23 February 2024

Movement matters, and it especially matters to those who are “tiggers”.

(If you’re not acquainted with the Winnie-the-Pooh stories by AA Milne, well, maybe it’s time.) Tigger is one of Winnie-the-Pooh’s best friends, a very loveable, energetic and positive character. Tigger bounces everywhere. He’s enthusiastic and motivated. He’s always looking for the fun, fun, fun! In the stories where Tigger is not bouncing, he’s sad.

In sensory terms, a tigger is a sensory seeker. In other words, a person who very much craves and needs movement in order to feel calm and settled in their brain and body. Tiggers seek engagement in their environment, through other people or with objects. They will not shy away from kicking a soccer ball really hard. They love manipulating things with their hands – like playing with playdough or clay. They love to bounce – literally just like Tigger! They usually love getting their hands dirty, love rough play, and pitting their strength against others.

If children who are tiggers are not getting enough sensory input, for example if they are having too much sedentary time, or expected to be quiet and be in quiet spaces a lot, they tend to get irritable, over-fidgety, and even lash out at others in frustration. They might be labelled “naughty” or “attention seeking” as their behaviour can be provocative; this is because their sensory system is crying out for stimulation to help them regulate (ie: be calm).

A tigger friend of mine (She’s an adult, just in case you think only children can be tiggers.) was sharing with me recently how her mood was really low, she was feeling overwhelmed and disconnected. But then she started her high impact exercises again and everything changed. She went back to feeling energized, calm, and connected to herself. She was reflecting on how she needs movement to help feed the Tigger in her.

My daughter is also a tigger and the euphoria you see in her when she has done some hard exercise is remarkable. When the euphoria dissipates, she is calm and happy through the rest of her day. She’s often said she feels fidgety in certain classes at school, or gets distracted. We’ve asked her to notice what her body needs, most likely some movement to look after the Tigger in her. We discussed different strategies such as a walk to the bathroom and doing a few star jumps whilst there.

She’s the child who will most often ask for “tickle time” in the evenings, and usually when there is a lot happening such as studying for exams or orals or tests. Tickle time has been a thing from when our children were very little. It’s very physical, involving tickling and applying deep pressure – like wrestling. It’s quite noisy – shrieks of laugher and shouting, especially when the boy child joins us and they gang up on me! I know when she’s asking for tickle time, she’s asking for some co-regulation. Her body is telling her she needs extra sensory input to counteract the stress she is feeling. Tickle time gives her the deep pressure she craves, and the connection time. And of course, play and laughter does wonders to restore the world the right side up again.

Tiggers may look like candidates for an ADHD diagnosis at times. But what if, before diagnosis, we were to reflect on what sensory input a person is getting, or not getting. And maybe the “hyperactivity” you’re seeing is simply a frustrated tigger who hasn’t had enough bouncing! If your tigger is having more than an hour of screen time per day, on top of having to sit still in class, they most certainly aren’t getting enough movement time.

Here is a set of exercises you could encourage your tigger to use during the day – such as before sitting down to homework, or during play time. They don’t have to do ALL of them each time, you can choose together depending on how much time you have and how much sensory input is needed. It could be a good connection time to do this with your child, or at the very least to be involved in the process by timing and encouraging them as they go. This is not a punishment! This is a way to help your Tigger feel connected to their own body again, to feel energized and ready to engage with others in healthy ways.


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