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Anxious Kids with Sensory Processing Issues: Advice, Resources & The Best Sensory Toys!
Anxiety and sensory issues are like peanut butter and Jelly. They exist alone, but where you find one, you’ll often find the other. Unfortunately, anxiety can increase sensory issues and sensory issues can increase anxiety. This can feel like a never-ending vicious cycle. So how are you supposed to handle your child’s sensory struggles? What’s the best approach? What are the best resources? What are the best sensory toys? We spend most of our time talking about anxiety, but today it is all about the sensory processing struggles!
[Do you want to listen to my podcast episode on this topic? Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen]
So, what is Sensory Processing Disorder? Click here for a complete description.
Now that you know what it is, how do you separate out anxiety from sensory issues? I spent two whole podcast episodes talking about that! I talk about the relationship between anxiety and Sensory Processing Disorder in Episode 15 of The AT Parenting Survival Podcast. I talk about the difference between Just Right OCD and Sensory Processing Disorder in Episode 44.
Now that we got that out of the way let’s talk about how you parent a child with sensory processing struggles.
Accept Your Child’s Sensory Issues.
Often parents will try and make sense of a child’s sensory struggles. They might think those clothes aren’t too tight, that food isn’t too hot, that music isn’t too loud. You might think your child just needs to get used to it or worse – that they are being over dramatic.
It is important to understand that their clothes truly feel too tight on their skin, the food is piping hot in their sensitive mouth. The music is pounding in their sensitive little ears.
Kids with sensory issues aren’t going to “get used to it.” They need understanding. They need an alternative plan. They need ways to cope with the sensitivity – because most likely it isn’t going away.
Get Out of the Battle!
Often kids will rope us into their sensory struggles.
I’m not wearing that!
You are combing my hair too hard!
I’m not eating that! You can’t make me!
The sooner you can give your child ways to cope with their sensory issues, the sooner you can get out of the line of fire.
Focus on empowering your child to help themselves. Put clothing in a bin and let them pick out what to wear. Give them a simple haircut that they can maintain on their own. Find out what textures work for them at mealtime (I know easier said than done)!
Explain Sensory Processing Issues to Your Child.
It is important that your child know why they have sensory issues and how it impacts them. I like to frame sensory processing as a super power. I tell them some kids can hear, smell, taste or feel more than others. That is a pretty awesome power, but sometimes it can be way too much and we have to learn how to turn down the volume.
There are many resources to help sensory kids. There are amazing sensory toys, books on Sensory Processing Disorder and tons of parenting resources to help with the day to day struggles.
Great Books to Teach Kids About Sensory Processing Difficulties:
Now on to your child. Let’s talk about how to build their skills! I’ll touch on some of the most common sensory issues and ways to help your child.
What is on Your Child’s Sensory Plate?
Does your child understand what sensory issues trigger them? Do you? Sit down with your child and talk about what things bother them. What are their main sensory struggles? It is important that your child start to learn their sensory triggers. When a child knows their triggers, they can be proactive and prepare before they are in sensory overload.
Sensory Issues with Clothes
One of the biggest struggles I had early on with my sensory child revolved around clothing. Clothes can be a sensory child’s worst nightmare. In fact many little people like to just run around without clothes. So how can you empower your child to help themselves?
What drives your child nuts?
Socks with seams
Shoes with laces
Tight underwear, loose underwear
Button up shirts
Shirts with collars
What does your child want to live in?
Clothes with no tags
Each child has different sensory needs from their clothes. Find out what your child’s needs are and search high and low for clothes that fit your child’s skin requirements.
Here are some brands that can help:
SmartKnitKIDS Compresso-T Deep Pressure Sensory Compression Undershirt:
SmartKnitKIDS Big Girls/Boys Cut Style Seamless sensitivity Undies:
SmartKnitKIDS Seamless Sensitivity Socks 6 Pack
When you find what your child likes and it has been through several sensory test runs, buy in bulk. Seriously. Buy the shirt in every color. Buy the shoes in sizes to come. Buy packs of the same exact underwear. When your child’s skin approves, open up your wallet!
Teach your child to dress themselves.
Sometimes the “perfect” shirt isn’t going to feel perfect. That can be maddening to a parent (I’ve been there) who just thought they found the holy grail of shirts for their skin-sensitive kid. Get out of the line of fire. Put your child’s clothes in two bins (tops in one and bottoms that match in the other). Let your child pick out their own outfits. Trust me, this will save you hours of unnecessary battles.
Sensitivity to Sound
Sensitive ears hear things in ways that we can’t. Be proactive. If you know you are going to a noisy festival, party or event – bring something to block out the sound.
Noise can put a kid into sensory overload super fast. You want to teach your child to anticipate these situations and react accordingly.
Headphones and more discrete ear plugs can be a life saver. These are my favorite ear plugs for sensory kids:
Vibes Acoustic Filter Ear Plugs – High Fidelity Decibel Reducing EarPlugs for Music Concert Festivals- Hearing Protection for Autism & Sensory Processing Disorders
Sensitivity to Smell
My youngest daughter can smell what I ate for breakfast twelve hours after I ate it. Seriously. She has a supersonic nose. But often, that super power can cause some major distress.
Teach your kids to be prepared. Oil diffusing necklaces and bracelets are a great place to start. When a child is overpowered by a smell, they can reach for their jewelry and cover up the smell that is overwhelming them. They can also put a pleasant smell on their wrist, neck or handkerchief they keep in their pocket.
Here are some of my favorite oil diffusing jewelry:
Kids with sensory issues can really struggle when it comes to eating. Mixed textures drive little mouths nuts. Things are too cold, too hot, too spicy, too chewy, too lumpy, too bumpy. The list can go on and on. It can throw a kid right off the growth chart.
One of the best things I did with my oldest daughter was use a vibrating toothbrush to desensitize her mouth. I would dip the toothbrush into her favorite sauces and desserts and turn it on. It took time, but eventually she was able to eat solid foods and then eventually mixed textured foods. Now at 14 you wouldn’t even know she had an issue.
Of course now they make products just for this!
Abilitations Jigglers Massager Elephant and Gator Chewable Oral Massager:
Food always too hot?
Balo First Food Blowing Eating Utensil – Helps Cools Food That’s Too Hot to Eat.. Attaches to Plate
They don’t like food touching?
Plate Divider 2 PACK – Food Separator -Food Safe Silicone
Calming Sensory Products and Toys
Sometimes kids with SPD just need to be physically calmed. A bear hug, a heavy weighted blanket, a visually relaxing toy can all help reset a kid with sensory overload. These are some of my favorites:
Sanho Yopo Dynamic Movement Sensory Sox
Premium Kids Weighted Blanket for Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Stress, Agitation.
Sensory toys for visual calm:
Sensory Toys for Increased Input and Stimulation
Many kids are sensory seekers and they need to get the input their body so desperately craves. For this I love the idea of creating a sensory utopia inside the home. This can include indoor bars for climbing, little trampolines for jumping and large bouncy balls to get the wiggles and jiggles out.
Need support directly for your kids?
I have a kids Youtube video to help kids understand sensory issues and develop their own coping mechanisms on how to work through these struggles. Don’t miss it. Subscribe to my channel and get notifications when new videos come out at www.youtube.com/c/anxioustoddlers78
Other Sensory Toys that Help:
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