5 Ways to Support Your Child’s Sensory Needs Before SchoolOct 15, 2023
It’s the time of year when we’re sending our littles (or bigs) back to school. As I shared in a previous post, 5 Ways to Support the Transition Back to School, our children may have a difficult time returning to a more structured environment and routine. Additionally, the school environment can be overwhelming with the sensory input that your child is receiving. Busy classrooms, bright lights, loud cafeterias, and lots of smells can impact your child’s ability to stay regulated and in that “ready to learn” state. While you can collaborate with your child’s teacher and education team to support them, you likely can’t be with them for the duration of the day to offset some of their overwhelm. Not to worry! Here are 5 ways that you can support your child’s sensory needs before school, that can help to modulate their sensory regulation during the day.
- Consider Clothing
- Limit Screen Time
- Have Them Carry their Backpack
- Provide a Calm Car Ride
Tactile (touch) input can be a huge trigger for some of our children. You may notice right away if your child starts scratching at the back of their neck; the tag has got to go! But sometimes, the texture of their clothes may not bother them right away. It is only when they are receiving other forms of sensory overload that their brain may register their clothing as another negative. This can require you to be a detective. If your child comes home and immediately wants to change, notice what they choose to wear. If you have the flexibility to, send your child to school in the textures that they prefer or gravitate towards. For new clothes, I recommend running them through the wash and dryer a few times so they don’t have the stiff “new clothes” feel that can bug your child’s tactile system.
A few things that you can do for any child that will be easy changes:
- Cut out the tags (or buy tagless clothing).
- Let your child turn their socks inside out (or buy seamless socks).
- Check the inside of shirts with labels or graphics, sometimes they can have an uncomfy stiff feeling-save for at-home wear so your child has the option to switch.
- Make sure to check the weather for the day, being too hot or too cold can be a trigger!
Limit Screen Time
Although it may be a part of your routine to have a show or videos playing for your child, screen time can be an overly alerting activity. You may not notice their body and brain getting “busy” as they are often sitting still(ish) while watching, but screen time is not a regulating activity because it requires quick interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. When the rest of the day includes lots of sensory input, their brains didn’t start at a regulated/calm level, allowing it to be easier for them to get stressed out and have a harder day at school. Reading a book, playing with fidgets, or helping pack their lunch can be great alternatives!
Have them Carry their Backpack
Although it might seem unfair to have your child carry their backpack when you have a free hand, it can be super beneficial for their sensory systems! Carrying a bookbag can be a form of heavy work, providing proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive input, as I shared in my post, 8 Ways to do Heavy Work at Home: Sensory Regulation, supports our body in achieving the appropriate arousal level (not too slow and not too fast). Of course, use your judgment to see if their backpack is the right weight, they should not be struggling to maintain an upright posture. It is recommended to be no more than 15% of your child’s body weight. Also, be sure that your child uses BOTH shoulder straps! See this post from the American Academy of Pediatrics for safety tips related to backpack use.
Provide a Calm Car Ride
Using the right music can support your child’s alertness level before heading to school. I recommend using instrumental music or even white noise, depending on your child’s alertness prior to the car ride. If your child is on the sleepier side, choose a faster-paced, upbeat playlist, such as a movie theme music or Vivaldi! If they are wide awake, try “relaxing” classical or white noise, to support their ability to enter school in that “ready to learn” state. Conversations are a great way to engage your child, but save stressful conversations for another time, as they can activate your child’s fight/flight response. Having a preferred stuffed animal or weighted blanket for the car ride can also support your child’s regulation!
Although not a sensory-specific strategy, connecting with your child is often critical to supporting a great day at school. Connection is a form of co:regulating, using your calm to activate their calm. Provide your child with their love language: whether that’s a long hug, your special handshake, a silly song that you share, or just sitting next to them in silence while they wait for the bus! Sending your child with a note or a drawing in their backpack or lunchbox can be a way to connect in the middle of the day, even when you are not with them.
School can be hard, but as the amazing parents you are, you can make a difference in your child’s ability to handle the school environment!
Written by Abigail Pichardo MOT License #21520
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