School Behavior

Stop Fidgeting?! Um, Bad Idea

Kids with ADHD actually concentrate, focus, and stay on task better with a little foot-tapping, gum-chewing, movement. Learn what intentional fidget toys and tools help the most.

A boy uses music as a fidget to improve him focus and him study.
A boy uses music as a fidget to improve him focus and him study.
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What Is a Fidget?

Experts believe that engaging in an activity that uses a sense other than the one required for your primary task — listening to music while reading a social studies textbook, for example — can enhance focus and improve performance in children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). These secondary tasks are called fidgets — mindless activities you can do while working on a primary task.

A boy squeezes a mini-soccer ball, his fidget to stay focused in class
A boy squeezes a mini-soccer ball, his fidget to stay focused in clas
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Fidget Effectively

Fidgeting must be deliberate to be effective. Intentional fidgets allow you and your child to self-regulate ADHD symptoms in a controlled, constructive fashion. An effective fidget doesn't distract you from your primary task because it is something you don’t have to think about. Use these fidget secrets the next time you or your ADHD child needs help focusing.

A child with ADHD walks and talks with his parent. Movement helps him focus
A child with ADHD walks and talks with his parent. Movement helps him focus
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Walk and Talk

When your child with ADHD gets restless and tunes out an important conversation, try walking and talking. Any non-strenuous activity, like playing catch or doing a jigsaw puzzle together, will also work. This is a powerful strategy for talking over your child's day or communicating with your ADHD partner about an important matter.

[Free Guide: How Fidgets Improve Behavior and Focus]

A boy with ADHD runs down a school hallway to expend energy
A boy with ADHD runs down a school hallway to expend energy
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Stand Up and Move Around

Talk with the teacher about small school accommodations, like letting your child stand, when appropriate, during the school day. A child can do this discreetly at the back of the room or at his desk. Some teachers let restless kids be message runners and send them off on errands.

If you can't focus in a meeting at work, use a coffee break or a visit to the washroom as an excuse to stand.

A notebook full of doodles, a fidget a child with ADHD uses to stay focused
A notebook full of doodles, a fidget a child with ADHD uses to stay focused
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Go Ahead, Doodle

A creative learning trick is to encourage your child to draw or write words or numbers when listening to a teacher's lecture (just make sure he doesn't doodle on the desk). Doodling will also help ADHD adults focus when they're on a long phone call with a client or are in an endless, boring meeting.

A cup of colored pencils a child with ADHD can use as a fidget to stay focused in class
A cup of colored pencils a child with ADHD can use as a fidget to stay focused in class
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Use Colored Pencils and Pens

This fidget works well when your child needs to complete an assignment or read for comprehension (he can underline words as he reads). Scented markers may also help.

A hand full of paperclips, which can be great fidgets for people with ADHD
A hand full of paperclips, which can be great fidgets for people with ADHD
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Busy His Hands

This facilitates focus when a child is listening, talking, or thinking about how to answer a tough essay question. Fidget toys for school or home include cool-looking pens or pencils, beaded bracelets, paper clips, and clothes with interesting textures or doodads.

For adults at work, a small, smooth stone — a worry rock — in your pocket will allow you to fiddle without your boss or colleagues knowing.

[Fidgeting — It's Not Just for Kids]

A person with ADHD listens to music to focus
A person with ADHD listens to music to focus
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Tune In

Plugging into an MP3 player helps children stay on task when studying, reading, exercising, or even going to sleep. Choose music that is appropriate to the task: a stimulating beat when exercising, calming tunes for sleep, and something in between when studying or reading.

At the office, use this strategy on days when you are working at the computer and have little interaction with colleagues.

A girl with ADHD blows a bubble of chewing gum and hugs her friend
A girl with ADHD blows a bubble of chewing gum and hugs her friend
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Chew Gum

This helps your child when he has to concentrate for an extended period — doing homework or taking a test. Chewing gum in the office is effective when writing a memo or having to slog through a week’s worth of e-mail. If gum is not an option, sucking on a lemon drop or other hard candy will also do the trick.

A child with ADHD plays with a basket of fidgets
A child with ADHD plays with a basket of fidgets
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Try It Out

Managing ADHD involves recognizing our choices and taking action. Understanding what is going on in our brains and proactively choosing an appropriate strategy is the essence of the fidget approach. Experiment with a variety of strategies and encourage your child to try different fidgets. Remember that your favorite fidget may not work for him.

[What Makes a Good Fidget?]

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  1. Hi! This is my first time to comment on this website. I really enjoy reading many of the articles and find them very helpful in learning about my own ADHD and my adult children’s ADHD.

    Regarding this article about fidgets, some thoughts come to mind. First, be aware that sometimes, for some people, music would not be a good fidget, i.e., something mindless to help distract you so that you can focus more on the task at hand. Research shows that for musicians, listening to music is anything BUT mindless, and can very easily pull your mind away from your intended focus so much so that you focus solely on the music (the musical aspects of the music). For me personally, as a trained musician and educator, it depends on the activity I need to focus on (other than the music) as to whether or not I can tolerate listening to music “in the background.” Certainly when doing an activity that doesn’t involve complex thinking, maybe like housework, I can often listen to music simultaneously. But if the focus activity requires complex thinking, I can’t have any music on, or else I cannot focus on the non-music stimulus. My adult daughter, who trained for flute performance and is now an elementary music teacher, used to say in high school that she could listen to music while doing math, but not while writing an essay. All this to say, just be aware that for some people, listening to music might not be an appropriate fidget, according to the definition of a fidget in this article.

    The other main thought about fidgets has to do with being in an environment with other people. Speaking as an elementary music teacher myself, since what we do in an elementary music class is often a group activity that involves all senses simultaneously (which people with ADD can do quite well, by the way), a “fidget” item can be counterproductive to the learning at hand, which is to be learning how to attend to certain sounds/sights “in time,” which means right then. Think of playing your part with other people at the same time they are playing. Using a fidget AT THAT TIME would be very counter-productive. However, there are other times in the music classroom that I can see a fidget would be quite helpful … while listening to other people making music, whether it’s live or recorded … while thinking what choices you’ll be making when composing a bit of music … etc.

    And lastly, as a very personal side note, I find it quite distracting to me personally as a teacher when a student uses a fidget gadget in the middle of music class when we are all working together simultaneously to make music at that moment. And I see that it is quite distracting to the students around that person. That is likely because our activity AT THAT TIME is one where all our brains need to be attending to the matter at hand (playing the same music together) – at least for the few minutes that the activity lasts. And when one of the brains veers off in a different direction, the rest of our brains follow. :). I often find myself saying (before we start playing) something like,”Let’s all find our brains” in a cheerful voice. And sometimes a student will say (when I mess up the music), “Mrs. K, did you forget to find your brain first?” And usually that was the case! No worries … when I or someone messes up, we get extra chances to find our brains and try again. (That’s called practicing, by the way, and it’s great fun!)

    Sorry for the long ramble … hope it makes sense!

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