by Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
Fidgets are objects we touch or "play with" when we experience good or bad stress.
We also fidget with different items when we have restless or nervous energy. Fidgets
can be toys, games, or everyday things such as pens, jewelry, or pocket change.
Moving, or manipulating, these objects helps us manage stress from different situations
because the movement helps regulate, or balance out, our sensory systems. While
it might seem like fidgets are distracting, they actually take care of "antsy" behavior—making
us more relaxed and evening out our energy levels.
Fidgeting is a normal behavior for children and adults, and most everyone fidgets
to some degree. We often fidget when we are trying to concentrate or pass time,
and we may switch from one fidget to another depending on the stress level. Some
common examples of fidgeting include biting nails, tapping a foot, twirling hair,
and chewing on a pencil. Some common situations for fidgeting include talking on
the phone, listening to a presentation, or riding in the car. In school, students
may feel stress and therefore, fidget when struggling to come up with an answer, when getting
ready to accept an award, or after sitting for a long period of time.
Sometimes, individuals show inappropriate or socially unacceptable fidgeting. These
behaviors include biting hands, picking the nose, and chewing on clothes. In the
school setting, educators may work with students to find more socially-acceptable
fidgeting behaviors or replacement behaviors. Replacement behaviors often include
using objects that are common, less distracting (no lights or noises), and more
hygienic. Educators may also use fidgets to help students regulate their sensory
systems throughout the day, which can lead to better focus, attention, and listening
for tasks. As well, children with certain diagnoses, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), may especially benefit from the
sensory feedback of fidgets.
Examples of Fidgets
Fidgets come in different sizes, shapes, weights, and textures. These different
characteristics provide different pressures and sensations to the nervous system.
Some fidgets are for the hands. These include stress balls, therapy putty, clay,
pencil grips, zippers, beanbags, gloves, bracelets, hand-held games or toys, and
drawing/notepads. Other fidgets are for the mouth. These include gum, plastic key
chains without the metal ring, chewing tubes, and suckers. Foot fidgets include
foot rests/massagers and resistance bands. At school, an educator or therapist,
such as an occupational therapist, can help determine which fidget(s) is age-appropriate
and effective for an individual. At home, be sure to provide guidance and supervision
when using fidgets as tools with your children.