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From Fidgeting to Focus: Sensory Toys Help Kids and Adults

By December 19, 2023January 2nd, 2024Mental & Behavioral Health Well-being
A child plays with a sensory toy.

You may have been told by a parent, teacher, or even a colleague to “stop fidgeting,” as that behavior was associated with boredom or lack of attention. However, evidence shows that fidgeting, or secondary sensory input, can be a useful coping mechanism for children and adults with attention disorders.

Fidgeting can also release excess energy or emotion for people dealing with anxiety and stress. Therefore, fidgets and sensory toys can be valuable tools, empowering an individual to refocus and be more present for the task or situation at hand.

Helping Children Self-Regulate

Fidgets and sensory toys have become a popular trend in gift giving, both for their entertainment value and for the sensory input they provide.

Fun and Function, a company based in Narberth, PA, was founded by Aviva Weiss, who was seeking sensory toys for her children. The company sells toys like putty and chewy necklaces; clothing like weighted compression vests; and items for use in classrooms. These sensory and therapeutic tools help kids manage anxiety, attention disorders, and other social-emotional regulation challenges while also having fun.

“Our goal is to provide tools for children to use so that they can reach sensory equilibrium, regulating their bodies and emotions to where they can be calm and able to engage,” says Ward. “It’s important for anyone at any age — especially children — to learn how to be in control of their bodies, recognize and respond to their own feelings, and ultimately be present and participatory in their environment.”

Fidgets and sensory toys have become increasingly popular at Tildie’s Toy Box in Philadelphia. “We have an entire area of the store dedicated to fidgets and sensory toys because we’ve recognized the need for it,” says owner Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh.

“Our sensory toys, like slime and fidgets, are some of our most popular items among school-aged kids,” Gillen-Doobrajh adds. “They’re collectables, but kids aren’t just collecting them. Sensory toys provide a calming effect, give kids something to do with their hands when they’re anxious, and help them focus their bodies when they need extra support.”

“When a child has their sensory needs met, they can participate in meaningful occupations — whether those are life skills, classroom learning, play, or socialization,” Ward notes. “When kids are equipped with the tools that work for them, whether that’s a fidget, a swing, or a weighted lap pad, that’s when they can show up as their best selves and reach their potential.”

Helping Adults Manage Anxiety

Adults find fidget toys useful for their mental health as well. These products can support adults in managing anxiety or focusing nervous energy, and Gillen-Doobrajh has seen an increasing number of adults purchasing such items in her store.

“We get a lot of young adults coming in looking for fidgets,” she says. “Lately, magnetic beads have been a popular choice. They’re work-friendly, don’t take up a lot of space or time to play with, and provide something for people to use to take a mental break. Fidgets for adults can be incredibly soothing or helpful, but they can also help someone find a little bit of that child-like joy.”

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

IBX Insights Team

The IBX Insights Team is here to provide tips on using your health insurance and living a healthy life.