kid playing with fidget spinner

A few years ago fidget spinners became insanely popular with kids and were suddenly widely available at the check out of almost every store. They also became one of the most frequently confiscated, and even banned items by teachers. Does this mean fidget toys are bad? Not at all. There are a few key considerations, however, in choosing an effective and appropriate stress toy or fidget.

First of all, stress toys and fidgets have different purposes and audiences.

Stress Toys

  • A stress toy is meant to channel nervous energy and provide emotional relief through physical release
  • Learning style is not a significant factor

Fidgets

  • A fidget is meant for kinesthetic/tactile learners. It helps release a surplus of physical energy so the child can better focus
  • Stress is not a significant factor

Some kids are very tactile learners and find it hard to concentrate without moving. Physical touch and activity helps them process their thinking. So the first consideration, is ‘does that sound like your child?’ Do they actually learn better when moving/doing? If so, a fidget may benefit them and anyone who shared space with them in a classroom.

How do I know it’s a good fidget?

  • A good fidget allows a child to channel the excess physical energy into the toy so they don’t do something that distracts others or themselves (clapping, tipping back on their chairs)
  • Is focussed on the sense of touch
    • It does not make noise
    • It is not visually distracting
    • Does not become a ‘multi-player’ game
  • It does provide appealing fine motor movement (rolling, twisting, squishing)

Some examples of tactile based toys and devices

  • Yoga ball instead of a chair (again, this depends on how it is used. I personally cannot be trusted with anything that bounces. They do have yoga ball holders which can help)
  • Rings or bracelets that can be easily rotated, twisted or shifted from finger to finger
  • Twiddle muffs (fit on your wrist and have different things to pull, twist and press)

What makes a good stress toy?

A good stress toy allows the user to channel frustration and anxiety in an unobtrusive way. A fidget is mainly to focus that sensation of touch. A stress toy should require a degree of physical effort.

  • A squishy ball that requires some force to compress
    • A blob of plasticine in a ziplock works well
    • Try putting sand in a deflated balloon for a similar effect

Context is everything

Tactile learners will always need to work in movement and/or physical touch to help them learn. If they are not in a classroom/audience situation, they can make as much noise and move around without distracting anyone else. For some kids, taking time on their own to work off stress physically (going for a walk, run, playing a sport, creating something, or working on a zen tangle) will be better than just the stress toy. The trick is finding something that will help them get through situations where they are not as free to choose.

  • Talk to your child and your child’s teacher about their needs and what has worked or not worked in the past
  • Put the onus on them to test out different strategies and report back