It’s natural for children to feel some anxiety at school facing academic and social pressures. But for children predisposed to anxiety or diagnosed with conditions like ADHD, school can be a significant source of stress and distraction from learning. Fidget toys have become a popular classroom tool to help anxious kids self-regulate and focus on their work. But how effective are fidget toys for managing childhood anxiety?
How Fidget Toys Could Help Anxious Kids at School
Fidget toys are small, discreet objects for subtly manipulating in the hands. Twisting, clicking, bending, or otherwise fiddling with them provides sensory stimulation. This gives restless hands and minds an outlet for agitation. Common fidget toys include spinners, cubes, tangles, snap bracelets, and bendable figurines.
Experts suggest several ways fidget toys may help kids handle school anxiety:
- Distraction from worries – Shifts focus from sources of anxiety to the toy.
- Expends nervous energy – Channels restlessness into harmless fidgeting movements.
- Provides sensory input – Soothing tactile input can have a calming effect.
- Allows a sense of control – Kids feel empowered to subtly self-regulate their anxiety.
- Improves concentration – May counteract mind wandering from anxiety.
- Reduces other anxious behaviors – Fewer anxious habits that disrupt classwork.
Studies Investigating Effectiveness in School
Research on fidget toys for childhood anxiety is still emerging, but initial studies show some benefits:
- A 2018 study of fidget spinners found they improved attention and reduced anxiety compared to no toy for kids with ADHD and anxiety. Benefits were small but measurable.
- A 2020 study of fidget toys in the classroom found students and teachers perceived modestly improved focus and work behaviors, especially among anxious students.
- However, a 2021 study found no significant difference in anxiety or attention between fidget spinners and regular toys in a group of neurotypical students.
- A 2022 literature review concluded current research shows minimal but measureable effects from fidget toys for school kids’ anxiety and focus. Findings vary with individual factors.
Best Practices for Classroom Use
While more research is still needed, many teachers report success using fidget toys as one anxiety management tool if applied strategically:
- Use toys very discreetly for individual manipulation, not as distractions to others.
- Allow toys during specific anxiety-inducing tasks, then store them away again.
- Match toys to students’ individual sensory preferences and motor needs.
- Try alternating different toys to maintain novelty and sensory stimulation.
- Limit use if toys become habit-forming or sources of conflict between students.
- Ensure the toys match classroom rules, noise levels, and activity type.
- Consider special fidget tools for high movement needs, like wiggle seats.
- Try toys alongside other interventions, like breathing techniques and counseling.
- Get occasional input from kids and parents on toy effectiveness.
- Discontinue toys for any student if problems emerge.
While not a stand-alone solution, teachers may find well-managed fidget toys help anxious and easily distracted students channel nervous energy and focus better on learning tasks. Through subtler sensory stimulation, they allow kids an acceptable outlet for agitation that might otherwise manifest in more disruptive outbursts or behaviors. With reasonable expectations and policies, toys can be one useful piece of a larger strategy for childhood anxiety management at school.