“Wild child, tantrum kid, aggressive behavior, extremely sensitive, picky eater, defiant, super active, explosive, etc.” Do any of those labels describe your child’s behavior in any way? If so, you might find it relieving to know the behavior is likely related to sensory. Addressing that behavior is as simple as understanding the sensory need or aversion behind it.
As a parent, having a child with any of these behaviors can feel very isolating, lonely, and defeating. All the advice given from friends, relatives, and the lady in the grocery store have all been tried and fail miserably at getting your kid to just “behave normally.” I’ve personally spent many moments in frustration and tears wondering why my kid was so explosive. That all changed when I linked his behavior to sensory needs.
What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory processing is the way our bodies and minds experience the world. Our body takes in different sensations, and the mind interprets it. We all have a sensory system and every sensory system is unique in what it likes, what it doesn’t like, what it seeks, and what it avoids.
One person may love the smell of garlic, while another person finds it repulsive. One person might prefer to be touched softly by those around them, while another person prefers firm touch. Neither is better than another, and none of this denotes that anything is “wrong” with a sensory system, it is just different. We all operate with different preferences.
Too Much or Not Enough
Keeping that in mind, when a body is not receiving enough of the stimulation it needs, the brain diverts it’s attention to fufilling that need. For a child who needs a lot of deep pressure and movement, that might look like overly aggressive play, wiggling during school, or not paying attention when sitting for too long. It’s not a child actively acting out, but simply seeking the stimulation because he/she hasn’t received enough of it.
The opposite of that is when a body is receiving too much stimulation. For a person who likes quiet environments, being in a noisy environment can lead to shortened temper, irritated outbursts, and a lot of stress as the brain is trying to get away from the sensations that are causing such distress. If your child is easily irritated in a grocery store, has meltdowns in public places, or is frequently covering his/her ears, this is likely the reason for all those behaviors.
Putting it into Perspective
Whether your child has a need or an aversion to certain stimuli, the underlying idea is that something is “off” and needs attention. Kids typically don’t understand what is happening in their bodies as well as adults do. Once you come to understand which stimuli your child needs and avoids, the hope is that you can teach your child why he feels the way he does, and then work on coping strategies. Having the ability to know which movements or activities will help regulate the body decreases the need for tantrum behaviors as the body will naturally be in a more calm state.
Extreme tantrums, wild behavior, and tendencies for aggression are not always indicators of “bad behavior.” More often than not, they are simply ways a child is trying to seek that much-needed sensory stimulation. When the body needs something, it will find a way to get it. Look here for a link to an article about sensory red flags.
The most effective way of addressing those behaviors that everyone else judges, is to simply give your child access to regular sensory activities. Allowing a child to run, play, jump, and move helps tremendously. Again, not all children are the same so what one child needs, another might not.
To receive guidance to understand more about your child’s sensory system. Check out this FREE 7 Days To Understanding the 7 Senses Email Challenge.