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Why Kids Fidget

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

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Creating the perfect environment for focusing on work, whether it be homework or your job, is different for everybody. While some people prefer a completely quiet environment, others prefer the hustle and bustle of a busy coffee shop. Same goes with what we do with our hands while focusing.


Some people click a pen, others may squeeze a stress ball or even play with some toy. Kids are not exempt from the want to create an optimal learning environment, but how do we allow students the opportunity to create that environment while also not distracting those around them. On Episode 31 of Faith Family Fitness we discuss why kids fidget, the science of fidgeting as well as the implications in the classroom.


If you haven't had a chance to listen to our latest episode, please check it out here:


After the airing of our episode today on 100.7 The Word, we had a couple parents reach out looking for additional information!


We wanted to share some of the research we analyzed in the process of creating this episode and also share some products that we found beneficial.


Research Notes:


Please keep in mind that with research we often see contradictory evidence throughout research. Very few things in science are known for sure and are proven over and over again, we call those scientific laws. For the purpose of this episode I chose to focus on the evidence in favor of the use of focus objects or fidget toys as some may refer to them.


The idea being strictly to open my listeners minds to the idea that fidgeting may not be the worst thing in the world, or even something that must be corrected. It goes back to the idea of Positive Youth Development as opposed to the Deficit Model of Youth Development model which views youth as problems to be managed. The emphasis currently is on eliminating the use of these tools from the classroom, and I don't think we are at a point in the literature that suggests that removal is the proper course of action.



Not all teachers or educators agree with the use of fidget objects, but it very well could be something to explore with your child's educator or at least use at home during homework times. Education appears to be a necessity with the use of these fidget toys as it is important to not use them as a reward but rather provide the child with the information that the sole focus of using fidget tools is to help them improve their focus. If youth understand this, I have found that they will respect the items as such and not view them as a toy.


Last but not least to note, much of the research is conflicted whether these objects are beneficial for students that do not have anxiety or ADHD.


None of the information presented here should be taken as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before starting or stopping a medication or embarking on a new fitness routine.


The Science of Fidgeting


  • Fidgeting has been shown to increase energy expenditure by 28-39% daily (Levine et al. 2000). This increased energy expenditure, through exercise and even possibly fidgeting has been known to help children with ADHD.

  • Fidgeting has been linked as a coping mechanism for anxiety. So just maybe if your child suffers from text anxiety utilizing a focus tool or fidget tool may help.

  • When activities are too easy, fidgeting may take place to stimulate the brain in order to increase attention.

  • When activities are challenging or demanding, fidgeting may take place to relieve stress.

  • In Dr. John Ratey's book Spark, he outlines that even small movement like fidgeting increases neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which is the goal of ADHD medications. Read or Listen to Spark

Fidgeting has long been held as a symptom of ADHD. I don't know as though symptom is the right word though. Those with ADHD fidget as a way to keep themselves more focused on activities that are not excessively stimulating. Fidgeting allows for the release of norepinephrine and dopamine which actually increases focus.



Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is traditionally linked to the idea of pleasure or reward. When we take part in activities we enjoy our bodies release dopamine. Individuals with ADHD typically have low levels of dopamine, which may cause them to seek out behaviors that increase adrenaline or are seen as pleasureful.


Things like fidgeting, listening to music and even exercise are found to release dopamine at high levels.


I know that this is a really brief explanation of the science, however hopefully it is useful.


Implementation


While the focus of the episode was specifically focus devices or fidget toys, we know from the science that regular exercise is critical to the release of dopamine and focus. I highly recommend if you live in Colorado Springs that you check out Full Armour Swim and Sports Teams as they offer amazing youth sports programs.


One other thing to try which probably won't fly in the classroom but may be beneficial for use at home is allowing your youth to utilize music while working on homework. Keep in mind, what you find to be the most ideal environment may not work for your child and forcing homework to be done in a quiet room may actually decrease attentiveness.


As I stated earlier, the goal of implementing fidget tools is to help your student while not distracting others in the classroom. Fidget spinners are not ideal in this capacity and because of the coordination and visual attentiveness that often takes place at the same time, it may not serve as the best focus tool. However there are several other great focus tools on the market.

The Fidget Land tools are some of the most innovative discreet tools that won't cause a distraction and nobody will even know you are using one.


Pictured on the left is the Ninny, which can be found here



Pencil Gidget's allow you to change any writing implement into a sensory tool and focus tool. The extra stimulus may improve focus and allow for decreased stress.


Find them here.



Other tools:



Resources:


Kids on the Spectrum and Focus Tools


Efficacy of Fidget Toys in a School Setting


Using Fidget Spinners to Improve On-Task Behavior in Classroom


Levine, J. A., Schleusner, S. J., & Jensen, M. D. (2000). Energy expenditure of nonexercise activity. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(6), 1451–1454. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/72.6.1451

Why Kids Fidget

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