Fidgets 101 – An Introduction

fidgetsWelcome to Fidgets 101. In this series, we will review a variety of fidget toys over the coming months. Before we do that though, an introduction to Fidgets 101 is in order. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of years, chances are that you’ve played with, seen or heard about Fidget Spinner. They burst onto the scene in the Summer of 2017, seemingly out of no where, and became the focus (pun intended) of young people everywhere. Fidgets, though, have been around forever. From the Chinese baoding balls (sometimes called Chinese Stress Balls) created in the 14th century to greek worry beads known as kompoloi which were used by monks 800 years ago to todays fidgets spinners and cubes, there have always been outlets for human’s insatiable need to fidget.

What is A Fidget?

A fidget is any sort of object that people fiddle with to help them to maintain their focus on something else. As described in more detail in the video below, a fidget is a kind of coping mechanism.

The science is still out on why fidgets work. One theory is that fidgets occupy our “floating attention.” We all have what is called “floating attention” which is that little bit of attention that is placed away from our principal activity no matter what we are doing. For some people, their floating attention isn’t well regulated and gets spread across tons of activities. Using a fidget gives that “floating attention” something to focus on which allows you to focus better on the primary items of focus.

In his article “Here’s The Science Behind The Fidget Spinner Craze,” Bruce Lee of Forbes.com offers five  theories about why fidgets work:

  1. Fidgets occupy that part of your brain that distracts the rest of your brain with random thoughts (i.e., your floating attention).
  2. Bodily movement is part of the thinking and expressing process and fidgets thereby help with that process.
  3. Fidgeting serves as a mini-ritual offering the benefits of rituals like familiarity, structure and predictability.
  4. Fidgeting may create and emotional attachment to the fidget with can serve as a temporary proxy for an actual attachment to a person.
  5. Fidgeting may be a way of maintaining some physical movement in our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

Regardless of the science behind fidgets and maintaining your attention, we have noticed in working with hurting young people that they offer other significant advantages. Whether it is coping in terms of distraction, soothing, physical activity or social interaction, fidgets can be a valuable tool in a young person’s coping tool box.

How Fidgets Work

There are all kinds of different fidgets from the popular fidget spinner to the very common clicking of a pen or mechanical pencil.

Lexi Walters Wright from Understood.org identified six different types of fidgets based on how those fidgets work to help people to focus and calm down:

  • Calming Fidgets help young people who “need help feeling settled so they can sustain their attention.” This category includes items like Wiki Sticks, fuzzy pipe cleaners, plastic nuts and bolts, coiled bracelets and key chains and weighted lap pads.
  • Alerting Fidgets help young people who need a little color, noise or light to help them focus. This category of fidgets includes Klicks, Pop Tubes, spinning tops and color changing light up balls.
  • Chewy Fidgets are exactly what they sound like – these are fidgets are for young people who concentrate better when they keep their mouths occupied. This category includes chewable pencil toppers and silicone jewelry.
  • Resistance Fidgets are for young people who need to keep their hands busy pushing, pulling or squeezing. This category would include stress balls, squishy toys and magnetic balls and disks.
  • Tactile Fidgets are those that include different textures to help people focus. The Koosh Ball (and all its knock offs) is probably the most famous fidget in this category which also would include play foam, kinetic sand, rubbery squeeze toys, pop beads and velcro strips.
  • Popular Fidgets is the final category reserved for the most popular fidget – the spinner.

Fidgets are a great tool and an awesome way to help kids cope, but sometimes their use can get out of control. If that happens with your kids, perhaps you can consider a fidget contract like the one created by understood.org to help with the situation.

My Personal Introduction to Fidgets

When I was in high school in north-central Texas in the 1980’s (yes, I’m that old), I was part of the school’s debate team. If you are not familiar with the exercise, it is where two teams and two people debate a predetermined proposition sometimes arguing for and other times against the proposition in a fast thinking and even faster talking format. At the time, many of the debaters in the area were fond of a technique called the “Bel-Air Flare.” It is not entirely clear where the name came from (the trick pre-dated the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the story I was told was that it was named after Bel-Air High School in El Paso Texas where the move originated). The “trick” of the Bel-Air Flare was to spin a pen around your thumb and catch it without dropping it. At any point when you were walking around a high-school debate tournament, you could look in rooms and see hundreds of debaters doing the “Bel-Air Flare” in the midst of their high stakes arguments. As I look back now, I realize that this was just a pre-cursor to today’s multitude of fidget toys. A way to focus by channeling energy into a fairly inconsequential activity.

Types of Fidgets

Fidgets come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and types. The classification system above based on the needs met by the fidget is fine but for purposes of this series, we prefer to group fidgets based on how they actually work:

  • Liquids: These fidgets utilize liquid, or liquid properties, to capture attention.
  • Magnetic: Magnets are fun, and they’re also captivating. These fidgets include magnetic components.
  • Manipulable: Whether they are chains or cubes or twisty, these fidgets engage the use by manipulating and moving their parts.
  • Puzzles: One purpose of fidgets is to keep your hands busy. These fidgets do that in the form of a puzzle that needs to be solved.
  • Resistance: Resistance fidgets are exactly what they sound like. They are meant to be manipulated, squeezed, pulled and pushed while offering some resistance.
  • Spinners: When someone mentions fidget spinners, it brings a certain image to mind of the poplar toy. However, there are a variety of different types of fidgets that captivate by spinning.
  • Tactile: These fidgets are effective because of their feel.
  • Old School: Fidgets aren’t new, and this category is likely to leave you feeling just a little bit nostalgic.
  • Other: Some fidgets defy easy classification. You’ll find those here.

Introduction to Fidgets 101

In this series, we are going to work through a number of different types of fidget spinners. Our goal is to further explain some of the fidgets you probably have already heard about and perhaps introduce you to some more. Each review will explain the type of fidget, a description of each fidget and a thorough review based on the following criteria:

Appeal

Description: Fidgets used to help people with ADHD are not meant to be toys. However, we acknowledge that the more “fun” a fidget it, the more likely it is to engage the young adult using it and the more likely it is to get used. This will be a measure of how fun and engaging the fidget is.

Rating Scale: 1 (kind of fun) to 5 (over the top fun) smiles

Durability

Description: Some fidgets are more likely than others to last. Of course there is variability even within fidget types in terms of how items are manufactured and how long they will last. This section of our reviews though will look at how likely the fidget is to last in the hands of child.

Rating Scale: 1 (easily breakable) to 5 (indestructible) stones.

Portability

Description: Desktop fidgets are great, and they can be a lot of fun. That said, you never know exactly when you’re going to need a fidget. This part of our review will let you know if you’ll be able to shove that fidget into your pocket or if you’re going to need a U-Haul to move it around.

Rating Scale: 1 (difficult to carry around) to 5 (easy to transport) bags

Noise

Description: At Hope 4 Hurting Kids, we love kids and consequently noise doesn’t bother us that much. That said, we recognize that some fidgets do have the side effect that they create quite a bit of noise. We’ll let you know which fidgets work well in a library and which fit better at a concert in terms of noise.

Rating Scale: 1 (very noisy) to 5 (totally quiet) decibels

Overall Rating

Description: This overall rating will take everything about the fidget into consideration from price to effectiveness to its impact on other people in the room. This is the rating to look to for finding the best overall fidget.

Rating Scale: 1 (lowest overall rating) to 5 (highest overall rating) fidgets.

Fidgets Reviewed

Check back here for a listing of all fidgets reviewed so far in Fidgets 101.

For more awesome resources for learning about and dealing with emotions, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Emotions Help Center.
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Fidgets 101 is an introduction to the world of fidgets (they are way more than just spinners). In this series, we explain and review a variety of fidgets.
Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families.Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship).You can reach Wayne at wayne@hope4hurtingkids.com.