Children who are overstimulated by their visual and auditory senses will struggle in a “busy” environment. Here is a quick and easy way to create a space that is special and rewarding enough for them that they will seek it out to calm themselves.
Here are some tips on keeping this intervention successful:
- Never use this place for a punishment
- If they are getting worked up suggest a that a visit to their special place might help their heart to feel better
- Praise them when they try to calm themselves, even if they are only a little but successful.
- When preparing the space, allow the child to decide what to put in their special place with boundaries that you can tolerate. For example, I like to say, “What happens if you get hungry while you are in your fort, should we put a snack in there?” If they respond by asking for a chocolate cake or a raw turkey, don’t say no, but offer a better alternative. “Lets choose a package of crackers or this sucker instead.”
- If your child is “too far gone” – don’t force this. If you don’t catch them before they are too activated it won’t work.
- Our children often have difficulty with undesirable tasks. This is normal. It may be unrealistic to expect them to want to do these tasks (brush your teeth, make your bed, etc.) Plan your schedule so that they have extra time to use their calm down place before having to do the task. Someday we want our kids to do it quickly – in fact if they do, shower the praise down on them, but if it’s always a struggle get used to saying, “take as much time as you need.” Encourage them to use their calm down place to find the calm and the energy they need to comply. So, if bedtime is 8, have them brush their teeth at 7 so they can spend 20 minutes in the calm down place first.
- Practice this with your child when they are calm. Learning to calm yourself is a skill. It is another tool in their toolbox. Make sure they know how to use it. For example:
Mom: “Yesterday you got so angry when dad was spending time with your brother…..That must have been hard because I know I liked it more when my dad spent time with me than when he spent it with MY brother.”
Child: [Tears well up because they feel understood]
Mom: “I don’t think you like it when you feel like that tornado is inside you, and I was so bummed that you broke your favorite toy because I know how much you like it. How about if we practice going to your fort to see if that helps you feel good.
Child: But I am not angry now.
Mom: I know, Lets just pretend. Can I see your angry face?
Child: [grunts and squints – veins bulge – teeth show – face turns red] (It’s like they don’t need much practice being angry)
Mom: Wow! You look really mad. Quick lets run to your fort and see if we feel better….
Child: [runs to fort, grabs snack, giggles]
Mom: Look It works! You are smiling already….
If you have other suggestions or other ways you calm your sensory kids, post them in the comments below.