Fidget Tools Overview

There are many strategies children use to attempt to regulate themselves. Whether this is more obvious Fidget Tooland large scale such as jumping on a trampoline or spinning around in circles continuously, or smaller, more discrete ways such as grinding their teeth, picking their skin, or squeezing their fists, each of these strategies are satisfying a need within their sensory systems.

These can be mindless or intentional, but the bottom line is that it is fulfilling their bodies and brains in a way that only they can truly understand. While we want to allow children to gain as much sensory input as they need to maintain a regulated state, it is important to explore options that are appropriate and safe. One such option is called “fidgets,” and they are a great tool, especially within the classroom environment, so as not to draw attention away from class learning.

It is important to understand the root of your child’s sensory seeking behaviors in order to provide him or her with the most appropriate fidget tool. There are two main sensory systems that fidget toys typically stimulate; these are the tactile and the proprioceptive system. The body reads touch based on light and deep touch, light being more stimulating (tactile) and deep being more calming (proprioceptive). Think, the feeling of a feather brushing across the underside of your arm versus the feeling of a deep tissue back massage.

  • If your child seeks regulation through obtaining deep pressure input i.e. jumping, crashing, and squeezing, a fidget that targets the proprioceptive system may be the best option. To put this in perspective, think about a child friendly and inviting “stress ball.” These may be in various forms, i.e. foam resistance balls, stretchy theraband, theraputty, and squeeze toys.
  • If your child tends to seek regulation through touch i.e. seemingly mindlessly touching other people, fabrics, or objects, a fidget that targets the tactile system may be the best option. For example, swatches of various fabrics, bracelets with a preferred fabric, and balls or other toys with bumps or (soft) spikes.
  • If your child seeks regulation through movement, and you are looking for something to provide him or her with that while maintaining appropriateness based on the environment (…as it may be frowned upon to start doing jumping jacks in the middle of circle time), there are options for this, as well. When it comes to movement, though it is important to consider if the fidget is facilitating the child to cope and pay better attention, or if it is actually contributing to increased distractibility. Typically, if a child needs their eyes to utilize the fidget, it may not be serving its ideal purpose and other options should be considered. Fidgets that provide movement include snaps, marble tubes, and plastic tangle tubes.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!


Corinne Kreutz

Corinne Kreutz

Corinne Kreutz is an occupational therapist at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Lincolnwood, IL. She received her Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Rush University in Chicago, IL. She attended the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, where she received her Bachelor’s of Science in Speech and Hearing Science. She is currently working towards becoming certified in Early Intervention services in the state of Illinois. Her research was recently published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, which she presented at the 2015 American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference in Nashville, TN. Corinne’s clinical interests include working with children who have developmental delays in fine and gross motor skills, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and sensory processing disorder, and she recognizes the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach including the whole family and therapy team. She has previous experience working with children with Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome in an outpatient pediatric setting, as well as in an inpatient rehabilitation setting, working primarily with adults recovering from neurological or orthopedic events (i.e. multiple sclerosis, stroke, hip/knee replacements). Corinne loves working with children and their families, as well as being a cheerleader for them every step of the way!

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1 reply
  1. Corinne Cook says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I am currently an RBT and also a COTA although I’m working on obtaining my AZ license, but my passion is early intervention as well, but currently working with children, adolescents and high schoolers with emotional disability as well. Are there any fidget tools for the older population? I’m working with a 12 year old that is very disruptive and if he had some sort of fidget tool appropriate for him, possibly the disruptions would decrease? Anything that could help would be so appreciated. Thank you
    Corinne Cook


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