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The 9 Best Fidget Toys for Anxiety and Why They Work

fidget toys for anxiety

Fidget toys are all the rage. Fidget toys for anxiety? Even better!

As we chatted about in my post on this topic, kids with sensory issues often develop anxiety due to their sensory issues. Every kid is different and sensory issues may not be the only cause, but it is often a huge catalyst.

In that post, we talked about why anxiety is the best friend of sensory issues and what you can do to help. A lot of those strategies are long-term game plays though. Yes, there are things we need to be doing to help with anxiety and sensory issues that may take months or years to see the benefits of.

What can we do right now though? What are some “quick fixes” that can give us immediate relief?

In this post, we’re going to run through some of the best fidget toys for anxiety. These are things that your kids can turn to when they’re walking in busy shopping malls, traveling in congested airports, or relaxing from a stressful day.

Why are Fidget Toys Helpful for Anxiety?

When we’re anxious, our brains can’t move fast enough. We get stuck in a place where we’re worried about the future, obsessed with the past, and unable to make sense of any of it. We need to give the brain something to do. Sometimes we start hand flapping and sometimes we start fidgeting. That’s where fidgets come in.

Humans are notoriously bad at multitasking. We think we can write an email and talk on the phone at the same time, but we usually end up making fools out of ourselves. On the other hand, we have no problem chewing gum and listening to a presentation. In fact, chewing gum actually HELPS us listen to the lecture.

 

The reason why we fail with multitasking so often is because we’re asking our brains to do too many high-level tasks at once. When we’re careful about the types of activities we put together, multitasking can actually be really helpful in that we can engage and calm down one side of the brain while letting the other side carry on with important tasks.

For someone with anxiety, it can be really helpful to fixate the brain on something other than the source of anxiety. By simply playing with a fidget, the brain can be distracted enough to focus. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but we’re giving the brain low level tasks to do so that it can calm down and better focus on the high-level tasks at hand.

The brain says, “oh, I can’t worry about tomorrow because I have this awesome fidget in my hand.”

What Types of Fidgets Toys are Best

The answer to this question really depends on the person and the situation. As you’ll see in the list below, we have everything from coloring books to stress balls. If your child feels really anxious while waiting at the doctor’s office, a coloring book can be a great choice. If they need to have enough focus to do math homework though, a stress ball may be a great choice.

As the name Sensory Toolbox implies, I’m passionate about compiling a range of tools that someone can turn to when needed. There’s never going to be one catchall tool that serves all of our child’s needs, but we can certainly find enough different types of resources that, collectively, will help our kids succeed.

With that, let’s dive into the fidget toys for anxiety!

Coloring Books

When life gets chaotic and there are too many things to think about, coloring books are my go-to. There’s something so relaxing about coloring in shapes and doing something that’s fairly easy to succeed with.

Coloring books are best for those moments when your child needs to wait for an appointment, is nervous about a car or plane ride, or is struggling to sit through an event. Coloring takes enough concentration to pull your child’s mind into the present moment and away from their worries, but isn’t so complicated as to stress them out even more.

Coloring books are also really useful in school. With the approval of your child’s teacher, a coloring book may be the secret key to helping your child not only sit through a lecture, but actually listen to it and retain it. Check out my article on why doodling can be so great for helping our kids focus in school.

Sensory Animals

Creativity for Kids has an adorable line of sensory stuffed animals! These guys are weighted and have reversable sequins that are perfect for anxious fingers. Talk about a lot of sensory benefits in one adorable little animal!

As a fidget, the sequins on these stuffed animals are great for your kid to play with, as they are small and won’t distract others. Flipping sequins falls perfectly in the category of distracting the brain enough to pull it away from the day’s worries, yet not distracting to the point of causing issues with completing homework or paying attention in class.

Sensory benefits aside, adorable stuffed animals can go a long way in easing anxiety. Having a comfort item will help your child feel safe and secure, no matter where they are.

Friendship Bracelets

As a summer camp fanatic, I used to love making friendship bracelets. There’s something so relaxing about sitting around with a group of other kids and tying knots into beautiful designs. If your kid loves crafts, friendship bracelets can be a great way to ease their minds and keep their hands busy.

Friendship bracelets can be especially appealing to kids because they can tangibly see their progress. Instead of fiddling with a puzzle that has no end, making friendship bracelets can give kids a project to work on that not only eases their anxiety, but also keeps their creativity flowing.

Infinity Cube Fidget Toy

This tiny fidget powerhouse is like a fidget spinner and Rubik cube in one. It has the mindlessness of a fidget spinner, with the twisting and turning of a Rubik cube. It’s also small enough to be discreet and not draw attention in school.

With so many fidgets out there, this is one of my favorites for anxiety, as it strikes a perfect “attention-grabbing” balance. While there are multiple shapes one could achieve, there’s no real end goal to strive for. This keeps the brain engaged without having it fixate on a certain end result.

Globe Maze

This globe maze is perfect if you have a child that gets anxious during long trips. With 80 different obstacles, this maze will keep your child calm and distracted for hours. Mazes aren’t ideal for school or other places that require high attention. A maze like this one is complicated enough that it may be hard for the brain to focus on another tasks. That said, it depends on your child and what they prefer.

Squishies

If you’ve never squished a squishy, you’re in for a real treat. The first time I squished, I couldn’t believe how relaxing it was. I mean, it’s just squishing, right? Squishies have become all the rage. And, for good reason! They have a great soft texture and a really satisfying squish. Once it inflates back up, squish it again and feel the relaxation wash over you.

There are a lot of different types of squishies, from animals to food and mini to large. Grab one that suits your child’s interest so that is can also serve as a great comfort item.

Thinking Putty

If squishies are satisfying, but your child needs a bit more engagement, Thinking Putty is a good next step. Thinking Putty can be squashed, squeezed, and smooshed into any number of different shapes. It also comes in a number of different colors and sizes to keep kids entertained.

Puzzle Ball

As with our other puzzles and mazes on this list, this puzzle ball is a great distraction for kids with anxiety. It provides some mental engagement without being overwhelming or thought consuming.

What I especially love about this puzzle though is the tactile experience. It’s so satisfying to push on the balls and move the colors around the sphere. The puzzle itself is engaging, but not challenging enough to prevent focus on other activities.

Desk Kick Bands

When our kids are anxious, sometimes they just need an outlet for all of that pent-up energy. We all self-stim when we’re anxious—we pace, bit our nails, jiggle our legs, and taps our legs. This movement can help us feel better and also give our brains something to focus on.

Desk kick bands are perfect for students that feel anxious during school. By having a band to kick throughout the school day, they can give their brains the engagement and input they need. This will keep them primed for learning and ready to focus for their lessons.

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Diana Fitts is a certified and licensed Occupational Therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism. Check out my About page to read my story and get a free therapy journal page to record your kiddo’s sessions!

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