that this is his creative imagination. He loves to role play, he is great at art and I think this is just his personality, but at the same time, I want to make sure there is nothing more I can do for him. The behavior does look rather odd and he does seem to "zone out" when he is playing. It seems to me that he needs more visual stimulation?
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4851940_tn?1385441629
I agree with MarkLakewood3367.  If everything is fine with your son and he likes to play with his hands, then I see nothing wrong with that.  Humming and making car noises is fine too.   As he likes playing with his hands, have you thought about getting him a musical keyboard or an instrument so that he can use his hands to make his own music?  
Perhaps the toys that you have for him are not stimulating enough for his intellect.  It is surprising how quickly children do get bored with playing with the same toy and will move on to the next level.

Give him some paper and pencils so that he can draw and be expressive or do finger paining.   Most kids love to do that.

Rather than worry about him playing with his hands, observe other things that he does and how he does them.  You say he shows an interest in things and that is excellent.  Observe how he holds things, whether he trips or stumbles or may be clumsy, does he shy away from noise and doesn't like to be in a noisy environment, can't pronounce his words properly.  Those are the types of things you need to look out for that could indicate a sensory disorder like Dyspraxia.

Try not to show that you are worried and stressed, because he will pick up on the fact that you are worried and that will make him feel tense too.


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Avatar_m_tn
Hey there,

I had the exact same childhood exception video games I'd still play with. My warning is what the doctors never figured out and I personally found out (as an adult) then told the doctors I had it was: Severe Sleep Apnea. This you should find out if he has because it's potentially life threatening. Look up sleep disorder symptoms and complete an EDS test. They are free online and maybe should retry it a year or so later. CPAP wasn't good enough for me I needed an APAP and take provigil. This can also be concerning because there is a type of depression caused from sleep deprivation that will go away with an C or APAP machine. It also in teen years causes additional issues as when anyone is sleep deprived they get angry imagine everyday. It can also cause suicide during those years. Hopefully I am wrong but there is overnight sleep studies that will let you know for absolute sure.  

Not trying to scare you but the playing with the hands could become a maladaptive behavior / habit. It won't affect him socially nor will it kill him of course. The reason he is picking it over his toys is because his imagination is preferable than the toys; This is because he can construct the characters into doing whatever he wants and all toys are limited. To use an example he can give a character a sword his brain has created or imagined but cannot personally draw much less make himself.  

In adulthood, as a person with it. The problem is that the world is more fun and all fun things make time go by quickly. I've spent over half a day doing nothing but daydreaming. That is really what it is btw. The hands or object he uses is basically a key into his own imagination. The ability to almost immediately enter a world completely made up. Eventually it is possible like me to have more than one "world" and to have different triggers. Car driving I have a fantasy of being Iron Man, After an action movie or shooting video game one world of war but not supernatural and another for game of thrones that is much like the show but even more so supernatural. Not only that but if you watch the youtube show How it should have ended, in these very detailed and continuous long stories existing only in one's imagination it is how it should have ended. Another example is in one of my "worlds" (war one) it's basically a fan fiction creation between Halo and Transformers. You'd have to know the movies to understand the details but this is just an example. The maladaptive part is very human because I've felt in the past I'd almost be okay if locked away in solitary as long as I had the ability to play with my hands all day. Also for insight these "worlds" are from a third party or viewer point of view. However I have a character in each of them that changes the timeline of the stories into what I want to happen in the order I want it to happen in. The character is named after me and has abilities or powers I want. It's important to accept it as just entertainment and never can be reality so oneself works hard in the real world.  

Please do not give him a hard time about it or make him feel defensive about this behavior/habit. When I was tested I had a genius level ability to learn but became bored very quickly. If you make him feel bad like my parents did he will then simply hide it from you and become very skilled at it. It will also hurt self esteem in the long run not to mention he will feel very ashamed. I hope he simply grows out of it and you have nothing to worry about. It may be possible to do so if now you keep his attention actively. If he does have sleep apnea or sleep disorder he actually right now NEEDS it and CANNOT help it. The movement of his hands basically, subconsciously, keeps him from falling asleep. Once it becomes habit even to a non addictive personality type it's very hard to break. I still don't know how to do it and am not an addict. I've adapted by reading about maladaptive daydreaming which is also a good source of information about this subject. My favorite thing to use is simply a timer on my phone to go off. Unfortunately I have to give myself a set amount of time for a task and every task that day (usually on the fly), basically micromanaging myself. I also then give myself after so many timer sessions a break and allow myself  to only daydream or relax another way. The reason is I will daydream while my body goes on autopilot doing the task I need to do but don't want to. Then once complete or partially complete like a robot I will stop and I'll be stuck in daydream land. Online learning for college may be his preferred route, I did very well but only studied when I wanted to.

Last thing to note. Check what style of learning is best for him and get his Myers Briggs personality type. Some personalities are just people who are in their heads a lot and will need not always professional help with keeping that in control. Learning type is important because he might start during school like I did when I was being taught in a way I don't learn very well. Some people learn through hearing the best or reading the best, last because it's me.. Some people learn by doing the task the best. When bored because your type of learning isn't being shown he may go back into daydream land. Also males are more likely to daydream than women in the workplace during long meetings so keep in mind some daydreaming is natural. The weirdest thing if he associates an object like a pen or pencil, and it gets lost he will want another one pretty strongly if like me. It's possible without an object as well. Taking away the object completely won't help, only self control will. Another thing will simply take it's place. There is a very strong desire sometimes I even get when hanging with friends for over a day to go and daydream a while. A normal daydream isn't the same thing as this type of daydreaming and that object really feels like a key into the mind and even the thought of being without that key is very displeasure-able.

Hope this all helps. I am not on this website much I just found it today. I have an email if you have any questions same as my nickname but with gmail. Best of luck.
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Avatar_m_tn
Hey I have a question. Im a 17 year old boy and I have this thing you just described. Its half my day. The only people who know are my parents and my sister. I live a completely normal life, Im a jock at high school, have great grades and got accepted to all my colleges i applied for... I just feel scared when I move out of the house or when I get married.. Do I just stop?

Its such an addiction though almost like drugs... I have thought of so many great futuristic worlds that I truly believe I can get rich off of. Are there others like me?
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