2 Ways to Support Children’s Sensory Breaks Without Overwhelm
What do you do when your child is overwhelmed?
Do you try to talk them into using a sensory strategy that you know will work for them? Do they listen to you most of the time?
Close your eyes and think about a time that you felt overwhelmed. How do you feel when you think about it? Does your heart start racing? Do your hands clench a little? Is your internal temperature rising? When feeling this way, do you want to talk to someone?
Most of you probably answered “No!” First you need to calm down and regulate your body. As adults, we seek out calming sensory activities when we feel stressed or upset - such as sipping coffee, chewing gum, going on a walk/run, putting on fragrant hand lotion or smelling essential oils. Throughout our life experiences, we have learned what techniques help us calm down.
Children need the same sensory breaks, but how are we supposed encourage them to take them if they won’t hear our voices or let us guide them to what they need?
You may have noticed, when children become overwhelmed, it is hard to have a conversation with them. When they are overstimulated (or under stimulated) they can’t process what we are saying to them in that moment.
Instead to talking to them, show them!
Two Ways to redirect your child to an appropriate sensory activity without talking to them:
- Visual reminders – When children see a photo of an object, they are able to recognize what that object is for. This cognitive processing skills typically develops in children who are developmentally at a 12 month-14 month old level. This visual cognitive skill develops before advanced receptive language skills. This is why picture communication systems are successful with children who don’t understand a lot of language yet.
- Tangible reminders – When children can touch and feel objects that support regulation or calming down, they are able to immediately use the activity. When you know the best way that your child regulates, keep those tangible regulation tools with you all the time.
You might be wondering how to do this when your child is so overwhelmed. Sometimes they don’t want to engage with you at all, much less look at what you are holding.
“Soothing Sammy” makes it simple for you to redirect your child in a positive way.
“Soothing Sammy” teaches children how to calm down with sensory strategies when they feel overwhelmed using visual and tangible communication strategies.
The “Soothing Sammy” program includes a children’s book, a plush golden retriever (Sammy), Emotions and Feelings activities and Digital Printables to make your very own Sammy Calm Down Corner.
The colorful photos and simple story is perfect for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary aged children. In the story, children who are upset visit Sammy, a golden retriever, at his dog house. Sammy shows his friends, how calm down with items he has in his home (such as drinking from a child's cup, using a washcloth to dampen their face, eating a crunchy snack and listening to a calming song). Each item Sammy introduces supports at least one or more components of a child's sensory system (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, movement (vestibular/proprioceptive))... etc). Once calm, Sammy helps children identify their feelings, find out why they are mad and develop a solution to the problem.
At the end of the book, there are instructions on how to build your very own Sammy house for Sammy, the plush dog. components addressed in Sammy's house (this includes auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), vestibular and proprioceptive) and which objects address each component! When children feel overwhelmed, they can request or be redirected to this Sammy house for some “Sammy Time.”
Sammy Communicates Calm Down Strategies using Visual Components.
The book and Sammy plush are visual reminders for children, prompting them to use the calm down items in their own Sammy house to regulate. This set also comes with a post-card that has the image of Sammy to place around your home or take with you into the community. When your child is overwhelmed, hand to or show them the postcard. This will remind them that “Soothing Sammy” is available to help.
When children are overwhelmed, using visual cues will portray “Sammy Time” as a positive experience rather than a negative one. We want our children to feel okay with taking Sensory breaks. Using visual and tangible redirection prompts instead of verbal instructions will make the transition less overwhelming and stressful for you and your child. Sammy, the plush dog is almost a foot long (machine washable and is safe for children ages 2 years old and up). Not only is Sammy a visual reminder to use Sammy’s house, but it’s also a sensory break tool. Sammy is soft, cuddly and huggable.
To support your child with a speech delay (either expressive or receptive), take some photos of the items you are going to place in the Sammy House. (You will receive an optional photo printout in the Sammy Set if you chose to use those photos instead.) Allow your child to point to these objects if they are unable to request what they want. Having a choice board may also help them in instances where they are feeling frustrated. Placing two or three photos of calming items in a choice board will help them feel less overwhelmed. Don't underestimate the power of "Real Pictures". Pictures of your child completing the calming activities! Watching themselves using the items reinforces how they feel when they are using them. You may want to place these pictures in Sammy's house!
Learning How to Utilize Calm Down Breaks is a Positive Skill.
Using visual and tangible tools to redirect children to sensory supports reduces stress and makes communication simpler. I hope Soothing Sammy will bring some relief to overwhelming situations. Sammy supports children’s right to take a break and regulate, turning sensory breaks into a positive experience.
My Son with ASD Actually Understands!
"Soothing Sammy has been great for our family, especially my son with Autism. I purchased Soothing Sammy to start working with my (almost) 3-year-old on identifying emotions and learning to soothe. My son was diagnosed with Autism a year ago, and we have to be very intentional when it comes to things like communication and his emotional needs. I had no idea that my 6-year-old would love Sammy so much too. Sammy is super soft which gives them that lovely sensory input they both need. When my son is upset we go grab Sammy and he holds him. Sometimes, we read him the story too. Last week, my son said "Parker sad!" when I was struggling to understand what he was asking for. His ability to communicate that feeling is a huge breakthrough for us. I just wished I had ordered two so they wouldn't fight over him so much." - Jennilyn
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeana Kinne, MA has worked in the Child Development field for over 18 years. She has worked in inclusion preschool classrooms, early intervention and as a Preschool Director. She has recently created Sammy Stories to teach children a variety of skills through hands-on learning techniques.