Anxiety is a normal human emotion. But when anxiety takes over, it can get in the way of everyday life – and for rangatahi already navigating the complexities and challenges of modern life, it can have a significant impact on daily tasks. 

In mild anxiety cases, an array of techniques are recognised as helping support wellbeing, from learning and practising breathing techniques, physical activity and taking a break when anxiety builds, to slowing down by reducing activities, commitments and responsibilities.  

It is another seemingly simple but effective tool for calming mild anxiety, the use of fidget toys, that has been the focus of several recent trialling initiatives led by Healthy Families Waitākere Systems Innovator, Miriama Ohlson. 

Fidget toys are small objects that can be used to keep hands busy and help improve focus, reduce restlessness, and manage anxiety.  They can take the form of spinners, cubes, balls, rings, keychains or kneadable dough or putty, even textured ribbons and items easily sourced around the home, explains Miriama. 

“Fidget toys can help with anxiety by providing an outlet for small movements when feeling anxious, restless, or nervous.  They serve as a distraction in overstimulating environments and can help allow the brain to filter extra sensory information – ultimately aiding focus and attention.” 

Informally named a ‘Tutu Kit’, collections of fidget toys have been trialled in several settings where they can assist rangatahi with their focus and calmness.   

The kits were initially trialled with A Supported Life, an organisation providing adolescents and adults with an intellectual disability a wide range of support opportunities and residential options in their own community. The Tutu Kit was trialled in community settings and in the van while it transported young people to and from activities. 

“I found that most of the people I supported benefitted from the Tutu Kit. A lot of people took interest in the balls, slinky and colouring books. I trialled them during our lunchtime which I find is where the people I support can become bored easily and also in the vehicle whilst we were travelling,” explains Wellbeing Coach, Linda Johnston. 

A secondary trial is currently underway with ākonga at He Wero o Ngā Wāhine, the teen parent unit at Henderson High School.  

“We will continue to test this as a support for young people.  With He Wero, we’re evaluating a number of factors, including what they like the most and what types of items help with their anxiety in unfamiliar surroundings. That may be in a particular class, or if they are having a challenging day with their pēpi (baby),” says Miriama. 

“Initial testing through these trials has shown that introducing new ways to support young people’s mental health has been well received and we will be interested to see where these insights will lead us.”