Article / Published May 24, 2017

A Parent’s Guide to Responsible Fidgeting

Rubik’s cubes, Garbage Pail Kids or Koosh balls make take you back to your childhood. Today, the object obsessing kids, baffling parents, and inducing new headaches for teachers is the fidget spinner. If your child has not asked for one yet, they probably will tomorrow. The demand for spinners is so great that stores have taken to keeping them behind the checkout counter, like cigarettes—if they can keep them in stock at all.

For parents, the craze has produced a bewildering set of new questions to deal with, the biggest of which is simple: Should I allow my child to have one? Here are a few things you should know as you make that call.

1. There’s no scientific evidence that fidget spinners help with ADHD

The purpose of fidget spinners and cubes is supposedly to help children (and adults) focus on one activity by allowing them to release any excess energy, stress or anxiety they may be holding onto the fidget. Marketers seized on this idea to position them as therapeutic tools for people with ADHD, in particular. While it’s certainly possible that they’re helpful to some people with attention issues, there’s no actual research that shows they have any benefit, and mental health experts view them skeptically.

2. They may make the classroom more distracting, not less

Teachers’ perspectives of fidget spinners are decidedly mixed. The basic problem is that while one student with a spinner may mean a more focused, less fidgety student in theory, the reality is that one student with a spinner leads to more students with spinners, which leads to comparing spinners, dropping spinners, trading spinners—you can see where this is going. A tool that was intended to promote one student’s concentration turns out to distract the entire class.

3. There are other ways to help your child concentrate in school

If you’re worried about your child’s ability to focus at school, start by talking to their teacher. For one thing, the teacher may already have an idea as to whether your child would be a good candidate for a fidget and for which one (different fidgets tap into different sensory areas and some children have sensory-specific needs). But simply giving your child more freedom to stand or move around during class (not just fiddle with a spinner) may be even more helpful, as can ensuring that they get regular opportunities for exercise through recess and gym. Bonus: Neither of these last two strategies involves allowing more plastic doodads into your house.

4. Distractions have many sources

It’s important to keep things in perspective. Sometimes a fidget spinner is just a fidget spinner. If you’re concerned with distractions in school, you should also worry about kids’ mobile phones, tablets, Pokemon cards, and other obsessions. The solution isn’t necessarily to ban those things, but to set reasonable guidelines about how and when they can leave the backpack.

If you do decide a fidget spinner may be helpful to your child, don’t just hand it over. Create a plan and introduce guidelines to ensure your child uses it responsibly:

  1. Speak with your child’s teacher and explore what fidget objects may be appropriate for use and when. Get on the same page. Some teachers already implement fidget or sensory breaks into their daily routine and have a variety of fidgets to choose from in the classroom. Silly putty or Slinky, anyone?
  2. Talk with your child and allow them explore the fidget. Set boundaries for when it is to be used and not used. Make sure your child understands it is not a toy.
  3. Keep in regular contact with your child’s teacher to track progress. If the fidget spinner doesn’t seem to be helping, stop allowing your child to use it.

Remember, the goal is to do what is best for your child in order to help them be most successful in their learning—but sometimes that means prioritizing what’s best for the class as a whole as well.