One of the most powerful tools to support children is recognizing what their sensory needs are. Like most people, I had no idea what this meant until I worked with little ones. I now realize why I always hated those itchy woolen sweaters I received as presents and why perfumes were unbearable to me as a child.
Understanding your child’s sensitivities and sensory processing needs can bring them immense peace and security. They may lack the comprehension behind what they are feeling, as well as the capacity to articulate it to you, and then it is up to the adult to be observant about what happened that caused the child to throw a seemingly inexplicable fit.
The next time you are with your child, pay close attention if they seem to turn away, get uncomfortable or flat out have a tantrum after being exposed to any of these sensory processing systems:
· Olfactory System (Smell): If your child is disturbed by strong scents and/or perfumes, try being mindful of those specific scents you’ve noticed that bother them and focus on calming ones such as lavender or lemon. Note that these may also be too much and you will need to test them out and explore a bit!
· Auditory System (Hearing): If your child is upset by helicopters, loud music or other sudden/loud noises, some cheap earmuffs can help a lot when you know they’ll be exposed to loud situations (airports, family gatherings, amusement parks). This can be especially helpful if you child is under five.
· Tactile System (Touch): This type of processing can go two ways – either hyper sensitivity to touch, or the opposite, which is craving touch a lot. If your child is overly sensitive, they will avoid or feel uncomfortable when being held, and they’ll act up when presented with certain clothing or possibly refuse to wear it at all. (Please take away those itchy sweaters and pokey tags in the back of t-shirts!) Children’s boundaries (and adults’ boundaries, for that matter) change from moment to moment. A family might be accustomed to open physical affection out of love and good intentions, and they may not realize that some children don’t like this in excess. A child might need some warmup time to transition into an embrace.
Knowing a parent or caretaker will always be there for them is a powerful and positive message in a child’s life, and they will love you for helping them understand and act appropriately with their sensitivities!
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Cheers to the most wonderful time of the year!