You may be noticing more challenging behaviors from your child during this pandemic. You might even notice your tolerance level dropping low because of your own stressors. You are only human, after all! Managing your own worries, fears and stress is challenging enough, but then throwing your child’s behaviors on top might feel overwhelming. There are some very specific strategies you can use to help calm your child. These strategies will even work for you!
Often, we misread our child’s sensory-seeking behaviors as misbehaviors. They are hanging upside down on the sofa, they might be throwing their toys, maybe they are kicking things, or even hitting. Our children are experiencing the same intensity of emotions as we are (let that sink in for a moment), with no good strategies for regulating those emotions. When you begin seeing your child acting out in some of the ways described above, I would challenge you to consider what sensory need they might be having in that moment.
Most know about our five senses, but there are two internal senses that many don’t know about. These are proprioceptive and vestibular senses. The proprioceptive system is located in our muscles and joints, providing us with body awareness and ability to register how deep touch is. The vestibular system provides our brain information regarding where we are in relation to our world such as spatial orientation, allowing for balance and stabilization of our body.
When we are stressed, anxious, upset or fearful, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. This system prepares us for action and reaction. Activating the proprioceptive, vestibular and touch sensory systems help our body shift from the sympathetic nervous system to para-sympathetic nervous system, which allows us to be relaxed, calm and feel at ease. When the proprioceptive system is activated, it is through deep muscle and joint pressure. Activities such as hitting, kicking and throwing actually activate this system. The vestibular system is activated with activities such as swinging, hanging upside down, rocking and tumbling.
At West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, we teach caregivers to look for underlying needs behind “misbehaviors,” and guide them to try offering an acceptable replacement such as a nurturing bear-hug, doing a wall-push for 10 seconds (literally pushing on the wall as if you are trying to move it), running or jumping in place for the count of 10, or spinning in a circle for 10 seconds. Engaging in physical activity through play is a great release for your child and gives him or her the opportunity to release pent-up emotions.
Our children need our patience, our guidance and our connection with them to help them learn how to regulate themselves. Practicing these techniques with your child during times they are happy and having fun will help them to remember and be willing to use them during times they are upset. You joining them in doing these activities will build connection and help you, too! QCBN
By Kara Schumann, M.A., LPC
Kara Schumann, M.A., LPC, is the director of Clinical Support Services at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic.