Using “Fidgets” effectively for restless kids

Fiddle toys or  “Fidgets”

The need to move when trying to pay attention is a feature of children who cannot sit still and concentrate. Such children can only activate their reticular activating system in the brainstem by movement. As soon as they sit still, their reticular activating system “turns off” and their attention tends to wander.

This is important for learning because the reticular activating system is a column of cells within the brainstem, which sets the level of alertness, and therefore plays an important role in attentiveness. Teachers and parents often ask children to “sit still and pay attention” which is a contradiction in terms for these children.1

They intuitively knows that they can pay better attention by moving. This need to move can be an indicator of insufficient dopamine activity in the brain.2 In such clients, performance can decline and the need to move increase as attention slips which may be disruptive in a classroom. Movement can also facilitate the ability process instructions and to communicate.

If a child continues to fiddle increasingly as tasks become more difficult, this is understandable behaviour because it is an intuitive and automatic response to generate neurotransmitters to sustain attention. A small fiddle toy for a pocket may also be helpful. Fiddle toys are available from a number of websites including:

¹ Krebs, C. A revolutionary way of thinking, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1998. pp218-220
¹ Lyon, MR. Healing the hyperactive brain, Focused Publishing, Calgary, 2000, p30.

How best to use fiddle toys or “Fidgets”

Fiddle toys and Fidgets, like spinners, squeeze balls and key chains, are self-regulation tools that are designed to sustain discreet movement and tactile input. They can be useful for kids who struggle with attention, concentration and listening.

But they can be misused. When a child throw a fidget across the room or obsessively play with them then they are being misused. If allow children to have fidgets without any instructions they will tend to play with them, rather than use them as a tool. So it is important to teach children how to use fidgets.

Explain to your child that a fidget is to help support focus and concentration to allow them to complete tasks. When used correctly, fidgets can help to improve listening and attention, and even calm down or slow down the body and mind. A Fidget or fiddle toy is a tool to help focus, its not a toy. Clearly explain when your child could best use a fidget such as in the classroom or when doing homework.

Here are my top tips for the use of fidgets –

  • Set clear rules
  • Rule 1: Before you grab a fidget, think about whether you need it. If you are not sure see rule #2.
  • Rule 2: Only use a fidget to help with focus and attention or to calm down.
  • Rule 3: Don’t use a fidget if it distracts or interferes with others.
  • Rule 4: When you are finished, put the fidget away in its spot.

If you want to try a fidget with your child, there are many choices. Experiment to find what works best. But I suggest that you don’t get a fidget that looks like a toy. Remember that fidgets are tools.

When you’re ready, you can set up a spot, print the rules, and put the rules in a place where your child can easily see and review them.

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Photo by Charles Deluvio ???? on Unsplash