Sensory Development in Children

Sensory Anomalies and/or Processing Disorders 

Babies begin to learn through their sensory systems. They take in information through their sensory organs – such as their eyes and ears. The mind and the senses work together to create a meaningful world.

Sensory development in early childhood is important for overall health and well being. It forms the foundation of a child’s learning and perception. Not every sensory anomaly means that your child has anything more than a processing difficulty in one or a few more situations. But if you become concerned of the anomalies hindering normal baby development, start a note book or journal and start documenting them and make a appointment with your pediatition for a occupational therapy evaluation. 

According to Marike de Witt, author of “The Young Child in Context: A psycho-social perspective“, babies start reacting to sensory stimulation from birth. They turn their head towards sound, follow objects with their eyes and discover their hands and feet by touching them.

Later they start to develop eye-hand coordination and will use their hands to touch something they see. They then begin eye-hand-mouth exploration by putting things into their mouths, which stimulates the sense of taste. 

Much later their visual depth perception develops, enabling them to move safely without falling down stairs or walking into things. De Witt adds that although the senses develop independently, by the end of the first year babies achieve sensory integration. They are then able to process information from multiple senses together – especially vision and hearing.

Identifying sensory processing disorder in babies may help parents and caregivers to understand “different” sensory responses in infants, and find ways to help them thrive.

Although many toddlers, children, and even adults can have sensory anomalies or “issues” for one reason or another, it’s not exactly a mainstream topic. Of course, I think it should be because it affects so many. Understanding sensory issues in babies or any child is a huge step forward in knowing how to help them.

Wait, What are Sensory Issues, Really?

To be honest, I don’t really love the word “issues,” because it implies something bad, and in a lot of cases, sensory needs, as I prefer to call them, can be addressed with little effort. But, let’s back up a minute and get clear about what sensory issues actually are.

In a very simplistic explanation, for an issue that can be very complex, sensory issues are when a baby, child, or adult is perceiving some sensations as uncomfortable or even painful. These sensations could be from touching/seeing/smelling/hearing/tasting something or moving a certain way. This is usually described as a sensory sensitivity.

At the same time, individuals may not seem to perceive sensations well at all, which causes them to seek them out more. It’s like they can’t get enough. In this case, an individual may want to touch/see/smell/hear/taste/move excessively.

Understanding the Importance of Sensory Integration:
Do You Know There Are More Than 5?

Watch this video for an understanding of sensory integration and how it helps with everyday life. Learn about the 7 senses, how we use sensory information, and signs of possible sensory integration issues. Most people know about five of our senses but there are two other senses to know about.

Vestibular – sense of balance and movement

This sense helps us move our body without falling so we can walk, ride a bicycle, or sit correctly at a desk. It also lets you know you are moving very fast on a roller coaster, even if your eyes are closed.

Proprioception – body position sense

This sense gives you information about the position of your body parts without having to look at them. It helps you walk up stairs without looking down at your feet. It also tells you how much force to use when picking up and cracking open an egg.

Putting together information from all of these senses allows us to participate in everyday activities.

By integrating, or combining all the information we get from our senses, we can ‘make sense’ of the world around us and successfully move through and interact in our world.

If you think your child may have a sensory processing disorder, ask your pediatrician to refer your child to an occupational therapist for a sensory integration evaluation. The sooner the better!

Understanding Sensory Processing Irregularities

Sensory processing is the way the brain receives, organizes, and responds to all of the information coming in through the various senses.

Sensory processing issues happen when there is a problem in one of these three steps. As a result, those with sensory processing issues are either overly sensitive to sensory input, under sensitive, or a combination of both.

Because we depend on our senses to function literally 24 hours a day, sensory processing issues can have a major impact on children in every area including learning, development, and most aspects of daily life.

Children who are overly sensitive to sensory input will tend to avoid their triggers, and may be labeled as stubborn, lazy, or uncooperative, or shy by those who don’t understand sensory processing.

Children who are under sensitive to sensory input will be sensory seekers, constantly drawn towards touching things, tasting things, engaging in risky behaviors, being a little too aggressive with physical touch, and seemingly on constant hyper-drive.

Some children may display elements of being both over and under sensitive depending on the situation..

sensory differences

What is the difference between sensory seeking and sensory sensitive?

 Sensory seeking is when a person craves more sensory input, while sensory sensitive is when a person experiences overload or overstimulation from too much sensory input. This can be from any of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Many people don’t realize that there is a difference at all. In this blog post, we will discuss the key differences between these two types of children. We will also provide tips for parents and educators on how to best support children who are either sensory seeking or sensory sensitive.

Sensory Seeker VS Sensory Sensitive

Sensory Seeker vs Sensory Sensitive (Avoider)

What is a sensory seeker?

Sensory seekers have a strong need for stimulation. These children may seek out movement, touch, noise, and other sensory input in order to feel calm and focused. They may also have a hard time sitting still or keeping their hands to themselves. The child can seek in any of these sensory systems (visual, tactile, auditory, proprioceptive, vestibular, olfactory).

What is a sensory sensitive child (avoider)?

Sensitive children are the opposite of seekers. They are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation and will often avoid loud noises, bright lights, and roughhousing. These children may seem shy or withdrawn and may have a hard time. They may prefer quieter activities and have a low tolerance for loud noises or busy environments.

Can you be a sensory seeker and sensory avoider?

Yes, it is possible to be both a seeker and an avoider. These children may seek out sensory input in some situations and avoid it in others. For example, a child who is sensitive to loud noises may enjoy spinning on a tire swing at the park, but not going to a crowded grocery store.

It’s important to remember that every child is different. Some children may exhibit mostly seeker behaviors, while others may be more sensitive. And some children may fall somewhere in between.

Are sensory seekers autistic?

There is no one answer to this question. Some children who are sensory seekers may be autistic, but not all of them are. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects how a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. If you suspect your child has autism or another developmental disability, please consult with a doctor or therapist for a proper evaluation.

Is sensory seeking part of ADHD?

Again, there is no one answer to this question. Some children who are sensory seekers may have ADHD, but not all of them do. ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to focus and control their impulses.

Can a child outgrow sensory issues?

It is possible for a child to outgrow their sensory issues, but it depends on the child. Some children may only experience mild sensitivities or seekers behaviors early in life, but eventually grow out of them. Other children may struggle with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or other sensory issues throughout their lives.

There is no one right answer for every child. The best thing you can do is to provide support and accommodations as your child needs them.

sensory seeker vs sensory sensitive

Sensory Seeker Examples:

  • craves movement and touch

  • unusual high tolerance to pain

  • constantly on the go

  • enjoys loud noises and busy environments

  • tries new things without hesitating

  • may have a hard time sitting still or paying attention

  • may enjoy mouth stimulation (chewing, cold water)

  • talks louder than other kids

Sensory Sensitive Examples:

  • easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation

  • sensitive to smells and tastes

  • avoids loud noises, bright lights, and roughhousing

  • seems shy or withdrawn

  • prefers quieter activities

  • sensitive to touch, hair brushing, haircutting, nail clipping, and more

  • may have a low threshold for pain

  • has a hard time with change or new situations

Now that you know the difference between sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children, let’s discuss some tips on how to support them. You can also help them regulate better with these self-regulating activities.

How can we support sensory needs?

  • Provide a quiet place for the child to retreat to if they need a break from sensory overload.

  • Encourage calm and focused activities, such as reading, puzzles, or drawing.

  • Allow the child to participate in activities that appeal to them, such as swinging, running, or climbing.

  • Give the child plenty of opportunities to move their body.

  • Provide a variety of textures for the child to explore, such as soft blankets, rough towels, and smooth stones.

  • Make sure the child’s environment is safe and comfortable for them.

  • If needed, work with a therapist or doctor to create a sensory diet specifically tailored to the child.

Support for Sensory Seekers:

  • give the child plenty of opportunities to move and explore

  • provide a variety of sensory experiences

  • encourage the child to try new things

  • create a calm and organized environment

Support for Sensory Sensitive Children:

  • avoid overstimulating the child with too many activities or outings

  • give the child plenty of downtime to relax and rejuvenate

  • provide a quiet and calm environment

  • choose sensory activities that are appropriate for the child’s sensitivity level

Support Tools for Sensory Seekers and Sensitives:

  • sensory toys and fidgets

  • chewelry

  • weighted blankets or vests

  • earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones

  • calming essential oils

If you think a child may benefit from any of these tools, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist. They can help you choose the right products and provide guidance on how to use them properly.

Both sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children benefit from routine and predictability. Try to establish a daily routine with set times for meals, play, and sleep. This will help the child feel more comfortable and secure.

Be patient and understanding. Both sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children are unique individuals who learn and process information differently. Do not expect them to behave in a certain way or meet your expectations. Try to be open-minded and adapt your parenting & education style to best meet their needs.

Remember, every child is different! So if you have a child who seems to exhibit mostly seeker behaviors, or a child who is more sensitive, don’t worry. They will still thrive with the right supports in place.

Sensory issues can be tricky to navigate, but with the right information and support, you can help the child thrive!

Please note that this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist.

Sensory activities they may enjoy:

Easy Sensory Activities for Kids
20 Self-Regulating Activities for Kids

What are the signs and symptoms of SPD?

SPD has a lot of signs and symptoms but all of these symptoms may or may not appear altogether. SPD symptoms are grouped into the following:

People suffering from over-responsivity might:

  • Dislike textures such as those found in fabrics, foods, grooming products or other materials found in daily living, to which most people would not react. This dislike interferes with normal function.

  • Avoid crowds and noisy places

  • Motion sickness (not related to other medical explanations)

  • Refuse normal skin contact interactions (kissing, cuddling or hugging) due to negative experience of touch sensation (not to be confused with shyness or social difficulties)

  • Feel seriously discomforted, sick or threatened by normal sounds, lights, movements, smells, tastes, or even inner sensations such as heartbeat.

  • Be picky eaters

  • Have sleep disorders (waking up to minor sounds, problems getting sleep because of sensory overload)

  • Find it difficult to self calm, feel constantly under stress

People suffering from under-responsivity:

  • Show extreme difficulties waking up

  • Appear unreactive and slow

  • Be unaware of pain and/or other people

  • Might appear deaf even when auditory function has been tested

  • Child might be difficult being toilet trained, unaware of being wet or soiled

People suffering from sensory craving might:

  • Fidget excessively

  • Seek or make loud, disturbing noises

  • Climb, jump and crash constantly

  • Seek “extreme” sensations

  • Suck on or bite clothing, fingers, pencils, etc.

  • Appear impulsive

People suffering from sensory motor based problems might:

  • Appear slow and uncoordinated

  • Feel clumsy, slow, poor motor skills or handwriting

  • Have poor posture

  • Children might be delayed in crawling, standing, walking or running

  • Become verbose to avoid motor tasks

People suffering from sensory discrimination problems might:

  • Drop things constantly Have poor handwriting

  • Difficulty dressing and eating Use inappropriate force to handle objects

Other signs and symptoms:

  • Poorly integrated balance and rightening reflexes

  • Low muscle tone patterns

  • Poor core tone

  • Low postural control (may appear hunchback)

  • Poor nystagmus (or involuntary eye movement)

  • Presence of non integrated reflexes

  • Jerky eye tracking

  • Poor tactile astereognosis (inability to identify an object by active touch of the hands without other sensory input) Inadequate motor, ideational or constructional praxis

  • Difficulties with planning movement using feedback information

  • Difficulties with planning movement using feedforward information

  • Poor motor coordination

Image courtesy of
Diagram of SPD symptoms

How is SPD treated?

Therapies are used to treat SPD:

Sensory integration therapy – in this therapy, the therapist works closely with the child to provide a level of sensory stimulation that the child can cope with, and encourage movement within the room. Sensory integration therapy is driven by four main principles:

  • Just right challenge (the child must be able to successfully meet the challenges that are presented through playful activities)

  • Adaptive response (the child adapts his behavior with new and useful strategies in response to the challenges presented)

  • Active engagement (the child will want to participate because the activities are fun)

  • Child directed (the child’s preferences are used to initiate therapeutic experiences within the session)

Sensory processing therapy – the same as sensory integration therapy but adds the following: Intensity (person attends therapy daily for a prolonged period of time) Developmental approach (therapist adapts to the developmental age of the person, against actual age) Test-retest systematic evaluation (all clients are evaluated before and after) Process driven vs. activity driven (therapist focuses on the “Just right” emotional connection and the process the reinforces the relationship) Parent education (parent education sessions are scheduled into the therapy process) “joie de vivre” (happiness of life is therapy’s main goal, attained through social participation, self-regulation, and self-esteem) Combination of best practice interventions (is often accompanied by integrated listening system therapy, floor time, and electronic media such as Xbox Kinect, Nintendo Wii, Makoto II machine training and others) Developmental, Individual

Difference, Relationship-based (DIR) model – developed by Stanley Greenspan, MD, and Serena Wieder, PhD, where parents are first asked to follow the child’s lead, even if the playtime behavior isn’t typical. For example, if a child is rubbing the same spot on the floor over and over, the parent does the same. These actions allow the parent to “enter” into the child’s world.[17] This is followed by a second phase, where parents use the play sessions to create challenges for the child. The challenges help pull the child into what Greenspan calls a “shared” world with the parent. And the challenges create opportunities for the child to master important skills in areas such as[17]: Relating Communicating Thinking

A major part of this therapy is the “floortime” method. The method involves multiple sessions of play with the child and parent. The play sessions last about 20 minutes.

My Favorite:
The Listening Program 

The function of the ear is to feel and hear sounds and movement. It is referred to as the vestibular-cochlear system. The cochlea is the part of the ear that is our hearing sense organ, responding to minute vibrations and differences in sound waves. The vestibular portion of the ear detects movement of the head in space. It is considered the organizer of our body senses. It is our internal ear, allowing us to understand time and space from our body’s perspective. It has a strong impact on muscle tone, posture, balance, coordination, integration of the two body sides, visual spatial skills, emotional responses and motor-planning.

The vestibular-cochlear system is the first to develop in the utero and provides the foundation for both time and space organization of all other sensory systems. Therapeutic Listening® treatment stimulates and exercises the vestibular-cochlear system. It is designed to enhance the accuracy of the sensory information sent from the vestibular-cochlear system of the ear to its multiple connections throughout the nervous system.

TLP is reknown for benifiting individuals with the following difficulties:

  • Regulating sleep patterns

  • Restricted diet and eating patterns/habits

  • Reduced attention and difficulties sustaining concentration for tasks e.g. school work

  • Communication difficulties, delayed speech development

  • Regulating emotional and behavioural responses e.g. tantrums, anxiety, flattened emotional responses/expressions

  • Irregularities in toilet training

  • Reduced social skills, engagement and reduced self-esteem & confidence

  • Delayed or awkward motor skills; coordination, planning and balance

  • Handwriting difficulties

  • Visual perceptual difficulties

  • Disorganisation, impulsive behaviours or anxiety

  • Autism, Aspergers and ADD/ADHD

  • Sensory Processing Disorders

  • Downs Syndrome

  • Learning Difficulties

This approach builds on all of the scientific knowledge about sensory-motor integration as CNS organizer for meaningful function. The Listening Program® (TLP) includes the addition of music through the use of electronically altered music and natural sounds to impact the central nervous system. This addition of music ties brainstem integration together with limbic system integration leading to more organized and functional behaviour outcomes. The addition of the auditory system to this treatment equation provides the considerable and unique power of uniting brainstem, limbic system, and cerebral cortex in the support of the development and emergence of higher cortical and cognitive function.

Information adapted from Steven J. Cool, PhD, FAAO in Vitallinks Newsletter 2004.

What are the benefits of The Listening Program®?

When TLP is coupled with a sensory integration framework it enhances the emergence of:

  • Attention & focus

  • Self-regulation

  • Postural Control

  • Praxis (motor planning), balance & coordination

  • Fine motor skills

  • “Evenness” or more regulated emotional & behavioural responses

  • Oral motor control and improved eating habits

  • Communication, articulation and social skills

  • Increased engagement and interaction, development of play skills

  • Visual motor integration

  • Improved sleep patterns

  • Toilet training

Beyond Music, The Science Behind The Listening Program

Beyond Music, The Science Behind The Listening Program

People often ask, “What makes The Listening Program so effective, and how is it different from regular music or other programs?” In this article, we make it easy for you to describe the unique psychoacoustic modifications of TLP in simple and applicable ways to your clients. One modification to call attention to is Spatial Surround™, which simulates the natural environment by allowing the listener to experience the movement of the music in all directions, stimulating and integrating both sides of the brain, and maximizing the benefits in each session.

Read Blog Post

The Listening Program® is a neuroscience-based music listening therapy for achieving optimum brain health and functioning and all you have to do is put the headset on your children and let them listen to the healing sounds of nature and neuro-engineered music selections from Advanced Brain Technology. They are currently offering a 7 day free trial. 

The Listening Program® is not like any music you’ve heard before. It’s more than music. It’s music that works—to improve your mental, physical, and emotional health. You might want to order a splitter for your headphones so you can listen too. -Just saying...

All TLP music has been painstakingly recorded and engineered and features performances by world-class musicians including the award-winning Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble (under the musical direction of Richard Lawrence) and composer and master ethno-percussionist Nacho Arimany, among others.

Using the highest audio quality recording technology (high-definition sound) and advanced neuro-acoustic techniques, TLP music has been acoustically modified to train your brain. It strengthens neurological pathways so you can improve your ability to learn, communicate, and process information.

TLP can benefit most anyone, and applications are wide ranging, from rehabilitation to wellness and peak performance. TLP can be used in schools, hospitals, therapy clinics, assisted living facilities, companies, athletic and music programs, in homes, and on military bases—and more.

To view or purchase a poster on the benifits of TLP with accumlative stress
For more programs for nuero-divergant individuals from Advanced Brain Technology, click on the links below.

For more on Sensory Processing please refer to the following great posts:
What is SPD? by Lemon and Lime Adventures
Ideas for how to cope with SPD by Golden Reflections Blog
Identifying SPD signs by Kim’s Counseling Corner
Myths about SPD by The Inspired Treehouse

Sensory Interventions at Home

As a very observant parent, you will notice or observe and then make notes in a journal of any sensory irregularity and anomalies that are unique to your child or different than the norm. Most children develop their own bio-rhythm and you can notice and record difficulties controlling energy levels or ability to play cooperatively or focus, as well. 

If meltdowns are occurring after your child experiences certain feelings or triggers, then note the perceived cause, the behavior, responses or sensory interventions that did or did not calm them. You should see a pattern developing and then you can teach your child better responses.

It is very important to closely observe your child and take note of the following to help design a “diet” that is right for your child:

  • Times of day that are especially challenging 

  • Response to transitions between settings and tasks 

  • Activities and routines that your child over-reacts to or avoids 

  • Activities that your child engages in for extended periods 

  • Preferred activities 

  • Challenging behaviors during meals or daily hygiene 

  • How your child reacts to clothing (fabric, sleeve length, etc.) 

  • How he/she reacts to food texture, tastes, smells, temperature, etc. 

  • Relationships with peers and adults 

  • Times when your child is especially active or inactive 

What is a Daily Rhythm Chart?

What is a daily rhythm and what makes it different from a schedule? Schedules are often rigid, encompass each moment of the day and follow a clock. A daily rhythm on the other hand is fluid and leaves time for spontaneity, while still providing a general pattern to our days.

A daily rhthm is much more flexible. Though the exact time at which things happen might change day to day, the general flow of events is quite similar, even season to season. For example, in summer, bedtime might be a bit later, but the events leading up to it remain the same. In the summer more free play will be spent outside, and walks might be quite a bit longer than in winter.

Daily Rhythm - Montessori in Real Life

In a world so big, young children are often overwhelmed, but having a daily rhythm allows them a sense of control over knowing what comes next. This is empowering and comforting to them, and often for us as adults too! 

A daily rhythm also allows us to move at a slower pace. Rather than pack in a bunch of events (even fun ones!) into a day, we can make sure there is plenty of time for free play. This allows children time to become engrossed in whatever they are drawn towards and to recognise and expect their bio-rythms to be adjusted by sensory interventions if they need it. 

In our house, Hope needed some theraputic music when she woke up and most of the morning. She hated to put on or wear clothes. She cried like they caused her excrutiating pain. So it was her gentle time if the day. We created sensory or process art or swang or played outside. Mornings were all about things she loved to do plus organizing and focusing sensory strategies. We spent some time outside in freeplay or a walk. Then lunch and a nap with theraputic music. 

Afternoons were about learning or experiencing something new together, boppy and floortime and visiting friends or running errands. She was cheerful and focused so it was a social time of the day. I usually planned some sort of workout or heavy sensory intervention to wear her out just before I had to get dinner ready. 

When Daddy got home she loved to show him her art and what she learned.  I studied and Russ and Hope played and played rambunciously until she needed to calm down with a sensory intervention,TV or a movie, Then storytime, sensory pats on her back while theraputic drifted her off to sleep. 

View full-size

Copy of Activity Planner Instagram Story.png

View full-size


View full-size


Following a daily rhythm allows for more flexibility than a strict schedule. No day is exactly the same, nor should it be. We travel and go on day trips and adventures. We have playdates and soccer class. Some events happen 1x a week and some 1x a month. Some are planned and some are spontaneous. A daily rhythm allows for this flexibility while still meeting everyone’s needs for routine.  It also can allow for some sensory play to even up their energy levels.

How can you create a daily rhythm?

What works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another. Your daily rhythm will look different than mine. If you are interested in creating one but don’t know where to start, first begin with the fixed aspects of your day (such as mealtimes, naps, or school) and then plan a rhythm around that. It also helps to jot down things you want to happen every day (e.g.  periods for uninterrupted play, walks, reading) and add those in. There may be other things (e.g. art projects, baking together, library outings) that you make a specific day for each week, or just choose to do spontaneously. When creating your daily rhythm, try to avoid adding the times, at least at first. Focus more on the pattern of events, to reduce pressure and let the day happen organically.

I have included a template you can print to create a daily rhythm yourself! Click the image below to download.

Daily Rhythm Template

Your child's sensory needs will change as their body grows and CNS develops and in response to the use of the sensory diet activities, accommodations, and strategies.

Sensory Seeker Checklist Free PDF Download

When Should You Start Sensory Play?

Read More

sensory overload children

Sensory Overload in Children

Read More

mom sensory overload

Sensory Overload as a Mom

Read More

Common Sensory Triggers for Kids

19 Common Sensory Triggers

sign of sensory issues in kids

26 Signs & Symptoms of Sensory Issues

sensory differences

What is the difference between sensory seeking and sensory sensitive?

Read More

Sensory Rhythms or "Diets"

In the end, the best way to identify your child’s needs in order to create their sensory plan or diet is to observe them. See what types of activities or experiences seem to help them stay focused and regulated.

An occupational therapist, Patricia Wilbarger, proposed the concept of sensory diets in 1995. It is my advice to talk to the child’s occupational therapist or other healthcare professional for guidance on creating a sensory diet that is tailored to the child’s individual needs.

This sensory diet template below will help you get started. If you’re not sure where to begin when creating a sensory diet for your child, we’ve got you covered!

I’ve been there. It can be an overwhelming task to try and figure out what activities to include in a sensory diet or when to include them in your daily schedule. I hope that this process can be a little bit easier for you with my help.

Free Sensory Diet PDF

Free Sensory Diet Template

In this download, you will receive a one-page PDF with the template seen above. If you need assistance in filling out the document, see our post on how to make a sensory diet.

Simply print it out and fill in the specific events where you think the child can benefit from a sensory activity/tool. Make an inventory of the activities you believe to be beneficial for the child.

Then, put together a schedule of when each activity will be done throughout the day. And that’s it! You’re on your way to creating a sensory diet that will help the child feel more regulated and better able to cope with the demands of daily life.

Here’s my best advice when creating a sensory diet:

1. Start slow and gradually add in new activities as the child becomes more comfortable with the concept
2. Be creative and have fun with it! There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to a sensory diet, so feel free to get creative and tailor the activities to the child’s individual needs and interests
3. Involve the whole family! A sensory diet can be a great way to bond with the child and help everyone in the family learn more about how to support the child’s needs
4. Make sure to involve an occupational therapist or another licensed professional in the creation of the child’s sensory diet to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for their individual needs

Individual Sensory Diet or Plan Template

Recommended Content

When Sensory Anomalies& Irregularities turn into Emotionsand Behaviors

Zones of Regulation Review & Emotional Regulation Printables

How can a tool like the Zones of Regulation help you support your child’s emotional regulation skills?

Perhaps your child loses it at the slightest frustration. Maybe emotional and sensory meltdowns are a part of your daily routine.

Friend, is that you banging your head against a wall? Girl, I hear you loud and clear. It’s not easy navigating intense emotions… our own and our kids.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I want to do more than just survive, I’ve got to equip my kids (and myself).

If this resonates, you’re in the right place.

Today, let’s discuss the value of using visual tools like the Zones of Regulation and other printables to help kids of all ages develop emotional regulation strategies.

emotional regulation chart

Meltdowns Impact the Entire Family

Daily, moms and kids alike are being slammed with layer upon layer of stress.

I’m sure you’ll agree that we’ve all experienced some form of anxiety.

Often, we adults don’t respond to our anxiety in the healthiest, most appropriate ways. 

  • We snap at our hubbies,

  • Yell too loudly at our kids,

  • or shovel chocolate chips down our throats (Wait. Is that just me?)

However we choose to release tension, if we don’t identify the cause, we may end up with broken relationships with those we love. 

Or, if you are in the chocolate chip shoveling crew (please tell me I’m not alone), your waistline and health take a hit.  

29 Best Sensory Toys for Autism, ADHD, & Anxiety 2023

Behavior Is Communication

Behavior is information and a form of communication.

When kids “act out,” they’re communicating something that they can’t easily verbalize.

Think about it this way.

We, moms, know the frustration when we can’t find a word.

furious wife steam coming from ears

“Honey, can you please get me that thing off of the thing?”

My husband looks at me with a blank stare.

My blood starts to boil.

The Need to Communicate

Jenny, Mike, Sarah, Sam…

Think about how often we have to run through all of our kids’ names (let alone our hubby’s and pets’ names) before we say the right one.

That alone can be so frustrating.

Like us, kids become frustrated when they can’t communicate what they’re experiencing. Truthfully, they often legitimately don’t have the language to pinpoint it.

Without the ability to let it out verbally, kids act out behaviorally.

That’s when emotional and self-regulation tools can support positive mental health for the entire family.


47 Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids Every Mom Needs!

What is Self-Regulation?

These days, we constantly hear about self-regulation, but what exactly is it, and should it be the goal?

Self-regulation is often described as:

  • How people monitor their internal emotional states and adjust them to respond in a way that’s appropriate for the social context

And while on the surface, this may appear to be a noble skill for children and adults, there are a couple of problems with it.

  1. Appropriate responses for the social context are most often based on neurotypical social behaviors,

  2. Self-regulation cannot happen without co-regulation first

What’s Co-Regulation?

Children can’t learn healthy self-regulation without first experiencing co-regulation with a safe consistent caregiver.

Additionally, children must have the opportunity to learn about their emotions and internal states of arousal (alertness).

Further, they need support to develop different emotional regulation strategies that work for them.

Even more importantly, they need to practice using their growing emotional awareness and coping skills.

Let me repeat this. Kids need SAFE opportunities to practice using newly acquired self-regulation skills.

Listen to episode 23 of the podcast, How to Parent an Angry Kid, for more support.


Anger Management for Autistic Children (Not ABA)

What Are the Zones of Regulation?

Resources based on the Zones of Regulation are a great teaching tool for kids and adults.

The Zones of Regulation curriculum was designed by an occupational therapist, Leah Kuypers, MA. Ed, OTR-L.

According to the Zones of Regulation website, the Zones curriculum uses a cognitive behavior therapy approach to help people,

regulate… feelings, energy, and sensory needs… to meet the demands of the situation around us and be successful socially.

The entire program is available on the Social Thinking Company website. However, the chart alone is a great resource.

Specifically, it’s a visual tool that helps children identify and communicate their different emotions. Within a Zones of Regulation chart emotions and physical sensations are categorized within different zones.

Each zone is a different color and represents different levels of alertness often associated with different emotional states.

The Zones of Regulation at MY Home

I was originally introduced to the Zones curriculum by my son’s developmental pediatrician.

In those earlier visits with her, my son was unregulated, agitated, and hypervigilant.

He was all over the place and he NEVER SLEPT.

To the untrained eye, he appeared to have classic ADHD. (Note: Anxiety in children can look IDENTICAL to ADHD.)

Because of this (and the horrified, exhausted desperate look in my eyes), she handed us a lifeline.

They were a lifesaver for my family.

Learn More in Behind the Behavior Book!

white parenting book for special needs adoptive moms on white table with coffee mug and greenery lying next to it

Yes! Tell me more about Behind the Behavior!

What I Learned from The Zones of Regulation

I truly believe that what I learned from this emotional regulation tool was my greatest gift.

When we adults see children struggling with difficult behavior, we must shift our perspective on how we respond.

If we only see outward behavior at face value, we don’t solve the actual problem.

Kids (and adults) need to learn their own triggers without shame. Then, they need to be equipped to respond in healthy ways.

When a child behaves in a way that appears outwardly disrespectful, adults have to pause and take a deep breath.

Then we must step back and think about what may be happening behind the behavior.

When we identify root issues, without getting “offended by” kid behavior, we’re able to propel the needle forward.

What Does Each Zone Mean?

In the official Zones of Regulation, there are four zones.

  1. Green Zone

  2. Yellow Zone

  3. Red Zone

  4. Blue Zone

To get us on the same page, let’s dive into the different zones and what each one means. Remember that each zone is meant to help children identify various emotions as well as their level of alertness.

In the end, these zones foster self-regulation and social-emotional learning.


11 Best Feelings Picture Books for Kids (That Every Family Needs)

29 Best Sensory Toys for Autism, ADHD & Anxiety (2023)

Green Zone

The green zone represents emotional states such as:

  • focused

  • happy

  • content

  • confident

  • peaceful

  • in control

Further, when in the green zone, the level of alertness feels safe.

Yellow Zone

Within the yellow zone, you’ll notice different emotions such as:

  • worried

  • hungry

  • grumpy

  • scared

  • silly

  • confused

  • embarrassed

  • impatient

These are often accompanied by a higher state of alertness.

zones of regulation at home, supporting our kids' emotional and self-regulation

Red Zone

The red zone is represented by the highest level of arousal or alertness. Specifically, the red zone includes strong feelings such as:

  • excited

  • hyper

  • angry

  • scared

  • panicked

  • frustrated

  • starving

  • raging

It’s important to note that there is no one ideal zone. Children should never associate strong emotions as bad just because they’re intense.

The goal is to help children use these types of visual tools to grow their problem-solving skills and level of emotional control. In the end, this will happen over decades and not in one fell swoop.


47 Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids Every Mom Needs!

Blue Zone

The final zone is the blue zone which represents a lower level of arousal (alertness). Some of the blue feelings are:

  • sleepy

  • sad

  • bored

  • sick

  • shy

  • needs a break

Again, it’s very important to reiterate that there’s no best state of alertness.

In fact, the goal of such self-regulation tools is to grow students’ understanding of their internal states of being (interoception).


11 Best Feelings Picture Books for Kids (That Every Family Needs)

29 Best Sensory Toys for Autism, ADHD & Anxiety (2023)

Benefits of the Zones of Regulation

Tools based on the Zones of Regulation can be very helpful for a number of different reasons.

First, when children can properly identify their own feelings, they’re better able to choose different ways of responding to their own needs.

Children learn a number of social-emotional life skills that will serve them in the long term.

Again, it’s essential that children and adults understand that no zone is the appropriate zone. No emotional state or alertness level is right or wrong.

The goal should NOT be to be in the “green zone” at all times.

By practicing mindfulness, and an awareness of what’s going on internally, children and adults are better able to offer themselves compassion at any given moment.

When we love ourselves, we’re better able to love others. (Matthew 22:39)


29 Best Sensory Toys for Autism, ADHD, & Anxiety (2023)

Negatives of Zones of Regulation

One criticism of many social-emotional tools is their focus on neurotypical norms as the best.

This has led to the tragic marginalization of neurodivergent children and adults. Autistic children as well as those with ADHD, sensory integration challenges, and many others have unique ways of experiencing the world.

These children and adults are different, not less. This means when using social-emotional learning tools in a classroom, we must seek the representation of all learners in the whole class.

Unfortunately, Zones of Regulation and Social Thinking Company uses terms that are often damaging to neurodivergent children. For example, when discussing social interactions with peers.

  • Unexpected behaviors vs expected behaviorsNeurodivergent social skills and responses are labeled “unexpected”With the message that autistic children need to act in “expected” non-autistic ways

A great way to support all children is to take a more inclusive approach that fosters understanding and compassion.

Inclusive Social-Emotional Learning

This means teaching the majority group (neurotypicals) about the value of minority neurotypes.

Some simple ways to do this in a school, children’s ministry, or family include:

  1. Discussing the unique sensory experiences of each of your children or students

  2. Creating a culture of emotional intelligence and acceptance by reading:Feelings booksSensory processing booksStories and books written by neurodivergent authorsBooks with neurodivergent protagonists

  3. Removing behavioral charts in classrooms

  4. Parents and teachers model their personal deep breaths when overwhelmedNormalizing the use of emotional self-regulation.

  5. Teachers and parents value behavior choices that indicate compassion rather than competition

  6. Celebrating Autism Acceptance Month and not Autism Awareness

  7. Removing the stigmatizing Puzzle Piece from all schools and using the Infinity Symbol

  8. Listening to Autism-led Advocacy Groups instead of groups such as Autism Speaks

In the end, if we’ve learned anything, it’s to listen to the marginalized. Their voices matter.

Different Tools and Printable Activities

Different children have different needs. Fortunately, there are many additional resources to help you support your child or students develop their social-emotional skills.

I’ve created an emotional regulation printable series that can be used in a number of different ways and in different environments.

At the bottom of the post, you’ll be able to download the free printables.

Included are a number of supplementary emotional regulation visual tools:

  • My Feelings Are Clues Printables

  • Right Now I Feel printableIncludes an area to draw a facial expression for the feeling

  • Today, I Felt printableIncludes morning, noon, and evening sections

  • What’s My Body Feeling? printable

Learning Healthy Self-Regulation Starts at Home

Think about this.

  • How many adults do you know that don’t know how to handle their emotions?

I’d guess that we all know someone in this category.

We all know we’ve had our adult temper tantrums, right?

We’re just people.

Here’s the thing. We fill our kids’ heads with a ton of information about math and reading.

However, we fail to help kids learn how to process life’s tough situations.

I think you’d agree that we must prioritize their long-term mental health if we want them to thrive into adulthood.

For neurodivergent children (ADHD, Autism, sensory processing, or any executive functioning issues), it’s a non-negotiable. We must support them with emotional regulation tools.

Recap: Zones of Regulation & Emotional Regulation Printables

Fortunately, we live in a day and age that is learning to prioritize the emotional well-being of our children.

By providing children and families with emotional regulation support, we’re able to change the narrative for so many. Again, we have different choices in the types of tools we use.

Don’t forget to sign up for your free downloadable visuals and enjoy them with:

  • your own children and family,

  • younger students in preschool,

  • small groups in the church,

  • special education environments,

  • tweens and teens

Remember the goal is to support the development of healthy emotional regulation skills for all. Be flexible and work with your child or students to grow together.

Yes! I want to FREE Printables!


29 Best Sensory Toys for Autism, ADHD, & Anxiety (2022)

47 Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids Every Mom Needs!

How to Stop Your Child’s Hitting: Use Real Discipline

What is Autism Masking & Is It Hurting Your Child?

11 Best Feelings Picture Books for Kids (Every Family Needs)

Sensory Strategies for Wild Kids

30 Unique Sensory Play Ideas

Sensory play is any type of activity that engages the senses. This includes touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight, and hearing. The possibilities are nearly endless. There are so many ideas out there, and we are using our senses constantly during everyday life. I’ve created this list of unique sensory play activities from as many …

Proprioceptive Input – 40 Activities for Sensory Seekers

What’s inside this article: Up to 95% of autistic children experience atypical sensory processing, so this article first looks at how proprioceptive input affects children with autism. But, it includes signs of sensory challenges that can affect up to 20% of children, as well as 40 different proprioceptive input activities. 

How to Respond to Big Emotions with Co-Regulation


Kids who are having a hard time regulating their bodies when big feelings arise don't need punishment or shame tactics. They need support.

Two quotes that I live by:

“Children aren’t giving you a hard time, they are HAVING a hard time“

and #2,

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”-LR Knost

It’s our job to be a safe place for our kids to FEEL. And HOW can we do this?

Create a warm environment where all feelings and emotions are allowed. This involves validation, modeling awareness, regulating your OWN emotions.

Next time your kids whine, sound angry, frustrated, sad, overwhelmed — PAUSE and see that your child is not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time. Create that safe space for them to FEEL.

With tools and support, we really can love our way through these uncomfortable feelings.

Regulation is a skill, and to teach it we start with Co-Regulation.

Try Co-Regulation

Co-regulation is defined as “warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching, and modeling children need to ‘understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors’”

Download A FREE Co-Regulation Workbook to Get Started

What's your prescription for calming down?

  • Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Breathing

  • Animals

  • Taking a walk

  • Getting in water

  • Nature

  • Get a drink

  • Ask for help

  • Essential Oils

  • Coach yourself

  • Ask for a hug

  • Listen to music

  • Stretch

  • Crystals

  • Counting

  • Draw a picture

  • Squeeze a stress ball

  • Something else???

Now take something from your list and help your kid do it! Easy? Easy! Kinda… Sensory Checklist

“Co-regulation is a precursor to self-regulation. If adults are deregulated, children learn to be dyregulated as well.”-DR. ANN-LOUISE LOCKHART
Organizing, Alerting, and Calming activity ideas for kids for home, classroom, or therapy.

These can be used in school, at home, in homeschool routines, really anywhere. There is also a free printable packet of all the ideas below for you to grab.

Some Tips for Co-Regulating

  • Hold Space (this happens inside YOU)

  • Expect that hard behaviors will happen

  • Choose to approach it with emotional intelligence.

  • Set that intention.

  • Use a quiet and calm voice

  • Get down to their level

  • Sit next to them

  • Establish routines (predictability helps kids feel safe and secure)

  • Validate child's feelings

  • Soothe your child

  • Offer hugs

  • Gentle rocking

  • Offer help

  • Supportive silence

  • Use "Safe Place" (sign up for co-regulation workbook and get the safe place one in the 2nd email) 

Alerting or Energizing Activities for Kids

Now for some Alerting Activities. These are great to use with kids who are quieter and tend to be lethargic. Also great to use after sitting activities to get the juices flowing again. Just make sure you do some type of calming activity after an Alerting activity before asking your child to sit back down to learn and work again.

  • Bouncing on a therapy ball

  • Upbeat music with a strong beat

  • Vibrations on the arms, hand or back

  • Swinging

  • Jumping on a mini-trampoline

  • Going outside

  • Heavy work activities (moving a stack of books, re-arranging chairs, etc)

  • Use two fingers on both sides of the spine, give a light upward stroke 3-5 times.

  • Controlled spinning (no more than 10 repetitions at a time – do not do this if there is any known heart or seizure history)

  • Jumping Jacks

  • Push-Ups or Wall Push-Ups

  • Skipping

  • Running (Relay races, obstacle courses, etc)

Children, in particular, those with special needs, often need many breaks throughout their school day to help them focus, stay on track, or calm in order to self-regulate. 

Organizing Activities for Kids

  • Heavy work (gives input to muscles and joints and causes fatigue)

  • Wall pushes with hands and feet.

  • Jumping on trampoline

  • Popcorn jumps  (jumping from a squat position and then landing back in a squat position)

  • Wheelbarrow walking

  • Crawling through tunnels

  • Obstacle course

  • Putting up/down chairs

  • Sitting on “move and sit” therapy ball during classroom activities

  • Passing the weighted balls

  • Scooter board on belly and bottom (wall push-offs) 10+ reps

  • Resistance Bands 

How’s Does Your Engine Run?

There are many ways to teach these zones to children, but our favorite way to is describe them as an Engine. I have a pamphlet ready for you

When children learn about their own “engines” and various strategies to keep their engine from running too high, they will be able to co-regulate with the help of their teacher and hopefully move to self-regulation.

A simple chart is a great tool to use for regulation check ins.  They can be used as a whole class check with large poster charts or individual check using a small chart on the desk.

The dialogue in the classroom switches from “You aren’t staying seated, go move your clip down”, to “Your engine seems to be running high, what can we do to calm your body so you can stay in your seat?”

Once students are taught about their engines, they need to be taught strategies to regulate.  There are many regulation strategies on Pinterest, Instagram and across the Internet.  Our favorite strategy chart is from Chapel Hill Snippets:

This chart gives student options for each zone as well as teacher strategies for prompts.

We are confident that once children are able to identify how their body is feeling, they can learn to incorporate strategies to stay in control of their emotions.

So next time you feel your body is out of control, ask yourself, “How’s my engine running?”

How to Support Their Sensory Needs

Sensory arousal level is similar to a mood regulator.  The just right challenge to balance these feelings is difficult. It is hard to regulate ones level of fatigue, happiness, frustration tolerance, focus, calm, or anxiety, to name a few.

Arousal level is similar to a wave. We move through this wave up and down all day long.  The key is to be in the middle of the wave, but this does not always happen. 

For some people, it rarely happens. Some people find their arousal level is generally low.  They are sluggish, despondent, depressed, lacking motivation, and unable to complete tasks. 

The other side of the wave are those folks who are always up.  They are in constant motion, on the go, fidgety, unable to stay on task, talk too much, get too close to other people, overexcited, and restless.  Either end of the wave is not as productive as the middle.

By changing a few things, the rest of the offensive stimuli is more tolerable. Coping strategies can support this need.

The just right challenge involves finding the middle of the wave. This is not easy. There are times when we add too much calming input to an overstimulated learner, only to find they went way past the middle, leaving them in a virtual coma. Or treatment included alerting activities to wake the sensory system. This overshot “normal” and now your learner is bouncing off of the walls.

With Evidenced Based Practice, practitioners are searching for research and hypotheses about the just right challenge. Rely on practice, observation, gathering data to that specific learner, and a lot of trial and error.

Heavy work – When it comes to sensory needs, heavy work is an option for the just right challenge in meeting differing needs. The proprioceptive system sends messages about our muscles and joints, and position in space.  It lets the brain know where the body is at that exact moment. 

Arousal level is regulated by proprioceptive input.  Proprioceptive input is gained through heavy work. 

Pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting, and exercising are examples of input.

Activities that provide input through the joints and receptors in the muscles/joints have a calming effect on sensory needs. Activities can be exercise-based (therapy bands, animal walks, jumping jacks, etc.) or they can be functional in nature (removing wet laundry from the washing machine, helping in the garden, vacuuming, etc.)

Activities can also be easily incorporated into environments and schedules such as utilizing a sports bottle with a straw or adding proprioceptive input into writing tasks with a weighted pencil. Activities below can be incorporated into an individual’s day to address needs of the proprioceptive sense.

Adaptations/Accommodations to offer heavy work input may include:

  • Traditional exercise

  • Weight lifting

  • Chores

  • Playing on playground equipment

  • Bicyling

  • Swimming

  • Yoga

  • Heavy work input through push and pull activities such as tug-of-war

  • Pulling a full wagon

  • Pushing a wheelbarrow

  • Pushing heavy chairs on a carpeted floor

  • Moving furniture

  • picking up and carrying a full laundry basket

  • Shoveling snow or dirt

  • Wearing a heavy backpack

  • Mopping floors

  • Carrying a stack of books

  • Wall push-ups

  • Chair push-ups

  • Wall sits (“sit” with the back against the wall as if on an imaginary chair)

  • Roll up in a blanket

  • Massage

  • Weighted blanket

These strategies can be part of a sensory diet that meets specific and individual sensory based needs.

Modification – adding external input to improve the sensory arousal level. A weighted or compression vest can add great input to help with regulation. 

There is controversy about the effectiveness of these vests, however they work well for many learners. Ankle weights can be added for input, regulation, and body awareness.

Take a sensory break – Sometimes less is more. There are times when the body needs a break from it all.  Curl up on the couch with a book, under a blanket, with the lights dimmed. Sit on the porch in a rocking chair feeling the breeze.  Young learners can benefit from afternoon quiet time to rest and reflect.  Slowing down takes practice.

Coping strategies– Using a variety of coping strategies can support sensory needs.

Focus on the good– Turning the focus onto student strengths is a great tactic! When we focus on the individual strengths, we can come up with meaningful and motivating strategies that meet differing needs. This is a huge component in creating a sensory lifestyle.

Create a Sensory Diet with this Template: Free PDF

Create a Sensory Diet with this Template: Free PDF

The ultimate guide to sensory diets that includes a sensory diet template PDF, powerful sensory diet examples, and 4 steps to create your own sensory diet today! Affiliate links used below. See our full disclosure. Are you hearing about a sensory diet for the first time? Wondering how to create a sensory diet for your child? While it may seem complicated, as an occupational therapist I’m here to break it all down into something that you understand, one step...


Where to next?

If you would like to read more about different sensory supports click here.

If you would to learn more about sensory processing and autism we recommend this article.

To learn even more about the senses and how to support sensory processing we recommend this online training.

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In

More Ideas for Movement


What’s inside this article: What brain breaks are and how they benefit kids, how and when to add them to kids’ daily routines, and instructions for 20 brain break activities. Free download of brain break activity cards at the bottom of this article. Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Brain breaks are an effective way …



What’s inside this article: A look at how and why heavy work activities help children with self-regulation and sensory seeking behaviors, plus a list of 60 heavy work activities for children. Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links Today we’re talking about heavy work activities for kids, and don’t worry, I’m not referring to child labor. …


What’s inside this article: 10 sensory activities for infants ages 0-12 months to encourage healthy sensory development throughout baby’s first year. Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Sensory information is the basis of all learning that’s why it only makes sense for new parents to engage in sensory activities for infants with their new bundle. …


What’s inside this article: A review of common types of sensory issues in children, a sensory checklist that allows you to identify your child’s sensory needs, and a list of sensory diet activities to view based on your responses. Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. A sensory diet is a carefully designed set of sensory …


What’s inside this article: A brief overview of the vestibular system and how these activities can benefit kids, then 52 vestibular input activities to try. When it comes to sensory activities, vestibular input activities are probably my favorite. When I first started learning about how sensory activities could help kids, I hadn’t heard of the …


What’s inside this article: An overview of how sensory play helps toddlers & preschools, followed by 58 sensory activities suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links Sensory play is a crucial part of early childhood development and it’s beneficial to all children.  So, it’s great to have a ton of sensory ideas for …


What’s inside this article: A look at the physical and cognitive benefits of exercise for children, instructions for an easy 8-minute workout for kids, and a free printable poster & printer-friendly instructions to use with your children. It’s no secret, children thrive on routine and structure. They also need physical activity, for more reasons than …


What’s inside this article: 16 behaviors that may indicate your child is a sensory seeker, and 32 activities you can try with your child to reduce sensory seeking behaviors and help them stay calm. Children who are sensory seekers are under-responsive to sensory input. They seek extra stimulation so they can stay regulated and calm. …


The weather is warming up and summer is just around the corner. If you’re looking for some outdoor sensory activities, you’ve come to the right place. Get ready to put away the sensory bins and check out these outdoor sensory activities to enjoy with your kids this summer. 

What is sensory overload? And how can I be Supportive?

Sensory overloaded = too much information

Parents and caretakers seem to flash the "over-stimulated"  term whenever a child or baby seems overwhelmed. Sensory overload is a term which describes the experience an individual receive too much sensory information from their sensory systems.  The brain is unable to process all of the information effectively.  It becomes overloaded. The behaviour response will vary but it usually triggers either a fight, flight or freeze response.  In this post we will explore:

  • Why sensory overload occurs

  • What sensory overload might look like

  • How you can help individuals experiencing sensory overload.

What does sensory overload look like?

Sensory overload can occur when a student’s brain has had so much sensory input that it cannot process any more.  This can lead to a meltdown, the child trying to remove themselves from the situation or may result in shut down.  Otherwise known as a fight, flight or freeze response.  This is the brain’s way of coping with the excess information it can’t process.


Meltdowns can look like tantrums but they are not the same.  They typically occur due to the child not being able to process or maybe move on from a situation.  It’s a temporary loss of control after a build-up.  Behaviours will vary between individual children.  Some children are very verbal, some cry and some become more aggressive.

Sensory Overload In Kids —

What It Is, Symptoms, & How to Help

What’s inside this article: An in depth look at sensory overload. Including what it is, what it looks like and feels like, and how to help stop or prevent sensory overload and sensory meltdowns.

Is there a child in your life who seems to become anxious, panicked, or overwhelmed very easily? Do they seem to be more sensitive to sounds, smells, and textures compared to other children their age?

If you said “yes” to those questions, they may be experiencing sensory overload.

Never heard of sensory overload before? Not sure what it is or what it looks like? Or maybe you already know that’s what’s happening, but you aren’t sure how to help.

Read on to learn everything you need to know.

What Is Sensory Overload?

Put simply, sensory overload occurs when the brain receives more information from the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound) than it can process and interpret at one time.

When this happens, people tend to feel overwhelmed or anxious. They may even start to panic, or meltdown.

Just about everyone experiences sensory overload at one time or another. However, for some, including highly sensitive people and those with certain conditions, it can happen more frequently, and it may be triggered more easily.

It may even interfere with their quality of life and make it hard (or sometimes impossible) for them to participate in certain activities.

What Causes Sensory Overload?

At this time, it’s not clear exactly what causes sensory overload. However, some research suggests certain people may be more biologically inclined to struggle with it. We all experience stimuli differently, some people’s senses being more sensitive than others – this is known as the sensory spectrum.

We are also more sensitive to different stimuli due to external factors — if we haven’t slept, have a headache or aren’t feeling well, we are more easily bothered by noises, people, temperature, etc.

The researchers who conducted this study discovered abnormalities in the white matter of the brain in children with sensory processing disorders. White matter is composed of nerve fibers and is responsible for transferring information within the brain.  

There may be a biological component to a person’s experiences with sensory overload. There is also, in some cases, a “nurture” component to this issue. For example, someone who experienced trauma may be more sensitive to certain types of sensory inputs (such as loud noises) than others.

The Sensory Spectrum

The term “the sensory spectrum” describes the array of sensory differences that exist from person to person. How we experience and interpret various stimuli is an individualized experience.

Additionally, we all have sensory preferences. These are things we enjoy and avoid. This is called a sensory bias. It’s the reason why we like different foods, music, activities, etc.

A sensory bias is only a problem when it severely restricts or limits productivity. Or, when it chronically interferes with enjoyment in life.

Conditions Related to Sensory Overload

Anyone can feel sensory overload. However, people with the following conditions may be more sensitive to stimuli and more likely to experience sensory overload symptoms:

  • Autism

  • ADHD

  • Sensory Processing Disorder

  • PTSD (or children who had adverse childhood experiences – ACE’s)

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • Down Syndrome

  • Tourette’s

  • Other developmental disorders

What Does Sensory Overload Feel Like?

Sensory overload can cause a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. It can also vary from person to person.

The following are some of the most commonly reported ones:

  • Extreme irritability or agitation

  • Overwhelmed

  • An urge to cover your ears, eyes, or run away from a situation or place

  • Feelings of anxiety or fear

  • Wanting everything around you to just “pause”

  • Disoriented

  • An inability to ignore sensory inputs (loud sounds, strong smells, etc.)

  • Unable to focus

  • Overheating or dizziness

These feelings can range from mild to severe and worsen the longer the person is exposed the overwhelming stimuli.

What Does Sensory Overload Look Like?

If a parent or teacher doesn’t know what to look for, it might be hard for them to tell when a child is experiencing sensory overload.

Sometimes, it seems like kids are intentionally acting out, avoiding school work, or being defiant. This is especially the case during a sensory meltdown.  

If your child is experiencing sensory overload, you may notice some of the following behaviors:

Restlessness and difficulty sitting still

  • Unable to sit still

  • Trying to leave certain locations or situations (for example, the classroom during group activities)

  • Covering their face or closing their eyes

  • Covering their ears

  • Crying

  • Outbursts or sudden intense frustration

  • Aggression or agitation

  • Not communicating what’s wrong

  • Not listening to what you’re saying to them

  • Meltdowns

Children often can’t communicate directly that they are feeling overwhelmed or experiencing sensory overload, so it’s important to notice their behavior and try to reflect on what’s happening on the inside.  

There’s always a reason for misbehavior, even when we can’t see it.

How To Deal With Sensory Overload

This is important. So you have a child or student who is getting overstimulated – how can you help?

If your child frequently struggles with sensory overload, it may be beneficial to speak with an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapists know how to assess children’s sensory needs and create a sensory diet to help them. A sensory diet is a carefully designed set of activities that support a person’s sensory needs and help to reduce sensory processing challenges.

When children are experiencing sensory overload, parents and teachers can use a variety of strategies to calm them down, as well.

De-Escalation Strategies

If your child starts experiencing sensory overload, scolding them or telling them to “get over it” is not a helpful strategy

What they need is to feel supported and have their feelings validated. Emotion coaching is a great communication tool for this.

If possible, they should have an exit strategy, if they need to get away from an overwhelming situation. For example, if there’s a party at the house, maybe they need to go to their room and take a break from all the guests who are talking loudly around them.  

Basically, they need a way to dim or remove the sensory input that’s overwhelming them.

Afterwards, guiding your child through some breathing exercises or mindfulness exercises to help calm down the nervous system is helpful, too. However, you need to teach these calm – down skills when your child is calm, not in the heat of the moment.

Prevention Strategies

Knowing how to help stop sensory overload is important. But, being able to prevent it from happening in the first place is even better.

Some of the most effective strategies to try are listed below:

  • Identify your child’s triggers, and plan ahead to avoid them or reduce their intensity

  • Have a safe, calming space your child can use when they’re overwhelmed.

  • Have a sensory room where they can explore sensory input safely or using calming sensory tools

  • Use tools to minimize sensory input, such as noise-reducing headphones, or fluorescent light covers.

You can read more detailed and specific prevention tips here.

The more you know about sensory overload, the easier it is to support your child and help them to feel safe.

The following articles may help you prevent, or stop, sensory meltdowns or overload.

Spread the love

Recommended ContentRecommended ContentRecommended Content

Sensory overload – how to help in the moment

Here are some ideas you can use to help to support individuals in the moment if they are experiencing sensory overload.

Reduce demands on the individual immediately

So, stop the task and if possible move from the environment if it is overwhelming.

Give the individual time to calm down and regulate

Time is essential.  And, consider giving double the time that you might think is needed.  Also, never ask ‘Why?’ in the moment, this question will be far too hard to process.

Stop talking

This is really important!  Your words just add to the sensory inputs that the individual needs to process and adds to the overload.

Find a quiet space

Look for a space where the individual is comfortable and where there are little to no sensations.  Ideally, it should be quiet. Some individuals like it to be darker as well.

Use a strategy or support you know will help them to regulate

This will be different for each individual.  It could be a massage, or a fidget toy.  It might be going under a weighted blanket.  Or, even just going for a walk or getting a drink.

Continue to give them time

I cannot stress this enough.  The individual will likely need much more time than you think is necessary, to regulate and calm down

One of the most helpful things to remember when an individual is experiencing sensory overload is to reduce or remove the inputs that are causing the overload.  Also, make sure you stop talking as well!


If a child’s sensory system is dysregulated, there is good news: there are many ways to help! There is a catch though – there is no “one size fits all”. Trial and error is the name of the game with sensory interventions.

Once you and your child find out what works for them and their changing environments, they will have a deeper understanding of themselves, and display improved behaviors in no time! 

Check out these resources for sensory integration, calming exercises, self-regulation activities, and more! 

Tactile Sensory Input:

Heavy Work/ Propceptive Sensory Input:

Vestibular Sensory Input:

Combined Sensory Input:

Deep Breathing Activities:


If you have tried everything, and are feeling a bit lost, you are not alone! Sensory dysregulation is tricky. It should be considered alongside many other aspects of why a child reacts a certain way. In addition to behavior, emotions, and self-regulation; history, habits, trauma, and mental status can have a powerful influence on actions, too. 

Keep trying – some things may feel like a roadblocks but there are specific action strategies you can use!

How to Help Regulate Your Teens Nervous System


Are you familiar with using breathing exercises to calm yourself down when feeling anxious or agitated? If so, then you've already dabbled in the practice of down-regulation. And what about when you're feeling tired and disconnected - have you ever tried a quick burst of rapid breathing or a brisk walk to perk yourself up? If so, then you've already engaged in up-regulation.

Up-regulation and down-regulation may sound complicated, but they're just fancy terms for common everyday practices like breathing exercises or brisk walks. Up-regulation refers to increasing arousal and activation in your nervous system, while downregulation means decreasing it. You've probably already tried these practices without realizing it.

As a clinical psychologist, I have a deep appreciation for the complexity of the nervous system. Based on my personal experience and experience working with clients, I have learned several strategies that can be used to effectively down and up-regulate the nervous system. For more of a deep dive on the fundamentals of the nervous system, you can see my deep dive article on the neurodivergent nervous system over here.

In today’s blog post, I'll take you through the basics of upregulation and downregulation, including the window of tolerance, hyperarousal and hypoarousal, nervous system mapping, and strategies for effectively managing your nervous system. So, let's dive in!

The Window of Tolerance

The window of tolerance is like the sweet spot of our nervous system, where our emotions and reactions are just right. Think of it like Goldilocks and the three bears - not too hot, not too cold, but just right. When we're in our window of tolerance, we can think clearly, make decisions, and communicate effectively with others.

We’re in our ideal range of arousal when we’re in our window of tolerance (note in psychology, arousal typically refers to energy and nervous system activation). Plus, it's where our social brain tends to live, which means we're able to be present, engaged, and adaptable. It's kind of like finding the perfect temperature for a shower. Too hot or too cold, and you're uncomfortable, but just right, and you feel refreshed and relaxed.

image of the window of tolerance

When we're in our window of tolerance, we can handle life's stressors better. We can take in and respond to changes that happen in our day-to-day lives. In this state, our sympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system that’s responsible for our fight or flight response) and our parasympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system responsible for our rest and digest response) work together in harmony to allow us to seamlessly adapt to our environment. The larger the window of tolerance, the more we can take on and handle. This is also called being in a regulated nervous system state.

When we're outside of our window of tolerance – either too high or too low in arousal – it means we've reached our stress limit. This can make it harder to control our emotions and actions. When we enter a stressed state, our nervous system becomes dysregulated and is in need of some additional support. There are several ways to support a dysregulated nervous system. The focus of today’s post is how we can use nervous system state-shifting by incorporating up-regulating and down-regulating techniques.

How to Identify Dysregulation

If you ever felt like you're constantly on the brink of a breakdown it could be related to nervous system dysregulation. Nervous system dysregulation is when your body's arousal and activation levels are out of sorts, making it hard to manage your emotions and behavior.

Some common signs of dysregulation include emotional instability, difficulty sleeping, impulsive behavior, and physical symptoms like fatigue or irritability. Here are a few signs to look out for:

graph of window of tolerance, hyperarousal and hypoarousal
  1. Emotional rollercoaster: If you're feeling extreme mood swings or can't control your emotions, it could be a sign.

  2. Sleep struggles: If you're having trouble falling or staying asleep, it could be a sign of dysregulation.

  3. Can't control impulses: Struggling to make decisions or control impulsive behaviors?

  4. Physical symptoms: Feeling constantly tired, irritable, or tense? It could be a sign of nervous system dysregulation.

  5. Reactivity: If you find yourself overreacting to situations or feeling hyper-sensitive to certain stimuli, it could be a sign of nervous system dysregulation.

When we’re in a state of dysregulated, we go one of two places - hyperarousal or hypoarousal. Some people may pendulum swing between the two. We’ll talk about these two forms of dysregulation next.


Hyperarousal refers to a state of being overly aroused or activated in the nervous system. It's characterized by a state of high alertness, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and difficulty calming down or relaxing. People who experience hyperarousal feel constantly on edge and struggle to relax. It’s related to our sympathetic nervous system and fight-or-flight response.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

The fight-or-flight response is our body's natural defense mechanism that kicks in when we're faced with danger. It's hardwired into our nervous system from our cavepeople days when we needed to be able to react quickly to life-threatening situations. But in today's world, our bodies aren't always in actual danger. We might just be dealing with a work deadline or a difficult conversation, but our body is still responding as if we're about to be attacked by a saber-toothed tiger.

This is where the concept of up and down regulation comes in. Up-regulation refers to the activation of the nervous system, while down-regulation refers to the process of returning to a state of relaxation and calm. We benefit from being in an upregulated state when in danger, needing to meet a deadline, or when navigating a stressful situation. However, if we stay in an up-regulated state for too long, it can lead to chronic dysregulation, which can lead to all sorts of physical and mental health problems.

So, while it's helpful to know that our body's response is there to protect us, it's important to remember that it's not always the best solution in today's world, and its important to learn how to down-regulate after being in an up-regulated state.

Symptoms of fight or flight hyperarousal are related to the increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the body's response to stress and danger. This response is characterized by increased heart rate, blood pressure, and the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, leading to some of the following experiences:

  • Anxious

  • Irritable

  • Restless

  • Tense

  • Hypervigilant

  • Easily startled

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Insomnia

  • Anger

  • Impatience

  • Nervousness

  • Rapid breathing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating

  • Headaches

  • Tremors

  • Nausea

  • Appetite changes

  • Digestive problems

  • Chest pain

Hyperarousal can be caused by several factors, including stress, trauma, medical conditions, or mental health conditions. There are several mental health conditions that are considered “sympathetic nervous system dominant.” Here's a list of some conditions where the nervous system tends to become sympathetic dominant:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Acute stress disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Panic disorder

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Phobic disorders

  • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Please note that this list is not exhaustive and that other conditions may also cause hyperarousal. When a person tends toward a sympathetic dominant nervous system, they benefit from learning down-regulation techniques that help them to calm their nervous system so that they can return to their window of tolerance. Before introducing down-regulation strategies, let’s first review what hypoarsoual looks like.


Hypoarousal is the opposite of hyperarousal. If hyperarousal is too much energy, hypoarousal is too little energy! It refers to a state of being under-aroused or activated in the nervous system. While it is perhaps less common, our bodies can also get stuck in a state of hypoarousal. In this case, it’s like the body is getting too much of the brakes and not enough of the gas pedal!

If we're feeling sluggish and unmotivated, it could be a sign that we're stuck in a state of "parasympathetic dominance." This means that our "rest and digest" system is in overdrive, and we're not getting enough of that good mobilizing action from the sympathetic branch. So when we talk about “hypoarousal,” we aren’t talking about zen relaxation. This is not the same thing as being calm and relaxed (remember that’s the window of tolerance); hypoarousal is when we have too little energy and alertness in the body. It is characterized by low energy and difficulty becoming aroused or motivated.

The following are some symptoms that may occur when someone becomes parasympathetically dominant:

  • Fatigue

  • Low energy levels

  • Sleepiness

  • Dislike of exercise

  • Low motivation

  • Decreased heart rate

  • Low blood pressure

  • Slow respiration rate

  • Decreased muscle tone and tension

  • Low mood or depression

  • Difficulty in concentrating

  • Decreased sexual function

  • Poor wound healing

People who experience hypoarousal may feel sluggish, detached, and disconnected. We may struggle to concentrate or make decisions. Hypoarousal can be caused by various factors, including depression, trauma, chronic fatigue, or medical conditions like fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, or chronic pain.

Here is a list of some conditions where the nervous system can get stuck in a state of parasympathetic dominance:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Depression

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Migraines

  • Sleep disorders

  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

  • Chronic pain

  • Dissociative conditions

Please note that this list is not exhaustive and that other conditions may also cause parasympathetic dominance. It's always a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider if you're experiencing symptoms of parasympathetic dominance to rule out underlying medical conditions and identify factors contributing to your symptoms.

How to Regulate Your Nervous System

The first step in getting your nervous system back on track is to figure out where you are in the first place. This is where "nervous system mapping" comes in - it's all about being able to identify where you are in your nervous system at any given moment.

self regulation for teens

Self-Regulation for Teens

February 20, 2022

Self-Regulation for Teens Self-regulation for teens can look much different than it does for younger kids. Teens generally are dealing with changing hormones as well as emotional changes. How do we approach working with teens? It is important to first establish rapport with the teen. Some teens may have already

Read More »

Nervous System Mapping

Think of it like this: your nervous system is like a rollercoaster, with different parts corresponding to different states of arousal. You've got the high-energy, fight-or-flight state at the top of the hill, the calm and collected state in the middle, and the sluggish, "freeze" state at the bottom. And just like a rollercoaster, you're constantly moving up and down, depending on what's going on in your life.

The goal of nervous system mapping is to figure out where you are on the rollercoaster at any given moment, so you can start to make changes to regulate your nervous system. When you're at the top of the hill, you want to learn how to come down a bit (this is where downregulation practices are useful). When you're at the bottom, you want to learn how to come up a bit (this is where upregulating practices come in)

The key is to find your "window of tolerance" - that sweet spot in the middle where you're not too high, not too low, but just right. When you're in this zone, you're better able to handle whatever life throws at you. And when you're not in this zone, that's when things start to get dicey - that's when you start to experience dysregulation and all the negative effects that come with it.

So, if you're feeling like you're constantly on edge, or if you're struggling to focus and concentrate, it might be time to take a step back and try to figure out where you are in your nervous system.

With a little bit of practice, you'll be able to identify where you are, and start to make the changes you need to regulate your nervous system and get back to feeling like your best self.

Nervous system mapping is a simple exercise that you can do to get a better sense of where you are in your nervous system at any given moment. It can be done anywhere and at any time, even when you're in the middle of a stressor. However, it’s recommended you first practice this skill in a quiet and safe place, so that you can quickly do it while in public/in the middle of a stressor. Here’s how to get started with nervous system mapping:

  1. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth

  2. Bring your awareness to your body, starting with your head and moving down to your toes

  3. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort in your body, such as a tight jaw, a fast heartbeat, or a knot in your stomach

  4. Pay attention to your breath; is it shallow or deep? Fast or slow?

  5. Notice your thoughts; are they racing, calm or absent?

  6. Once you have a sense of where you are in your nervous system, try to label it as up-regulation, down-regulation, or in your window of tolerance.

  7. If you're out of your window of tolerance, try to do something to bring yourself back in, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, pacing, or stimming.

Remember that it's also important to listen to your body and not to push yourself to do the exercise if it's not safe to do so. Nervous system mapping is a way to check in with yourself, and with practice, you will be able to identify where you are in your nervous system and how to regulate it.

If you have interoceptive awareness issues or alexithymia, I recommend you sit down and work through some nervous system mapping exercises before trying to do this in live time. This is a simple practice where you identify the common thoughts, behaviors, and sensations you experience in the different nervous system states (you can see an example of a nervous system mapping handout in the following image, also available in my nervous system workbook).

Nervous System State Shifting

Once you figure out where you are in your nervous system, the next step is to start shifting it around to get back in that sweet spot - the "window of tolerance.” This is where "nervous system state shifting" comes in. It's all about being able to dial up or dial down your nervous system as needed.

Upregulating is when you're revving up your nervous system to get more energy and focus - think of it as hitting the accelerator. This can be helpful in situations where we need to be alert and focused, such as when you're about to give a presentation or take a test. Some ways to upregulate are working out, listening to upbeat music, or engaging in stimulating activities that gets your blood pumping.

Downregulating the nervous system involves decreasing arousal and activation - think of it as hitting the brakes. This helps you to relax and calm down, which can be helpful in situations where we need to unwind, such as before bed or in moments of stress or anxiety. Some strategies for downregulating the nervous system include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or listening to calming music.

As an added bonus, every time you shift your nervous system state, you are increasing vagal tone. Vagal tone refers to the activity of the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that plays a key role in regulating the body's physiological responses. Increasing vagal tone has been linked to a number of health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, improving heart health, and promoting emotional well-being.

Grab The Nervous System PDF

Yes, Sign Me Up! 

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

How to Up Regulate

If we're feeling sluggish and unmotivated, it could be a sign that we're stuck in a state of "parasympathetic dominance." This means that our "rest and digest" system is in overdrive, and we're not getting enough of that good ol' "fight or flight" action. Up-regulating is all about getting yourself out of a hypoarousal and back to feeling alert and energized. Think of it like revving up your engine when it's idling low.

If you're feeling a little down or sluggish and want to give your nervous system a boost, there are a few things you can try.

The Neurodivergent Nervous System (Personal Use)

The Neurodivergent Nervous System (Personal Use)


  1. Move your body: Take a brisk walk, work out, lift weights, go for a run, or do some jumping jacks. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins - these are natural chemicals that make you feel good and give you a boost of energy.

  2. Listen to upbeat music: Put on your favorite playlist and dance around; music has the power to change our mood, and listening to upbeat tunes can help boost your energy levels.

  3. Engage in stimulating activities: Challenge your brain or stimulate your senses by solving puzzles, playing games, or doing something creative

  4. Get some sunlight: Natural light can help regulate your body's natural rhythms and boost your energy levels.

  5. Drink caffeine: Caffeine can help increase arousal and alertness, but be mindful of your intake- too much can lead to negative consequences like anxiety or jitters

Remember, it's important to find a balance between upregulating and downregulating your nervous system. Overstimulation can lead to negative consequences, so be sure to also make time for relaxation and self-care. It's all about finding the balance between up-regulating and down-regulating your nervous system.

Note: It's important to note that while we still need more research to fully understand the nature of chronic hypoarousal states, several studies suggest that the freeze response may be a more stressed state than hyperarousal. This means that for some people, when they try to shift out of a hypo-aroused state, they may actually enter a state of hyper-arousal that they need to work through before they can reach their window of tolerance. If you find that attempting to upregulate your nervous system leads to increased anxiety and panic, it may be that you're shifting from hypoarousal to hyperarousal, which is not the same as being in your window of tolerance. In cases of complex trauma and other situations, a person may not have ever developed a window of tolerance. In these cases, it's essential to work with a therapist who has a deep understanding of trauma and the nervous system.

How to Down Regulate

If you're constantly feeling on edge and like you're always at the brink of a meltdown, it's important to seek professional help and find ways to calm your nervous system. Hyperarousal can happen when our bodies are stuck in the "fight-or-flight" mode for too long, and our nervous system is in overdrive.

Downregulating the nervous system is about calming the body and mind and bringing it back to a state of balance. When you downregulate your nervous system, you're also increasing the release of neurotransmitters such as GABA, which helps to calm the nervous system, and decrease the release of neurotransmitters such as cortisol, which can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

  1. Deep breathing: Focusing on your breath and taking slow, deep breaths can help activate the relaxation response by slowing down the heart rate and reducing stress and tension in the body.

  2. Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a technique that involves focusing on the present moment and letting go of distracting thoughts. It can help activate the relaxation response by reducing stress and tension in the body.

  3. Guided imagery: Guided imagery involves using your imagination to visualize a peaceful scene or situation. This can help activate the relaxation response by reducing stress and tension in the body.

  4. Tapping: Also known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), it's a form of psychological acupressure that involves tapping on specific points on the body to help release emotional and physical tension.

  5. Progressive muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to help release tension and stress in the body. You can find a free audio guide here at Darmouth’s wellness center.

  6. Listen to calming music: Put on a playlist of soothing music, it can help relax your body and mind. It can also have a positive effect on your brain by promoting the production of delta waves, which are associated with deep sleep and relaxation, and reducing anxiety and stress.

  7. Binaural beats: Binaural beats are audio tones that are slightly different in frequency and played through each ear separately. These beats can help entrain your brainwaves, promoting a more relaxed state. They can also help to reduce anxiety and stress

  8. Nature: Spending time in nature can help activate the relaxation response by providing a sense of calm and tranquility.

  9. Self-care: Taking care of yourself is important for overall well-being. Make time for activities that nourish your body and mind like taking a warm bath, getting a massage or reading a good book.

  10. Yoga and Tai Chi: Yoga and Tai Chi are ancient practices that combine physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to help activate the relaxation response and promote overall well-being. Focus on yoga practices that get your head below your heart, as this quickly activates the relaxation response.

Summary: Up and Down-Regulation

Upregulation and downregulation refer to the processes of increasing and decreasing arousal and activation in the nervous system. When you're feeling sluggish, it might be a sign that you need to step on the gas and upregulate, while if you're feeling anxious or stressed, it might be a sign to downregulate and relax. Some strategies for upregulation include physical activity, engaging in stimulating activities, and rapid breath work, while strategies for downregulation include deep breathing, meditation, and self-care practices. It's important to find a balance between upregulating and downregulating your nervous system. And, by understanding the concept of the window of tolerance, you can better map your nervous system and know when it's time to shift gears. By learning to regulate our nervous system effectively, we can improve our overall well-being and increase our emotional resilience.

This post was proofread by Grammarly, my go-to for proofreading and catching all the details I naturally miss! Grammarly is entirely free to use. Click here to give it a try.

You May Also Like...

self regulation for teens

Self-Regulation for Teens

February 20, 2022

Self-Regulation for Teens Self-regulation for teens can look much different than it does for younger kids. Teens generally are dealing with changing hormones as well as emotional changes. How do we approach working with teens? It is important to first establish rapport with the teen. Some teens may have already

Read More »

What is sensory overload? And how can I be Supportive?

Sensory overloaded = too much information

Parents and caretakers seem to flash the "over-stimulated"  term whenever a child or baby seems overwhelmed. Sensory overload is a term which describes the experience an individual receive too much sensory information from their sensory systems.  The brain is unable to process all of the information effectively.  It becomes overloaded. The behaviour response will vary but it usually triggers either a fight, flight or freeze response.  In this post we will explore:

  • Why sensory overload occurs

  • What sensory overload might look like

  • How you can help individuals experiencing sensory overload.

self regulation for teens

Self-Regulation for Teens

February 20, 2022

Self-Regulation for Teens Self-regulation for teens can look much different than it does for younger kids. Teens generally are dealing with changing hormones as well as emotional changes. How do we approach working with teens? It is important to first establish rapport with the teen. Some teens may have already

Read More »

What does sensory overload look like?

Sensory overload can occur when a student’s brain has had so much sensory input that it cannot process any more.  This can lead to a meltdown, the child trying to remove themselves from the situation or may result in shut down.  Otherwise known as a fight, flight or freeze response.  This is the brain’s way of coping with the excess information it can’t process.


Meltdowns can look like tantrums but they are not the same.  They typically occur due to the child not being able to process or maybe move on from a situation.  It’s a temporary loss of control after a build-up.  Behaviours will vary between individual children.  Some children are very verbal, some cry and some become more aggressive.

Sensory Overload In Kids —

What It Is, Symptoms, & How to Help

What’s inside this article: An in depth look at sensory overload. Including what it is, what it looks like and feels like, and how to help stop or prevent sensory overload and sensory meltdowns.

Is there a child in your life who seems to become anxious, panicked, or overwhelmed very easily? Do they seem to be more sensitive to sounds, smells, and textures compared to other children their age?

If you said “yes” to those questions, they may be experiencing sensory overload.

How you can help individuals to avoid sensory overload?

Here are some other ideas to consider throughout the week and day to help the individuals to avoid overload.

Be aware of the signs

Make sure all adults supporting the student are aware of the signs if the individual is starting to overload.  These will be different for each person.  If you can catch earlier signs it will be easier to help them to regulate.

Be aware of the triggers

Typically, each individual will have certain sensations or environments that trigger an overload. Watch out for these.  In some cases the sensation could be removed.  In others, make sure the individual is prepared and has a regulation strategy to support them if they have to attend.

Provide extra downtime

Provide additional down time through the individual’s day, especially between activities which you know increase their arousal.  Activities like assembly and lunch time can be harder for some students.  For others it’s a particular lesson they find more difficult.

Remember sensory inputs are cumulative

Each sensory input builds on the next, this is what leads to overload.  Consider the timetable of the day and also how many sensations you are expecting the individual to process.  Don’t schedule more overloading activities back to back.

Support regulation

Find activities and strategies that help the individual to regulate and include access to these throughout the day.  These will be different for every person.  Some general supports include heavy work, yoga, and breathing.  We explore additional ideas in the sensory supports section of this website.

Calming breaks

Consider adding in calming breaks through the day.  This could include thing like movement or breathing exercises, like in the videos below.  For some, cycling, running or jumping on the trampoline could help.  Others might enjoy yoga.

In summary

Overall, it is important to be aware of the triggers that might lead to sensory overload.  And, the supports that you can put in place to help the individual to avoid overload.  These will be different for every individual.

If you think your child experiences sensory sensitivities and sensory overload and would to increase your understanding, sign up for Kim’s six day sensory sensitivity challenge. Six days, six emails, six ways you can support your child.


A Guide to Sensory Resources

As a parent of multiple children with sensory processing disorder I know some of the most innocent and simple things can turn your day into a nightmare for your child. There are so many different sensory processing disorder resources to help parents available on the internet today. It can be difficult and really overwhelming as a parent trying to decide where to turn for help and guidance.

Did you know in studies around 1 in 6 children struggle with sensory symptoms significant enough that they affect their daily life. SPD is like a neurological “traffic jam” in which normal stimuli coming in cannot sort out the important information from the unimportant information. Due to this “traffic jam” a person with SPD cannot process or act upon the stimuli coming in and it causes challenges in performing normal everyday tasks.

Over the years here on the blog I have shared with you many different Sensory Processing Disorder resources. Today I am going to share with you an ultimate guide to Sensory Processing Disorder resources. A ton of resources rounded up from around the web to help you find the best resources available.

Hopefully this can help all of you parents who are looking for resources for their kiddos with SPD. My hope is that this resource will help parents who just found out their kiddo has SPD and don’t know where to turn or find helpful resources. As well as parents who have a child with SPD but just doesn’t know how to help or understand them.



Does My Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder?

Here are a couple online checklists and guidelines to figure out if your child might have sensory processing disorder. Obviously SPD should be diagnosed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. These resources can help you decide if your child has enough of the symptoms to warrant getting them checked out.


Sensory Processing Disorder Resources ~ Helpful Websites

  • STAR Institute For SPD ~ This website offers many different resources including understanding it, treatment, education, and more. They have a center where they help many different kids with SPD.

  • Sensory Processing Disorder ~ This is an amazing website. I have referred to it many, many times especially when we were first given a diagnosis. They offer different actvities, check lists, signs and symptoms, stories, and much more.

  • Child Mind Institute ~ This website has resources for many different topics that children may struggle with. They have a while section on SPD that has many different articles that are helpful.

  • Sensory Smarts ~ This website was created by the authors and therapists that made the book Raising A Sensory Smart Child. They have some really great resources, tips, and ideas on this site. They also give you an overview of their wonderful book.

  • Brain Balance Centers ~ This is a treatment center that has locations all over the US. They also have a blog that publishes regular articles that are incredibly helpful. Head over to check out many different topics they have shared about that will help you in many ways.

  • Total Pediatric Therapy ~ This is a list of 115 different resources for parents of special needs kids. Not only do they have SPD resources, they also have many different special needs resources.

  • Integrated Learning Strategies ~ This website is such an amazing wealth of information. They regularly publish articles many of which have to do with sensory issues in children. I highly recommend following this site if you have a kiddo with SPD.


Sensory Processing Disorder Resources ~ Different Therapies for SPD Kids

There are many different therapies, activities, and techniques that can be a huge help to SPD kids. The therapy that works for 1 child may not work for another. What didn’t work for a child 2 years ago may work miracles today. Below is a list of different resources that are regularly used with SPD kiddos they may be worth looking into.

Sensory Processing Disorder Resources ~ Helpful SPD Articles

As a parent with a child that has SPD it is hard. No matter if you are just starting your journey or have been going through it for years. Learn from the other parents and therapists who have overcome or learned how to help manage the daily struggles in these great articles.

Sensory Play 

by Meraki Lane

Sensory Processing Disorder Resources ~ At Home Sensory Motor Rooms

There are a wide range of ways you can make a sensory motor room in your home for your SPD kiddo. The benefits are absolutely astounding, and it is something I’m sure you will not regret making. Here are some great ideas to add a sensory motor room into your home.

DIY Sensory Products

You can purchase many wonderful sensory resources to add to your child’s room, to help your child on a daily basis, or for use in a sensory motor room. The downside is that most of them are very expensive. It saves quite a bit of money to make as many of them as possible yourself. Many people around the web have shared some great tutorials on how to make your own, here are some great ideas for DIY versions.

Helpful Books About Sensory Processing Disorder

I have read many different books about Sensory processing disorder that have been so very helpful. Some of them helped me understand the disorder more, others gave me great ideas on ways to help implement a sensory diet into our day, and others just reassured me that I wasn’t the only one having these problems. Here are some of the books that I found the most helpful.







Sensory Processing Disorder Resources ~ Apps For SPD


Auditory Memory Ride from Virtual Speech Center on Vimeo.

  • Auditory Memory Ride ~ The Auditory Memory Ride app is for kids with central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) or other related disorders. The Auditory Memory Ride app includes over 1000 audio and the ability to introduce background noise.

Apple Apps

  • See Touch Learn ~ App helps with communication . Like virtual flash cards, available in many different languages. FREE.

  • Fluidity HD ~ Control fluid and colors with the touch of your fingers. Similar to a lava lamp but it digital form. FREE.

  • Rainbow Sentences ~ This app helps children improve their sentence writing by using color coded words. $7.99

  • Sensory Processing Therapy ~ Helps kids to self regulate, calm down, and maintain optimal arousal levels through the day. FREE.

  • Heat Pad ~ A pressure reactive drawing app. A great resource for kids. FREE.

  • Dropophone ~ Kids tap on raindrops that make different sounds and music. Helps calm and soothe sensory kids. FREE.

  • Choice Works ~ Helps manage behaviors and make good choices when problems behaviors creep up. Also create a visual schedule for kids to use. $6.99.

  • Story Builder ~ This is a great app to help kids form paragraphs, improve integration of ideas. It uses audio clips to help kids build stories. $7.99.

  • ABC Pocket ~ This app helps teach kids letter sound, writing letters, and words. FREE.

  • Miracle Modus ~ This app provides sensory input to help calm children who are having sensory issues to. It is especially helpful for kids while out in an overwhelming situation in public. FREE.

  • Brain Works ~ This is an app created by an OT. It offers help with sensory modulation challenges by providing sensory diet activities. It offers a diet according to different environments contains 150 sensory diet activities. $8.99.

  • Zones Of Regulation ~ This app helps children learn how to regulate their behaviors. We have used the Zones Of Regulation program, this is the app that goes along with the app. $2.99.

  • Breathing Bubbles ~ This app helps children practice releasing worries and focusing on good behaviors. FREE.

Google App Store

  • Pictogram Agenda ~ This is a visual schedule with over 15,000 pictures available. FREE App.

  • Therapy with MITA ~ Mental imagery therapy for kids who have SPD and Austism. Helping them to see the whole picture. FREE App.

  • Social Skills ~ This app helps kids with social skills in a fun game manner. FREE app.

  • Speak Through Pictures ~ For children who have issues with communication, they can use pictures to talk.

  • Zones Of Regulation ~ This app helps children learn how to regulate their behaviors. We have used the Zones Of Regulation program, this is the app that goes along with the app. This app is $2.99.

  • Miracle Modus ~ This app provides sensory input to help calm children who are having sensory issues to. It is especially helpful for kids while out in an overwhelming situation in public. FREE app.

  • Autism Xpress ~ This app helps children with SPD or Autism recognize and express their emotions in a fun way. This app is FREE. They also have a premium version that is $1.96.

  • Kids Timer ~ Kids with SPD often have an issues with transitions, often times visual timers will help with these transitions. This app is a visual time so kids can visually see how much time they have left to complete a task or activity. FREE app.


Sensory Processing Disorder Resources On Pinterest

Pinterest is one of my all time favorite social medias. I spend way to much time on there.