WHAT IS FIDGETING?
Have you ever caught yourself drumming your fingers on your desk, or clicking the top of your pen to open and close it repeatedly during a long meeting or just a day at the office? How about bouncing your leg up and down repeatedly or squeezing a stress ball on your desk to help you refocus?
These are all examples of fidgeting! The majority of people fidget on a day to day basis as a way to relieve stress and help focus on the task at hand. Fidgeting provides our bodies with extra motoric activity and sensory input that we may need to help our minds focus and attend. As adults, we have had extensive practice with years of school, lectures, and meetings to develop fidgeting strategies that help us attend without causing more of a distraction to ourselves or others.
Children, on the other hand, may need some guidance in this area. Many kids require additional sensory and motor input to help them attend, yet they don’t always know effective and appropriate ways to satisfy their fidgeting needs.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
Finding the perfect fidget is tough! This is mainly because fidgets are not “one size fits all”! Finding a fidget that works for your child is going to take some trial and error. With all the different options out there, it can be tough to know where to begin!
A few of the most popular fidget toys at the moment include:
- Stress Balls/Squeeze Balls
- Pros: These are great because they provide calming proprioceptive input to the hands, which can lead to improved modulation and the ability to “reset” the body to a calm and attentive state when needed.
- Cons: They can be hard to keep track of! Since it is a ball, kids may be tempted to toss them around with their classmates, causing a distraction. If this is the fidget that works best for your child, teach her to keep the ball in her pocket, or use a safety pin to attach a piece of string or yarn and attach the other end to your child’s belt loop, so it stays with them at all times.
- Fidget Spinners
- Pros: These provide consistent motoric activity for the fingers, are light-weight, and can easily fit in a pocket or cubby.
- Cons: Spinners can be visually distracting, which may take away from your child’s ability to visually attend to the task. Also, because of their popularity, they can be distracting to other children in the classroom.
- Tangle Toys
- Pros: Children can twist these toys in several different ways, providing a variety of motoric activity. These can also be worn around the wrist for safe-keeping.
- Cons: These toys can snap apart and parts can get lost, or they can be a choking hazard for children who tend to put items in their mouth
- Fidget Cubes:
- Pros: Like tangly toys, fidget cubes provide a variety of motoric actions for children, as there is something different on each side. For children with good finger dexterity, they do not require visual attention to the toy itself.
- Cons: For children who have limited finger dexterity, fidget cubes may require more visual attention than other fidget toys. Fidget cubes also tend to be more expensive than other fidget toys, and although they can fit in a pocket, they are bulky and can be uncomfortable for our more tactilely defensive kids.
When searching for a fidget toy for your child, the main goal is to find a one that will provide additional sensory and motor activity, without causing more distraction. When searching for the right fit, it’s important to:
- Try different fidgets in different settings: in school, in the car, at the doctor’s office, etc. Your child may benefit from different fidgets in different settings, as external sensory input your child is already receiving varies across environments and activities.
- Talk to your child about what he likes best. Make sure it’s something he is able to use, interested in using, and doesn’t make him feel different from their peers in a negative way.
- Consult with your child’s occupational therapist and teacher about options for fidget toys and which ones might work best for your child, based on needs.
- Be open to changing fidget toys from time to time – like most things, children may out-grow their fidget toys and may need new options as they grow and develop skills.
As always, we at Skill Builders are happy to help! If you have any questions about your child’s fidgeting needs, please contact Cassie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Cassie Hawkins, MS, OTR/L