Each year, a new toy seems to win the hearts of kids everywhere. This year, fidget spinners are that toy, and, as a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, there are some claims about them that pique my interest.
True or false: Fidget spinners can help kids improve focus and provide therapeutic benefits
From my research and experience, I can’t see a clear link between fidget spinners and better focus.
For children with ADD or ADHD, certain repetitive movements may allow for better concentration. Objects such as squeeze balls or stress balls require that the individual do the movement. By physically engaging in movement, focus on other tasks may improve.
But with fidget spinners, once that first spin is made, the child is no longer making a movement. For the remainder of the time the toy is spinning, the child is not doing the movement Therefore, it’s unlikely the child is receiving any benefit.
In the case of autism, kids on the spectrum often enjoy staring at repetitive moving objects, like a fidget spinner. That type of behavior, which we label as self-stimulatory behavior or sensory-seeking behavior, often distracts them from the task at hand. It would be better to use the fidget spinner for a reward when self-stimulatory behavior is not going to interfere with another task.
So, no, fidget spinners don’t boost kids’ concentration. But I’m not saying that they’re harmful, either, if they are used in the appropriate setting. The key thing to know is that fidget spinners are a toy – not a true learning tool.
Is there anything I can do to boost my child’s attention?
Fidget spinners won’t be the cure-all for your child’s lack of focus like you may have hoped. But there are other things that can help. Some of the best advice I can give to parents is to make a few lifestyle changes:
- Unplug and practice waiting. A downfall of smartphones and tablets is that kids turn to them when they feel bored or don’t have something else going on. Put electronics away at restaurants while you’re waiting for your food. When your family is on a road trip, encourage your child to play a non-virtual game or observe their surroundings. These activities will help teach your child patience and in turn, improve focus.
- Encourage engagement. Once again, instead of letting your child spend hours looking at a screen, get them involved in activities that require engagement and focus. Make sure that you’re having conversations around the dinner table. Get in the habit of reading books with each other. Try going to a live theater performance or musical event.
- Get moving. Sign up your child for a sports team or club and make sure they’re getting time to play outdoors. Physical activity keeps our bodies healthy and strong, and it also improves concentration. While any type of movement is good, studies suggest that outdoor activities can be even more effective than indoor ones.
- Start a great sleep routine. I encourage you to put away screens and allow bedtime to be a quiet, non-distracting time. Depending on your child’s age, kids and teens need anywhere between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night. Aim for a routine where your child is getting up and going to bed at the same time (or within an hour of the same time) each day.
If your child has a concentration problem that seems to be above and beyond typical for their age, talk to your family doctor. Anxiety, depression and ADHD can all impact focus and concentration. There are therapies and treatments for those disorders that can result in improved concentration.