Your kids like fidget toys? Here's why

Fidget toys can be helpful for children, but parents should beware of any claims about how effective the toys are.

(CNN)First there were the fidget spinners, then the squishies, then the pop toys, then the faux game controllers, bendable this-and-thats and a number of other hand-held items that my kids could manipulate with one hand.

Initially, I fluctuated between feeling mildly enthused and agnostic about them.
Unlike most toys, particularly those marketed to boys, fidgets weren't about competition or violence. They weren't branded merchandise connected to weapon-wielding good guys. Nor did they, as with "blind box" toys, use surprise to seduce kids to keep buying more stuff. Sure, kids collect fidgets, but, at least in my experience, in far smaller quantities than other toys. Those were all good things.
    Except, I wondered, what exactly do fidgets do? They move. Some require more skill, some less. Either way, they're repetitive and mindless, and for a long time this seemed both their strength and the fatal weakness that would lead them to quick obsolescence.
      Fidget toys can be helpful for children, but they may make children more fidgety.
      Except that never happened. Fidgets remain popular, kids love them, and I, a parent of two of these kids, feel uncertain about what to make of this. At the heart of it sits a chicken-and-egg-style inquiry: Does the existence of the fidget toy make my kids more fidgety? Or does it serve a physical and psychological need for children who are inherently fidgety creatures?
      It turns out the answer is "yes" to both questions. The fidget toy is sometimes the answer to a child's physical and psychological needs, and sometimes it's ca problem. Knowing when it's one or the other depends on better understanding why kids are drawn to these toys, and what state any particular child is in when using one.

      The appeal of the fidget

        "My attitude towards it is, what took the toy industry so long to figure this out?" said Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts and publisher of The Toy Intelligencer, explaining the appeal of fidget toys.
        Fidget toys allow for manipulative play, he explained, similar to the satisfaction one gets from twirling a pencil around one's fingers. Their collectability also makes them fun for kids, who enjoy different shapes and colors and trading with their friends.
        The play isn't complicated or about achieving any particular result, which may be central to their popularity. Children are busy and stressed out, and fidgets can offer something to do without really doing much at all.
        "The average kid works 60 hours a week if we consider anything overseen by an adult work," Gottlieb said. "Sometimes the only place they get to relax is in the back seat of the car, and something like the fidget spinner or Pop It is portable, and they can just sit back and engage with it."

        A primal need to move and feel

        Katherine Isbister, a human computer interaction and games researcher and professor of computational media at University of California, Santa Cruz, believes much of the appeal of fidget toys lies in their non-digital, extremely in real life qualities.
        "We are primates, we have incredible hand eye coordination, we have an incredible sense of touch, and we have these complicated proprioceptive systems, which is an important sense we have but many don't know exists," she said. "This is the sense that allows us to know where we are in space."
        All humans crave tactile engagement, but kids really need it. Those little fidgeters might be tapping into an unconscious need to train their fine motor skills, she said.