Some children have trouble processing the information they take in through their five senses.
Sensory processing challenges present in different ways. Here we offer 7 tips to make it easier for you and your child.
7 ways to cope with your child's sensory processing challenges
Some children have trouble processing the information they take in through their five senses. Things like too much noise, crowds and even “scratchy” clothes can cause them to become anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed or even aggressive. That can lead to actions that leave you mystified as a parent. Here are seven tips to help you cope.
1. Understand the difference between 'mountains' and 'molehills'
As is the case with all children, not every misdemeanour by a child with sensory processing challenges ought to be punished. There are times when their actions merely stem from a need to experience something in their environment the only way they know how. For example, spitting their food out or playing with it at the table is often the best way for them to make sense of new tastes and textures. This should be treated as a proverbial molehill. Throwing a plate at someone, however, because they don’t like their food is more of a mountain and requires action on your part as the parent. The key worth bearing in mind is that if their behaviour can hurt themselves or someone else, it is recommended that you intervene. If not, rather help them work through the situation and always try to provide them with a variety of options.
2. Encourage play in a variety of sensory bins at least 5-6 times per week
Encouraging your child’s regular exposure to a variety of sensory experiences can assist him or her in overcoming or better managing their challenges. This can be done at home or under the guidance of an occupational therapist, for example, who specialises in assisting children with sensory processing difficulties.
3. Acknowledge to your child and yourself that when they experience sensory challenges, they are not simply being difficult
Acknowledge that this is a real thing that is causing them real pain or discomfort. When you do, it will give you more patience and empathy and create more ease for your child, knowing that they are accepted despite the difficulties that they feel and express
4. Yoga, breathing and meditation
Using these tools in educational settings is becoming more mainstream and with good reason. Moving slowly through a yoga sequence can provide calming stimulation to the vestibular system, the proprioceptive system, and the tactile system, improving self-regulation for a child with sensory processing challenges. Meditation helps calm the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) while activating the parasympathetic nervous system (resting and digesting).
5. When dealing with aggression related to sensory processing challenges, remember it’s not because of bad parenting
It’s not your fault. The most important thing you can do is have a team of people to help, from a trusted family doctor, to an occupational therapist that you trust. Believe that it gets better. Remind yourself how much you absolutely love your child and pick yourself up to fight another day, because your child desperately needs you to.
6. Create a chill-out zone for emotional times
Keep this space calm, clutter-free, quiet and dim. Some children might favour a bottom bunk, the corner of a closet, even under a desk or table. You could even use a child-sized tent or teepee for younger children. Items you may wish to include in this calming zone include: favourite books, noise-cancelling headphones, sensory toys, a beanbag chair and/or weighted blanket. The most important factor to note here is that the chill-out zone must remain a place of refuge for your child, not a place of punishment.
7. Create as much consistency and predictability in their daily routine as possible.
Look for patterns. Use check-lists for your child as a visual cue to create routine and give them a sense of knowing what to expect. Certain times of day are often more challenging than others. Break down a situation or routine (for example a homework plan) into simple tasks on a whiteboard. This can help prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed.
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