Sensory Seeking Solutions for Infants and Toddlers
Updated: Feb 19, 2021
During this season of virtual learning, working from home, and daycare closures, little kiddos have more energy than usual. If your toddler is bouncing off the walls, having more tantrums, or being unsafe during play, try these activities to help your child be more calm and organized throughout their daily routines. Remember, sensory seeking behaviors serve a purpose for our kiddos so it is important to redirect our child to something that provides the same/similar input, but is safe and functional. When sensory input is included in a routine or part of the daily structure it can have the best effects. A sensory diet calls for preventative sensory input to avoid a certain reaction or behavior. If you know that your child is very energetic right after nap, plan a heavy work activity to do with them right when they wake up. Children are more organized and calm when they know what to expect. Having a routine can help curb your child’s extra energy.
Crashing: Instead of crashing into walls, furniture, and people, try to build a crash pad out of a fitted sheet, cushions, blankets, and pillows (have your kiddo help!) Carrying the heavy pillows and blankets provides heavy work input and allows for practice with motor planning. Crashing provides calming and organizing input and helps children understand where their body is in relation to other things. Without knowing where your body is, it is difficult to do things like feed yourself, be safe on stairs, etc.
Climbing: Instead of climbing onto the table or the back of the couch, we can redirect climbing to a small slide, a Pikler triangle, climbing up cushions to get onto the couch, or climbing up the stairs (with supervision, of course!) A fun thing to try with kiddos that love to climb is completing a close ended activity on the stairs or with a small climbing structure. This could look like putting a puzzle board at the bottom of the stairs and puzzle pieces at the top (shape sorters also work). Your child can climb up to the top to get a puzzle piece and then climb down to put it in the puzzle. Assist younger children with crawling backwards down the stairs for safety. This activity incorporates heavy work (using the muscles and joints) which also provides calming and organizing input. Another way to incorporate heavy work that requires less supervision is playing with soup cans. Full soup cans or canned veggies provide heavy work input and are stackable and rollable. Taking them out and putting them into a laundry basket or other container can entertain your toddler for as long as it takes you to fold the laundry or wash the dishes (maybe even longer)!
Jumping: Kiddos love to take risks and jump- sometimes off of things they shouldn’t. Learning how to jump is an important gross motor skill and developmental milestone. Jumping can provide kiddos with calming and organizing input, as well as movement or vestibular input. Small trampolines are always fun, but if you don’t want to buy anything, a couch cushion can work too! Another way to help your child get that same input is by helping them jump. I like to call these “hops”. Hold your child under the arms and lift them slightly into the air letting gravity help bring them back down. Hops are a good way to organize your child if they struggle to sit in the highchair and is also a great way to help with transitions. Make the transition easier by hop hop hopping to the next room or activity.
Spinning: Some kids love to spin and like I mentioned above, spinning serves a purpose. Spinning provides vestibular (movement) input and can be visually stimulating. Spinning can also be accomplished through tire swings, sit and spins, rolling down a hill, spinning in an office chair, etc. A fun thing to do to redirect spinning is blanket swing! Blanket swing is when two caregivers (or one if you are feeling strong) hold either end of a small blanket or towel like a hammock. Rock your kiddo side to side or back and forth. Sometimes it helps to sing a short song like “Row Row Your Boat” to make the activity more close-ended and predictable. Spinning and other vestibular input can be disorienting and/or overstimulating so when you notice your child feels dizzy, giving deep pressure input like a bear hug can help reorganize their system.
If you would like to learn more about sensory processing or would like to speak to an occupational therapist, contact us or check out the early childhood therapy services provided at the Boston Ability Center!