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Ideas for Out of Control Preschool Children With Sensory Issues

By Lisa Weber ; Updated June 13, 2017

Sensory processing is the way the nervous system receives messages from the brain and turns them into motor and behavioral responses. (reference 1) In some children, sensory signals do not get organized into appropriate responses. Some children may be over-reactive to certain sensory stimuli, while others may need strong sensory input in order to react. This may cause a child to engage in sensory-seeking activities, which may look like out-of-control behavior. Parents who know why their child with sensory processing disorder is acting the way he is may be able to find calming activities, known as a sensory diet, that will improve behavior.


Proprioception refers to the body's ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. Some children lack this ability, and need proprioceptive input in order to calm themselves and improve muscle/joint awareness. This can be accomplished by tasks that involve using large muscle groups, like pushing or pulling or carrying heavy objects. For instance, they could carry a load of laundry or a bag of groceries. Other good household activities include mopping or vacuuming. Parents can also try swaddling their child in a blanket or firmly pressing on their child’s arms, legs and back with pillows. (reference 2)


The vestibular system helps us maintain our equilibrium and balance when we spin, rock, sway or bend. Some children need extra vestibular input; others can't seem to get enough input and need to "wake up" their sensory system. A child who needs vestibular input may appear to be out of control, banging into objects or people or falling over herself. Spinning, swinging and hanging upside down provide the most intense, longest-lasting input. (reference 2) Let your child swing, bounce on a beanbag chair or trampoline or play spinning games.


Some children with SPD are fearful of touching anything because they do not like textures. Others need the sensory input and touch everything, appropriate or not. Let kids who seek tactile input get dirty with finger paints, Play-Doh or shaving cream. They can dig in the mud for worms. Teach them to gently pet a dog or a cat. Many children with SPD enjoy squeezing a stress ball, or keeping a sensory box filled with different textures, such as rice, shells, cotton balls or macaroni. (reference 3)


Certain sounds will be calming to a child with SPD. Listening to waves, live or on a recording, can calm an out-of-control child. Other lulling nature sounds may include falling rain and singing birds. Light instrumentals with flutes and keyboards can also be soothing. Try playing a listening game with your child. Sit very quietly and try to identify the sounds you hear and where they are coming from.(reference 2)

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