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10 best fidget toys for play, focus and stress relief

From colourful pushpoppers to squishy stress balls, these fiddly things are everywhere right now

Jen Barton Packer
Friday 11 June 2021 11:37
<p>2.5 million orders of the TikTok famous “pushpoppers” were placed by April this year </p>

2.5 million orders of the TikTok famous “pushpoppers” were placed by April this year

When schools reopened in March 2021, a new playground craze arrived along with the influx of kids: fidget toys came back with a vengeance.

Especially popular? Rainbow-hued “push popper” toys from HGL (the company behind fidget spinners and unicorn poo). As of April, 2.5 million orders – and counting – had been placed. If you’re the parent of a tween, it’s likely you have several of these in your possession already.

At pocket money prices, these toys aren’t just a playground favourite, but have exploded on TikTok as well. Fidget toys are also being used by adults: you’ll find them perched on desks and being squeezed in jacket pockets.

“Tactile therapy for stress release and focus is a scientifically proven phenomenon; stress balls have been shown to improve concentration and performance in adults and children for various tasks. In that vein, fidget toys can be useful as well as fun," explains Dr Jet Khasriya, an NHS-registered and private GP for GPDQ, the UK’s first doctor-on-demand service.

"However the separation between mindfulness and mindlessness should be made. Using them to refocus and be present in the moment is great, whereas the temptation to overuse them and be distracted from your aim needs to be avoided," he adds.

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We’ve noticed an additional bonus to these: our kids were reticent about starting school again, and felt shy about seeing friends after such a long time apart. Fidget toys provided an easy way for conversation to get going, and they continue to act as ice-breakers in social situations.

With four children under our roof, we’ve had lots of experience playing with fidget toys these past several weeks. We’ve also enjoyed checking out some of the fidget toys geared to grownups, from brands like MindPanda, Relish and Feel Flux.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best fidget toys for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – HGL tie-dye push poppers fidget toy: £6, Claires.com
  • Best for adults – Feel Flux skill set: £45, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best kids toys that are also fidget toys – Moluk oogi family set: £23.95, Trouva.com
  • Best stress ball fidget toys – MindPanda empowering stress balls: £13.49, Mindpanda.com
  • Best ball fidget toy – Wicked zzzopa ace spinning ball: £12, Selfridges.com
  • Best value – Neon Diddy squish balls fidget toy: £6, Claires.com
  • Best for attaching to things – Buddi fidget toy: £7, Thedyslexiashop.co.uk
  • Best wooden fidget toy – Relish twist fidget widget: £10.82, Relish-life.com
  • Best for fidget spinner fans – Loopy Looper toys: £5.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for stashing in your pocket– Tobar magic wriggler fidget toy: £3.50, Claires.com

HGL tie-dye push poppers fidget toy

Best: Overall

There’s an undeniable appeal to the latest playground craze, push popper toys. These replicate the soothing feeling of popping bubble wrap, in a reusable toy: once you’ve pushed all the bits through on one side, flip it over and start again. These are affordably priced, starting at £3.50 for a push popper key ring, and get bonus points for the immense variety of styles, shapes, colours and finishes on offer. There truly is something for everyone: glitter, unicorn shapes, rainbows, dip-dye, tie-dye and more. Even though they’re plastic, they don’t make any annoying noises, have a bad smell or get too dirty – trust us, our kids have been carrying them around in their rucksacks since March. Also: these have as much appeal with the TikTok crowd as they do with the playground crew (although arguably, there is some overlap between the two!)

Feel Flux skill set

Best: For adults

Having never played much with fidget toys ourselves, we weren’t expecting to become obsessed by one, but the Feel Flux skill set is a brilliant, soothing addition to any desk space (it looks fab, too). First of all, it’s gorgeously constructed, a combination of aluminium wrapped in leather, with a magnetic ball that passes between two cylindrical tubes. The stackable fidget toy works on the principles of Lenz’s law. We’ve been enjoying it for its calming, focusing powers, but you can also use this physics-based toy for tricks, like juggling. Note: this is one that’s built to last, and definitely designed for adults over kiddos.

Moluk oogi family set

Best: Kids’ toys that are also fidget toys

Sometimes fidget toys can be pocket money toys that tweens collect; other times, they’re multi-taskers that even younger kids will enjoy. Moluk is a Swiss toy brand you should have on your radar: from bath toys to stacking ones, there’s something for everyone. The oogi is a fun fidget alien toy which can be stretched and suckered in every direction. It attaches to windows, so don’t forget this one for fidgeters on car trips.

MindPanda empowering stress balls

Best: Stress ball fidget toys

Another entry for adults – although these can also be used by children – MindPanda’s range of stress balls combine aromatherapy (each ball is scented with its own unique smell) with positive messaging and squeezable gel and Lycra to stimulate a variety of senses. Each ball has its own firmness, from soft to hard, and there are three different ranges to choose from, whether you’re after mindfulness, motivation or empowerment. These tick every box for us as a desk toy, as well as something we can squeeze when feeling anxious on public transport. Kids love ‘em, too.

Wicked zzzopa ace spinning ball

Best: Ball fidget toy

This is a really fun fidget toy that we’d recommend to anyone: it’s a ball that bounces (extremely well) but also has a bearing on an axle in the centre, so it works as a spherical fidget spinner. Choose from a range of finishes, so you can have one that looks like a tennis ball, basketball, football and more. It feels pretty indestructible to us – bonus! – and even toddlers can get something out of it.

Neon Diddy squish balls fidget toy

Best: Value

Claire’s is the undeniable destination for pocket money-friendly fidget toys, but you need to know what to buy. In addition to push poppers, we’d suggest these rather comforting squish balls, which not only offer tactile sensory stimulation but also a visual treat as they change colour. At the time of publishing this toy set is sold out, but Claire’s tells us that it’s expecting a restock shortly.

Buddi fidget toy

Best: For attaching to things

For kids who benefit from “stimming” to help with anxiety and concentration, Buddi is a great choice: simply attach the toy to a rucksack or clothing as a release for fidgeting fingers. We like that Buddi is unobtrusive; its black colours and simple lacing help the child who needs it, without distracting anyone else.

Relish twist fidget widget

Best: Wooden fidget toy

Want a fidget toy without adding more plastic tat to your home? Then you’ll love Relish’s popular twist fidget widget, which was designed in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society and the University of Central Lancashire to help those living with dementia by giving them something to occupy their hands. There’s no right or wrong way to use the toy, which features a central rod that twists up and down. There are four other wooden fidget widgets to choose from, depending on whether you prefer a turning, sliding, rolling or spinning motion to relax.

Loopy Looper toys

Best: For fidget spinner fans

The next-gen fidget spinner is here, and it’s called the Loopy Looper. Choose from four styles, the edge, hoop, jump and flow, which involve a marble you spin around with centrifugal force. Inspired by Japanese Ensō circles, these work best for tweens and older, who want to challenge themselves to maintain a steady rhythm (they’re tricky to master; we didn’t manage but a couple of our kid testers did).

Tobar magic wriggler fidget toy

Best: For stashing in your pocket

Kids love nothing more than a soft, furry creature to wrap around the finger. This little worm, which comes in a bevy of bright colours, feels like it might be alive. It’s cute and snuggles into pockets, wraps itself around pencils and works well stuffed in other toys, which is how our five-year-old tester prefers to use it (it’s accompanied her everywhere for weeks).

The verdict: Fidget toys

Push poppers are cheap, cheerful, colourful and not as annoying as you fear they will be – these are the must-have fidget toys of the moment. Wicked’s zzzopa ace spinning ball is another top pick for us: we love that it’s a bouncy ball and fidget spinner in one – plus you can play catch with it. If you’re an adult who wants an amazing fidget toy for life, then go for Feel Flux’s beautifully made, science-inspired magnetic toys.

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Heading out on a long journey? Here’s our round-up of the best toys to keep kids occupied

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