Fidgeting, or small movements of restlessness, can manifest as tapping fingers, bouncing the knees, and twirling the hair. It can be common among people with anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is a coping mechanism for the body to provide a stimulant release and increase their focus.
Fidget toys can help combat fidgeting. Designed to increase focus while alleviating fidgeting and other distracting habits, fidget toys give the hands something to do so the mind can effectively redirect its attention and relax. Perhaps you’ve heard about fidget spinners – as these toys have become highly popular in the past few years. Be it with kids trying to concentrate or adults trying to reduce their stress – fidget toys have proven to work wonders.
Learn about fidget toys and their benefits in this article.
Why Do People Fidget?
While the term “fidget spinner” brings a specific toy to mind, fidgeting is nothing new, and so are fidget toys. If you’ve ever sat in a conference room repeatedly clicking a ballpen, you’ve done your fair share of fidgeting.
People fidget for many reasons, which can be a natural response to various situations. Here are some possible reasons why people fidget:
Nervous energy – Fidgeting can be a way of channeling nervous energy physically. For example, when someone is anxious or stressed, they may tap their foot, drum their fingers, or play with their hair. Fidgeting is commonly observed in classrooms where a test is ongoing.
Boredom – Most people fidget when they are bored. Fidgeting can be a way of alleviating boredom during activities that may be repetitive or unstimulating.
Habit – Some people may have developed a habit of fidgeting over time and may do it without even realizing it.
Improving focus – Fidgeting can be a way to improve focus and attention during tasks that require sustained attention. Some people may find that having a physical outlet helps them to stay more engaged in the task.
Self-regulation – Fidgeting can be a way to self-regulate and manage emotions. For example, some people may use fidget toys to calm themselves down during times of stress or anxiety.
Types of Fidget and Sensory Toys
Typically marketed towards children, fidget toys are handheld tools that help users focus and decrease stress. It’s also believed to improve learning ability. These toys come in different forms, and here are some examples:
1. Fidget spinners
Arguably the most popular and widely-recognized fidget toy, fidget spinners were a craze back in 2017. This is a three-pronged toy made of plastic or metal that fits in the palm of the hand and is meant to be spun. It’s helpful for people who struggle with hand fidgeting, but when used inappropriately, it is distracting and annoying.
These toys are fun to manipulate and visually appealing. It’s recommended for those who enjoy staring at moving or bright objects. It claims that it can help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to focus more and keep them entertained without using gadgets. But since these toys can be a distraction and can also be dangerous to others, many schools have rules over these toys now.
Manufacturers of fidget spinners recommend their use for children ages 12 and over. Between the small parts and the possibility of injury, these toys are not ideal for children ages five and below.
2. Stress balls
Stress balls are not new but are being marketed toward kids more than ever. These little objects come in fun colors or in the form of adorable animals whose eyes bulge as you squeeze them.
Stress balls vary in size, materials, shapes, and designs, and they can help expel energy and calm the nerves. They can also aid in relaxation, strengthen muscles in the wrists, and relieve arthritis. The squeezing motion you do when using stress balls is part of a relaxation exercise called “progressive muscle relaxation.” They also increase blood circulation, which is beneficial in many ways.
Stress balls are suitable for kids ages three and above and offer unique benefits to children depending on age. For younger kids, it can help strengthen their arm and wrist muscles. For older kids, it can help stimulate nerves, lower blood pressure, and release tension. There aren’t many downsides to using it unless when a child decides to throw one. Otherwise, these toys are fairly safe and indestructible.
3. Pop-it toys
Pop-its are quite the latest craze when it comes to fidget toys and for a good reason. These toys are made of silicon with small, round bubbles that can be popped by pressing down on them. They are simple to use and come in lots of fun shapes and colors, and you can use them over and over again.
This toy can provide stress relief, help kids work on their motor skills, and helps kids focus their energy on a small thing. It can also be a useful tool for learning. You can use them to teach young children about colors, numbers, or patterns. You can also use them to help develop fine motor skills by encouraging children to use different fingers or to pop the bubbles in a specific order.
More importantly, pop-it toys don’t pose choking risks to children, so kids of any age can really use them. Even infants can use them as a teether – you can keep them later when they can play it properly.
4. Fidget cube
The fidget cube is a bit more complex, as it bears multiple options to keep the fingers busy. Usually made of plastic, each side of the cubes has different buttons you can push, spin, click, flip, or twist – allowing the hands to stay occupied and keep the mind focused elsewhere.
These toys come in various sizes and with varying numbers of sides. There are simple six-sided models to more elaborate 12-sided options. Some experts say they benefit children with anxiety disorders and trauma because they ease discomfort in certain situations. Because of the variety of options, these things are also great for children with sensory processing issues since they can pick a side that works best for them.
The main disadvantage that comes with fidget cubes is that they may tend to make noise. It can cause distraction or be a nuisance to other people. This type of toy may not be ideal for the classroom. Fidget cubes are best for older children because younger children may break the small parts in them.
5. Tangle toys
Tangle toys are simple, quiet, fidget items that anyone can enjoy. The tangle can be pulled and pushed, and it usually comes with bright colors and curvy parts that you can twist around and move as much as you want. Plus, they aren’t just for fidgeting – they can also serve as a puzzle or brain teaser for kids. It comes in many different textures that appear to anyone.
Tangle encourages kids to think, create shapes, and manipulate objects in new and exciting ways. It not only soothes anxiety or boredom but also helps improve imagination and creativity.
Unfortunately, tangle toys can disassemble, making them a choking risk and an annoyance if the kid drops the pieces. This is why it’s recommended for children ages five and up.
6. Stretch fidgets
Stretch fidgets are fun toys that allow children to enjoy feeling in their hands and stretching or moving in fun ways. They are inexpensive and often come in many different colors. In addition to providing a distraction, these fidget toys can help improve hand-eye coordination and the pincer grasp, as well as strengthen their hand muscles.
However, stretchy strings can pose a slight choking hazard. It can also hurt if they hit children in the face, so that’s another disadvantage.
Putty is a common classroom and household item, so we don’t often consider it a fidget toy, but it really is. Same as a stress ball, putty, or play-dough, it can help release tension and stress. Putty is malleable and soft, making it soothing in comparison to harder fidget toys. This fidget toy is quiet, non-invasive, and very tactile. It’s great for children who enjoy feeling textured items on their hands, and it’s also great for children who need to work on their fine motor skills.
The downside to it is that it should be used on a table or any flat surface, so it’s not always enjoyable to use anywhere. Although it’s usually created to be non-toxic, it can be dangerous for young children who tend to put things in their mouths. It’s best for children six years old and above. However, younger children can still use it if you can supervise them closely.
8. Chewable pendants
Sensory tools are not limited to your hands. Though these toys aren’t as widely known, chewable pendants are an oral sensory tool for anyone who tends to bite their nails, chew on their hair, pencils, sleeves, and more. These necklaces provide a safe and enjoyable item to chew on without posing a choking hazard or other issues.
When looking for chewable pendants, be sure to look for ones that are latex-free, lead-free, BPA-free, and PVC-free and are made with materials that are safe to put on the mouth. Chewable pendants are designed for all age groups, but adult supervision is required if you’re buying this type of toy for a child.
The most obvious downside to using it is the germ threat. If children wear it around their necks as a necklace, the chewable pendant will be exposed to the air, which can lead to germ spreading. Also, these fidget toys aren’t a great choice for older children, as their friends may laugh at them for chewing on them.
9. Mindful breathing straws
Also called stress straws, mindful breathing straws derive from the breathing practice called straw breathing, which is an anxiety-reducing practice that can be used with or without a straw. These straws are often made of plastic or silicone and have a narrow opening to restrict airflow. That way, users can take slow, deep breaths through the straw. To use it, you need to start inhaling normally and naturally through the nose, then exhale by mouth through a straw.
This aims to help focus on breathing, calm the mind, and slow down the breathing rate. This also aids in decreasing panic and anxiety and in regaining natural balance.
Benefits of Fidget Toys
Fidgeting is often interpreted as a nervous habit, and fidget toys can offer brief diversions from that energy. In some ways, it can provide the distraction that the brain needs without drawing the focus away from the task at hand. Fidget toys have been shown to have a number of potential benefits, including:
Increases focus and concentration
Fidgeting can help some people concentrate better on a task by providing a physical outlet for nervous energy. Research shows that more children learn better when their hands are occupied, helping them to concentrate on listening or reading.
Reduces stress and anxiety
Anxiety can cause restlessness, but fidget toys can help provide an outlet for it. Fidgeting can help reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of comfort and distraction. By giving people something to keep their hands busy, fidget toys tend to have a calming effect.
Improves fine motor skills
Some fidget toys require fine motor skills, which can help improve dexterity and hand-eye coordination. This is beneficial for small children with under-developed pincer grasp and finger strength and for helping maintain the fine motor skills and dexterity of older adults.
Stimulates brain stems with movement
The brain stem controls basic bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, and consciousness. Movement is a basic way to trigger the brain stem for the body to be awakened and alert.
Gives additional stimulation
Fidget toys offer stimulation, which is essential for promoting self-awareness. These toys are helpful when it comes to connecting with the surroundings, as they can help the user concentrate. As it can stimulate the senses, it allows any user to focus and be productive in learning environments.
Provides a fun mental occupation
Besides boosting focus and productivity, fidget toys can also offer a fun mental break to make it easier to pay attention afterward. It’s important to break up work or study times with free play of some sort, and fidget toys can help with that without being overly distracting.
Fidgeting can help some people to think more creatively by providing a physical outlet for mental energy. Toys like putty or play dough allow kids to channel their creativity, and magnetic cubes and blocks also evoke curiosity and encourage problem-solving.
Research has suggested that fidgeting can help improve memory by engaging the brain to promote learning and retention.
Most people tend to fidget when bored. Fidget toys can be a great way to alleviate boredom during activities that might otherwise be tedious, such as sitting in meetings or waiting in line.
Things to Consider When Buying Fidget and Sensory Toys
While many fidget toy options are in the market, knowing which one is right for you, your child, or your loved one will depend on a few factors.
Fidget toys are not just novelty – they can be a helpful tool for individuals who benefit from tactile stimulation and may improve productivity and overall well-being. There are many kinds of fidget toys, with fidget spinners, pop-it toys, and stress balls being the most popular. It can help increase focus and concentration, relieve boredom, reduce stress, and improve fine motor skills, among its other benefits. If you have a child and don’t know what toys to give them, a fidget toy might be beneficial and entertaining for them. And remember, these toys are not just for kids – anyone who needs to manage their anxiety, attention, and focus can benefit from a fidget toy.