Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Manners for Sensory Seekers

You're at the restaurant and he's under the table, clinking the glasses, or talking like you were a football field away.  You're introducing her to a friend's child and the first response is a tackle hug.  When you have a kid with sensory issues, you can walk into any room and the smell, noise, light or whatever aspect of the sensory environment can push them into the red zone.  So... what can you do?  

Manners are still important.  Decompensating into screaming fits would not be the coping mechanism you'd pick for you child, so the first thing I try to do is always find constructive outlets.  If my kiddo is finding the quiet or the stillness highly stressful, I look for a sensory stimulus to address those needs.  It takes one sandwich bag with a folded piece of parchment paper and a mini-playdough to give that soothing experience for their hands while protecting the restaurant's table cloth.  Even with prep work, they may still need an audio book to listen to to keep their vocal volume acceptable.  If you know you're meeting a new person and you know you've got a sensory seeker you can discuss meeting them at the park and get there fifteen minutes early to help the greeting glee be less overwhelming.  Manners usually require a great deal of control and sensory seekers are especially needful of strategies that can help them regulate their keyed up neurological system.

The second idea I try to keep in mind is humor. I go over lots of fun situations in this post, but the key is using this tool to keep things pleasant.  I might eagerly ask my kid under the table if there were any other moles under there since the chef was looking for something to cook.  So often, the grin can move things back to a positive zone as the head pops up to discuss the situation.

Finally, I keep in mind my child's current regulation abilities and respect his challenge by... not pushing it.  If my son has reached his sensory limit, we take a walk around the restaurant parking lot (or a skip)!  It leaves us both happier and lets him learn.  He can't grow when trapped between a disregulated body and a scolding parent.

This post isn't about the wonderful ways for motivating kids to learn manners by pointing out the consequences of actions.  Nor is it about the extensive practicing, modeling, and discussion that goes on beforehand to set your kids up for success.  This is litterally the process I go through when I see or predict a sensory issue.  I offer an alternative.  I provide a humorous, non-threatening way to return focus.  I discuss the choices and we move forward.

And... when I'm caught unawares, bowled over, sometimes literally knocked flat in the sand... I try to laugh and to remember how joyous it is to have a child that loves me so much, that  he wants to fire every neuron in his brain with the feeling of being close to mommy.  

It has taken me years of practice, but I know when I achieve that response in myself, I've achieved something pricelessly precious in my parenting.

(Ocean Shores, Washington.  It is a great joy to me that my husband caught one of those moments on film. It's a big picture, so double click on it for an extra smile :) )


  1. All those years of practice have made you quite advanced in finding those sometimes elusive moments of joy.

    Thanks again for sharing your inspirational insights into the fun of parenting.

  2. What a delightful post - and photo!

  3. :) Thanks for the warm comments. I think Ayn Rand has been powerful for so many in establishing the foundation for focusing on the good... skills do still take practice though!

  4. I'm about in tears reading this. I have a seven year old who has JUST been named as being a sensory seeker and this is like heaven-sent for her.

  5. Vocis: I'm so pleased :) Our lives can certainly be intense with these kiddos, but the enthusiasm is contagious! Another excellent blog for ideas regarding sensory seekers is: