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CRASH! Sensory Seeking and Emotional Regulation

It's winter and one of my favorite things about winter are fuzzy socks! My feet get so cold this time of year, especially on our cold tile downstairs. Every November, I start to crave the softness of my favorite wool socks and dig them out of the drawer. But usually within an hour of putting them on, my feet are too hot and I'm ripping them right off!

I'm sure you can relate.

Now imagine this same sensation came from your joints and deep in your muscles. Each fiber, tendon and ligament stretching and pulling for a squeeze. Let's go a little further and imagine you're still learning to understand your body's sensations and what the stretching and pulling means.

Crashing, pushing too hard, running, jumping, and other big gross motor movements are common sensory seeking behaviors our children demonstrate. For many children, these activities are simply a way to learn to coordinate and understand their bodies. For other children, they are driven by an internal desire to achieve balance, much like my fuzzy socks in the winter.

"Rough housing isn't allowed,"; "No running inside"; " Stop climbing on the furniture!" are common rules and exclamations these children have hurled at them. Some professionals will encourage you to talk to your child about the "rules" of running, jumping and crashing and try to set limits on these behaviors. While that's all well and good for safety, it's not going to address the problem... regulation.

Your child is likely doing these actions to achieve balance within her body. By simply telling your child she cannot run and jump onto the couch repeatedly, you're taking away a tool she's trying to use. It's like hiding my fuzzy socks on Halloween. How do you think I would react in mid November if I opened my drawer only to find an empty space where they belong?

While safety is always a priority, and household rules should be observed, there are ways to turn sensory seeking behavior into a co-regulated sensory-emotional experience. Remember, emotions are sensory experiences! We experience happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, pleasure, etc. all through our sensory system. Therefore, these sensory seeking actions are an attempt to learn how to regulate our emotional system as well.

Now what does co-regulated mean?

Co-regulated means that you are helping your child through the experience. You are the tour guide, showing them the ups, downs and rules of the activity. Rather than stomping your foot down and saying "No jumping!", scoop your child under the armpits and guide their hops. Big hops, little hops... bigger, bigger, bigger... smaller, smaller, smaller... Maybe even twirl them around in a circle! Use an animated voice and exaggerate facial expressions to help keep your child's attention on you as the leader and source of fun. Also, remember, an animated voice does not mean loud! Try loud voices, soft voices, higher and lower pitches, all to see what your child enjoys.

After a few games like this, your child will likely prefer to hop with you than to jump on the couch. If safety and rules allow, maybe help them jump higher off of the couch, achieving a better experience and therefore, encouraging her to seek you for her sensory regulation needs. Eventually, you will be able to discover and learn more appropriate ways for her to meet her sensory needs independently. In these beginning stages, it's important your help show her the ropes.

How does your child like to play and how do you help co-regulate their sensory system? Share your tips, insight and ideas with us.

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