Please note: All recommendations about self-regulation tools and strategies made in this article are based on personal observations and qualitative feedback from families and children that have successfully implemented these strategies. They are to be supervised by an adult and closely monitored for changes in behavior and/or choking hazards to prevent danger, harm, and injury to any child or adult. WooTherapy accepts no liability for negative outcomes due to the attempted use of any of the recommended strategies. This is also not a substitute for an intervention plan that may be provided by a physician or licensed occupational therapist.
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How to provide your child with strategies that support their self-regulation
There are so many tools and strategies available to support self-regulation. If you are unsure of what exactly self-regulation looks like, head over to this blog post to read more about it. If you have a hold on self-regulation and are ready to support your kiddo with their own Self-Regulation Tool Box, you’re in the right place.
I should remind you, that regulation isn’t only about bringing a child “down” from a heightened experience, but it can also be revving them “up” if they appear slow, low, or under aroused.
These are just some suggestions in each sensory category that are worth giving a try. Some ideas fall into multiple categories so I’ve listed them under the primary sensory category and then with a letter, I’ve identified additional sensory input(s) they may offer in case your child has a sensitivity to a specific input.
It’s important to be aware of the inputs that feel calming, regulating, and organizing to your child and those that are noxious and bothersome when curating a kit for your child.
I recommend being open to lots of possibilities as you investigate what works and what doesn’t. This is very much like when your child learned to self-sooth as a baby. It might require some trial and error before determining what works and what doesn’t work.
Deep Pressure Input (DP)
Deep pressure is typically a very calming input that can help regulate the central nervous system. It can be applied to nearly any body part from the head to the toes, however, some kids have increased sensitivities to different body parts, so be mindful when.
- Hug (self, someone else, or a Pillow Pet)
- Lay in pillows/cushions/beanbag chair
- Weighted objects (sock, lap pad, blanket, vest, stuffed animal-some are also lavender scented (G))
- Simple yoga poses – it may be helpful to have a few cards with pictures of preferred poses (M)
- Pull/stretch/tug on a resistive band with use of hands and/or feet – I love Handee Band!
- Squeeze/massage arms/legs
- “Squishy” toy
- Use of vibration (M, O) *Most intense input would be applied at the jawline near the ear
Movement or vestibular input is going to provide a response to the inner ear about your body’s position in space. Some kids are under-responsive and others are over-responsive. Watch this one closely.
- Jumping Jacks (DP)
- Dance (DP)
- Run (DP)
- Rocking self (DP)
- Log rolls (DP)
- Neck rolls (DP)
Touch Input (T)
Touch refers to a lighter input to the surface of the skin. Children can either avoid or seek this input. Those who seek it might enjoy rubbing something between their hands or on their cheek, sometimes even in or near their mouths. Think of how an infant first explores their environment by mouthing objects because of an increased number of tactile receptors helping them quickly gain information about the world around them.
- Rubbing a soft blanket or piece of fabric
- Petting an animal
- Twirling hair
- Koosh ball
- Fidget toys (V, A)
- Slinky (V, A)
- Drawing (V)
- Putty/playdoh (DP, G-if scented)
- Kinetic sand (DP)
- Water beads
- Beaded necklaces (A)
- Sequined pillow (V) – this linked one is perfect because it has a happy and sad face so a child can also use it to signify when s/he has improved regulation
Visual Input (V)
Some children thrive on lots of fast-moving objects, others get sent into a tailspin. Which does your child prefer?
- Bubble timer (M- some children tilt their head sideways as they watch)
- Sand/Minute timer
- Fish tank
- Watching cars drive by
- Photos of favorite people, places, or events
- Look at/read a favorite book
- Light-up toys
- Scrunching metallic paper (T, A)
- Use of a pop-up tent
- Use natural light whenever possible
- Dim lights
- Completing age-appropriate puzzles (this is great to do on the tummy because it can provide the child with a lot of deep pressure (DP) feedback)
Oral Input (O)
As mentioned above, there are increased numbers of tactile receptors in and around the mouth allowing a child to get lots of feedback quickly, often making oral input a close second to deep pressure for quick, calming effects.
- Massaging jaw with or without the use of a vibration tool (DP, M)
- Vibrating toothbrush (DP, M)
- Deep breaths (there are many great visuals to support the child with this; try printing one out for them)
- Sucking (hard candy, lollipops, orange slices, long straws, curly straws, small straws—like a coffee straw, use a straw to suck up a shake, smoothie, yogurt, pudding, jello, etc.) (G)
- Blowing (whistles, harmonica, party blowers, bubbles (G-scented bubbles), bubbles into a drink, blowing cotton balls with a straw across a table)
- Chewy foods (beef jerky, fruit leather, cheese, bagels, dried fruit, gum, fruit roll-ups, raisins, gummy bears, licorice, taffy, other chewy candy, etc.) (DP, G)
- Crunchy foods (pretzels, chips, nuts, raw vegetables, popcorn, apples, granola, rice cakes, a necklace of cheerios, etc.) (DP, G)
- Spicy foods (G)
- Mints (G)
*I highly recommend your child receive a diet consisting of various food textures throughout their day. This can support maintaining an optimal state of arousal with the consistent oral and deep pressure inputs their bodies may require.
Auditory Input (A)
This is a tricky sense. One that seems difficult to fully integrate. Many children are at one end of the continuum or the other regarding auditory input—either over-stimulated or under-responsive. Get in tune with what your child’s responses typically look like.
- Noise Cancelling Headphones (DP)
- Classical Music (to calm)
- Rock or heavy metal music (to alert)
- Hum or sing
- Use a metronome (use an app or Google)
This is closely linked to the oral sense since the way something smells can significantly influence if someone wants to put it in their mouth or not. There are good smells and there are very bad smells. I think you know the difference. But even a heightened sensitivity can trigger a child. Some moms might remember a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy.
- Diffusing calming essential oils (lavender, peppermint, lemon, orange petitgrain, rosemary, etc.) (V – if it changes colors)
- Applying diluted essential oils to wrists or behind ears
- Smell clothing item of a loved one
- Coloring with Mr. Sketch markers
I hope these suggestions have given you a starting point to start exploring strategies to help you and your child create a self-regulation tool box.
As you continue to trial different ideas, please leave comments about what has worked for your child, especially if it’s not already on this list so we can help all kids find tools to regulate their sensory systems!
Don’t forget to check out the post What is Self-Regulation? if you still have questions.