5 Activities to Improve Sensory Regulation After SchoolOct 14, 2023
After a long day at school filled with lots of sensory input, in addition to the educational demands, your child can be very dysregulated when they come home. As a reminder, dysregulation can appear as if they are very busy, having difficulty with adult or peer interactions, very talkative, or they may be sleepy, zoning out, or having trouble responding to conversation. These are just a few of the signs that your child needs your help to regulate and calm their sensory system before starting that homework! The strategies you implement may differ depending on the child or even just depending on the day. Here are 5 activities that you can do with your child to support their ability to return to a calm and “ready to learn” state before engaging in homework or other difficult tasks.
- Eat a Snack and Rehydrate
- Heavy Work Play
- Take a Break
Movement can be such a critical component of returning to a regulated state after a dysregulating day. The best types of movement to support regulation are movements that have deep pressure or a regular rhythm. Some deep-pressure movements would be animal poses, jumping, climbing, or crawling. Things with a regular rhythm can be very calming as they signal to our brain that we are okay. This can include linear swinging (spinning would be alerting and can be dysregulating), walking, jogging, running, jumping, swimming or riding a bike. Talk with your child’s OT to discuss what your child’s specific alerting and calming activities are. Be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the day, being too hot or too cold can impact your child’s regulation level.
Eat a Snack and Rehydrate
“Hanger” is a real thing, but also being dehydrated can produce similar feelings in our bodies. When our bodies are overwhelmed by sensory input, we can produce more cortisol or the “stress” hormone. This is essentially our fight/flight response, though it may not be fully activated, you may notice your child crashing in response to being in a reduced sensory environment. A snack and water can support your child’s body with the right nutrients and hydration levels to reduce a crash. Talk with your child’s pediatrician to determine the best after-school snacks! Additional to nutritional value, chewing can be a regulating activity, as provides deep pressure to the jaw and a rhythmic pattern.
Heavy Work Play
I touched on this in the first section, Move, but heavy work play can also include indoor activities. Deep pressure is a regulating activity that calms or alerts our bodies and brains, depending on what we need. Some deep pressure play activities can include making a pillow fort or playing with playdough or putty. Another fun way to engage your child in heavy work is to have them help you make a snack. Pulling on the fridge or pantry door, opening difficult jars and pushing the chairs to the table or counter.
Take a Break
Sometimes your child may strictly need a break from sensory input. This might include saving your after-school questions until you notice your child seems to be regulated. One way to offer a break after school is to set up a corner, closet, or small room, as a sensory room. Have the option to dim or eliminate the lighting, have comforting pillows, stuffed animals, and blankets, and provide some preferred sensory items or toys (legos, fidgets, sensory bin). Calming music or white noise can also be supportive to a regulating environment. Depending on your child, they may prefer to spend this time alone, or they may enjoy you if you sit with them. Try to use this time as an opportunity for your child to lead the conversation or to just play in silence.
As I shared in 5 Ways to Support Your Child’s Sensory Needs Before School, connection is one of the best ways to support your child’s regulation. Connection time allows your child to mirror your calm. This requires you to be able to use your own regulation skills, even when the after-school chaos is triggering. I love to remind parents to take some deep breaths, listen to their favorite music, and make sure to have your snack before picking up your children. We all can get dysregulated by our day, so to support your child’s regulation, your own regulation is key! Some great connection activities (aside from the ones included in the Move, Heavy Work, and Play and Snack sections) include drawing/coloring side-by-side, reading/looking at a book together, letting your child sit with you on the couch, and playing with a preferred toy. If your child seems to be ready to talk, asking your child questions about their day can be a great way to connect. Using an emotions chart to discuss different aspects of their day, can be a supportive way to learn about their day. The first part of their day may have been tricky, but lunch might have been amazing; sometimes it’s hard for children to express that, so more specific questions can be helpful.
We all know that homework needs to happen at some point, but I can assure you that taking the time to support your child’s regulation after school will reduce the stress point for both your child and yourself. When a child is regulated, they have access to their thinking brain, a necessary component of showing you all that they know. If you start the homework process and they start showing signs of dysregulation, take a 5-minute regulation break including any of the previous activities to help!
Written by Abigail Pichardo MOT License #21520
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