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Why Does My Toddler Flap His Arms?

Our children exhibit a multitude of behaviors. And we should expect them to. Different behaviors to different circumstances is a part of learning. As they grow older, they learn to refine these certain behaviors to be more in-line with the circumstance.

These behaviors are sometimes subtle, and sometimes extreme. They are sometimes loud, and other times silent. And sometimes we don’t even notice them. But then there are times they are borderline disturbing.

Some children flap their arms excessively when they are excited. And sometimes for absolutely no reason. Many parents who experience an arm-flapping child become worried if their child has autism.

While the jury is still out on the arm flapping/autism issue, there are some reasons behind the flapping. Is it autism? Is it normal? Do all children flap their arms? If they flap their arms, is there a way to get them to stop?

Perhaps we can give you the proper information to guide you through the issue. And some answers as well as to why does your toddler flap his arms?

Is The Flapping Normal?

Just because a child flaps his arm,s it doesn’t necessarily indicate he or she has autism. Many people automatically assume a child who flaps, is autistic. Positively not true. Normal children will flap their arms. Why? It could be a signal there is some need not being met.

Not a need like food and shelter. One a bit more in-depth. A need for a certain sense, not being fulfilled. Children suffering from sensory fulfillment needs come from all walks of life. And for the most part, none are autistic.

The flapping motion is their way of making sure those certain needs are met. It leaves them feeling satisfied. Adults often engage in such fulfilling activities. We have just found ways to make them more acceptable.

For instance, if we sit for too long, we find something to do. We may pace the floor, get up and get something to drink, and so on. These are the natural ways we satisfy the need to get up and move. A toddler hasn’t learned how to fulfill the need to get up and move. They just do whatever comes naturally to them. They haven’t learned the proper behavior to satisfy their need at the moment.

Filling The Need

You may wonder why I should find a way to stop this behavior if it’s normal? Well, a good reason is a possibility your child may harm himself or others. The only way the child can satisfy this sensory need is by flapping. And the flapping to him is the proper way to handle the need. It could become violent and excessive.

It would then be necessary to teach the child some replacement behavior, or behavior modification as it were. Also, it would be a good idea for the child to stop flapping his arms before entering kindergarten or elementary school.

Kids can be cruel, and a child who flaps his arms will most likely be ridiculed for it by his school mates.

Behavior Replacement

Before we get into the ways to prevent your child from flapping, a point bears to be made.

If your child is exhibiting such behavior, and it is not a danger to him, or others consider not modifying his behavior. It may do more harm to replace it with something he doesn’t get any satisfaction from. Consulting a doctor or even a child psychologist is highly recommended.

To determine exactly what kind of satisfaction your child is looking for closely, examine him, and take notes. Note at what time of day the flapping is taking place. Note what the child was doing before, during, and after the flapping episode. These notes will help you in determining what it is he needs.

The flapping could indicate a need to:

  • Get up and move
  • Do something with his hands.
  • Do something with his fingers.

You could start by taking the child by the hand and going for a walk when the flapping starts. Throw him a small ball or a stress reliever type object. Or give him a toy or other item which would require him to use his fingers to operate it properly.

It may take some time and several attempts with several different items. Eventually, you can find something the child will relate to, and the flapping will begin to subside.

Keep It Up

Once you find the exact way to change the behavior, find some ways to keep doing it over and over. Perhaps with enough practice, the child will be able to tell on his own when these events are about to happen. Teaching the replacement behaviors may allow the replacement to become a natural reflex.

Make it a daily practice until the child can go to the replacement behavior on command. When he starts the flapping, then you can simply make him aware of it and to start the new behavior.

If your child can not do the replacement by himself, teach him how to seek your guidance. And make it fun. There is no need for them to be intimidated or fearful of these acts. They need to be reassured they have done nothing wrong, and you love them very much.

Given enough time learning the new approach, there is no reason to worry about the flapping stage in their life. Just look at it as you would anything else in their life. It is something for them to experience and learns how to control all by themselves. You are a great parent, you have got this!


Perhaps the best way to approach a flapping child is to go all in. Decide if they are at risk for any developmental issues and react accordingly. You, as a parent, can make it work and work well.

And giving all of your love and affection doesn’t hurt either.

1 thought on “Why Does My Toddler Flap His Arms?”

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