January 16, 2020

Fidget Fun Without Getting Unwanted Attention

Hello Everyone,

      I hope you all are having a positive January and a great start to your new year.  I am what you would call an intense fidgeter; I have been that way my entire life.  For me, fidgeting was the first basic tool I learned to try and help me manage my severe social anxiety and ADHD.  Despite being harmless, fidgeting presented a number of important social and academic challenges.  Attention and focus was  much harder when I fidgeted, especially when I was in a class I did not like or when I was bored.  When I was in school, or anywhere, we did not have access to putties, slimes, spinners, squishes and so on so fidgeting usualy took the form of what was easy and quickly available: skin, clothes, hair, pencils, paper...These were all highly visible and more often than not resulted in unwanted attention in the form of a reprimand or unwanted attention from peers and adults.  Often the result was teasing, shame, and humiliation; when I was in school kids who fidgeted were considered weird or "SPEDs" and "spazzers" because of the constant, sometimes erratic movement.  A lack of information on their part did not help, especially when seeing a kid destroying a piece of paper for no obvious reason.
      It took me years to figure out how to meet my fidgeting needs, which I learned later in life was based on a more basic and critical need: internal calm.  Fidgeting helped me get that internal calm so I could be more mentally available to learn skills to manage ADHD and anxiety. For many kids like myself, and regardless of diagnosis(es), fidgeting is a behavior that is not worth fighting, but working with because it's easy and meets the most important basic need of internal calm.  FIDGETING CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY BLENDED WITH FOCUS.  Fidgeting does not need to be embarrassing or a source of mockery, yet it needs to be done plan-fully and intelligently.  This month's post is all based on my learned experience of fidgets and how to fidget without getting negative attention, whether it's from a parent, teacher, or other kid(s).

Please note that this post focuses on addressing the physical actions of fidgeting.  There will be another post about fidgeting and sensory challenges, including how to incorporate fidgeting into a sensory diet.

Why fidget?  The reasons why kids fidget are innumerable and beyond the scope of this post, yet they all share a similar underpinning: the basic need to achieve a state of equilibrium, a state of internal calm.

What does fidgeting mean? To fidget means to move parts of the body in any way not associated with movement considered necessary to functions needing to be performed at the time it occurs.  For example, rubbing fingers together while using a chrome book to take class notes, would be considered fidgeting.

Who fidgets?  Anyone and everyone.  Fidgeters are more often found in kids with developmental diagnoses where fidgeting serves a purpose of maintaining a sensory as well as cognitive organizational purpose.  Many kids with anxiety, PTSD, ADHD or who are just active fidget as a way to release pent up energy that causes distress.

Why do fidgeters get in trouble more often? Why are they more noticed?  Kids who fidget often get more unwanted attention from peers and adults because they are not subtle about it, meaning that their fidgeting behavior is highly visible.  The nature of fidgets being used, such as spinners, slimes, squishes, and putties, are not easy to conceal and are not at their most effective unless there is ample space to use them.  Doing so draws peers attention as more interesting, which will also get the attention of adults.  Fidgeters also tend to get more distracted by their fidgets, especially when they are engaged in an unpleasant task that contributes to their internal calm being messed up, an example being a kid who hates math, is not good at it, and fears failure, may be more likely to fidget as a way to manage the anxiety and avoid facing the work.

SMART FIDGETING IS MINDFUL FIDGETING!!  When fidgeting, it is really important to remember that when you fidget with parts of your body (picking, shaking, flicking, rubbing, shaking, etc), clothes, large objects, you will get attention.  People who fidget have more success avoiding unwanted attention when they fidget with items that are easy to access, small, and can be kept out of sight of others.  Large items such as spinners, squishes, putties and the like, can be easily replaced by less noticeable items that can serve the same purpose just as effectively while also meeting other critical needs such as sensory regulation.

What else do I do to fidget mindfully?
Replace larger items and body movements with smaller items and movements.
Pick items that are of little to no financial or sentimental value.
You want to use items that can easily be replaced because you will lose them and break them.
Pick items that will fit into confined areas that you can fidget with out of sight of peers and adults.
The best place is in an easy-to-reach-pocket.
You are trying not to be noticed so keep the items in the pocket and feel them with your hand, keeping it in the pocket while you feel the objects.
Use your hand to explore the objects by moving them around with your fingers slowly and gently so you can experience their sensory offerings.
KEEP THE ITEMS CONCEALED!!!  Choosing items that are boring and lack interesting visuals can help.
Pick quiet items; making noise will attract attention.
Pick a number of different items that can meet your sensory as well as fidgeting intensity needs.  These do not need to cost anything and most of them can be found in your home.  Here are a few suggestions!

popsicle stick-firm and provides some texture while being thin and easily concealable
cotton ball-soft with some give that facilitates smooth circular rubbing motions; can take pressure and return to shape
large bean-smooth and hard while providing a unique shape
smooth pebble-more durable with a bean, providing firmness and texture
marble-round and very easy to move with fingers; not the best for firm pressure; excellent for rolling
rock-can provide many different textures, shapes, and durability for intense rubbing or moving
bottle cap-combines shape, different textures, small size, and durability all in one; center great for pushing and heavy rubbing while maintaining shape
coin-convenient to get, small, takes up little space and combines textures, firmness, and broad surfaces for rubbing, pushing, and moving around in hands
small pom pom-soft and excellent for squeezes or rubbing
single lego block-serves same purposes as bottle caps and rocks with high durability for intense fidgeters
paperclip-combines unique shape with firmness that is also flexible and can bend under pressure; excellent for intense outputs of physical force whilst bending
textured cloth-excellent for rubbing, stroking, picking, as well as a container for other fidgets; can wrap other fidgets in cloth for additional sensory stimulation; can also fill with pom-poms for quick stress balls
sandpaper-rough texture for under stimulated individuals, very compact and excellent for seekers of intense tactile response especially when scratched
eraser-excellent alternative for pickers; provides firmness and resistance yet will give under stronger pressure and strongly replicates sensation created by sudden loss of resistance when picking motion is completed and fingers are no longer in contact with object being picked
chapstick container-multipurpose for a range of different fidgeting needs; removable parts, smooth surfaces for strong and rubbing; easy to move around; can be small and compact

Can you think of others?  I bet you can!

Thank you for reading my post!  I hope it was helpful and gave you some ideas.  Please come back for my next post when we will focus more on the sensory side of fidgeting.


  1. Jonathan, what an original and creative post! Thanks for such a generous addition to our dialogue!

  2. Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to read your upcoming article on including fidgeting in sensory diets!

  3. thank you for the great ideas! This has been really helpful for my son.