3 Tips to Support Sensory Processing at Home

Many kids have challenges with sensory processing,

If your child seems to struggle with staying calm, well-regulated and balanced with their mood or behavior, sensory processing issues might be at play.

What do we mean by “sensory processing?”

Well, sensory processing is how we take in sensory information from the environment and outside world.

We learn early in life that we get our sensory info from the five basic senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, but we also get information from three lesser-known internal senses:

The vestibular system is responsible for providing information to the brain and body about motion, spatial orientation and balance.

The proprioceptive system is the process by which the body can identify its position in space and maneuver accordingly.

The interoception system is the sense of how the body feels and how we experience sensations like a growling stomach, dry mouth, tense muscles, or racing heart.

Awareness of these feelings provides essential information: we might be hungry, thirsty, in pain, cold, anxious and other emotions, or need to use the bathroom. Once a person becomes aware of these physical feelings and needs and addresses them, it’s far easier to feel relaxed, regulated and able to concentrate.

To help your child stay calm and well-regulated, occupational therapist Kelly Mahler offers these three tips for supporting their sensory processing needs:

#1 Be a sensory detective! Know your child’s preferences and sensory needs.  “When we are working very closely at home with our children,” Kelly advises, “we really need to know each of their sensory preferences in order to be able to navigate situations successfully.” For example, some kids need a completely quiet place in order to focus, while others do just fine working at the kitchen table.

    • Watch how your child reacts in certain situations: loud noises, strong smells, and bright lights can all be distracting or disturbing.
    • Make notes about your child’s behavior in certain situations. What happened (or didn’t happen) just before they started acting out? Follow the clues to find the triggers in your kid’s life

#2 Break up the Day. Divide each day into relatively short time blocks and provide movement or other “feel-good” breaks throughout the day. 

    • Be proactive about scheduling these breaks, rather than waiting for kids to get antsy. 
    • It often helps to let your child choose from their own list of break activities, which might be as different as jumping rope in the backyard versus reading a novel.
    • This blog post includes videos and other tools to help structure your day and keep your child calm and steady.

#3 Be Mindful. Mindfulness (paying attention in the present moment without judgement) is especially useful for increasing sensory awareness, and also boosts social-emotional learning. Kelly advises that “It’s important to become mindfully aware of how our body is feeling in the present moment and that can go far in helping bridge and build social and emotional (SEL) skills.” 

    • Parents can help by simply asking their child how their body is feeling or pointing out, for example, that the child is squirming in her chair or tapping her fingers on the table. 
    • Once the child becomes aware of their behavior and determines that they are uncomfortable and want to make a change, they may be able to envision a solution (if needed). 
    • To help you build a mindfulness practice, check out this blog post and try the Mindful May calendar for daily mindfulness activities.

Looking for more ways to stay informed and get practical, everyday strategies for your unique child’s specific sensory processing and social-emotional learning needs?  We are excited to announce the launch of our new “Make It Stick Parenting” course and community. Course enrollment opens soon, don’t miss out! Join our waitlist here to get updates and course information delivered right to your inbox.

We are delighted to have Kelly as a course contributor, because her expertise will provide even more strategies to help your child stay calm and self-regulated, so learning is easier. You can get more information about Kelly’s work here https://www.kelly-mahler.com/what-is-interoception/, where you’ll also find her new book, The Interoception Curriculum: A Step-by-Step Guide to Developing Mindful Self-Regulation. Her website features free resources including podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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