These tips for helping kids decompress after school were shared with us by Cindy Utzinger, pediatric Occupational Therapist.
Kids yelling on the playground, their constant chatter in the cafeteria, papers being shuffled, teachers talking over kids’ chatter, the touch of the kid behind you in line bumping up against you, the leg of the kid next to you during circle time rubbing against yours, colorful artwork hung all over the walls, the brightness of fluorescent lighting, smells wafting from the cafeteria, the not-so-good smells kids bring back inside with them from the playground, the horrific sound of the fire alarm during a drill, the unexpected sound as the principal makes an announcement over the loud speaker, having to train your bladder to go on somebody else’s schedule, eating when somebody else wants you to eat and not being able to eat when you’re actually hungry, etc. etc. etc. Dare I even mention all the sights, sounds, smells, and touches that bus riders endure?
I think that we often don’t realize how over stimulating school can be for any kid, and especially for kids who have some extra special sensory needs.
Let’s say the average school day is 7 hours. For those 7 hours, kids have to take in, process, and filter the sensory input they are receiving every second of those 7 hours. While doing this, they also have to be “on”. They have to listen, sit still, focus, learn, stand still in a straight line, keep their hands to themselves, keep their stuff organized, inhibit their impulses, and so on and so on.
AHHH!!! I’m getting stressed out as a type. It’s no wonder our kids often come home and seem a little “off”. I find that there are two types of kids; kids who come home and are bouncing off the walls from having to repress their impulses all day and kids who are over stimulated and need to shut down for a little bit. Let’s be honest, even most of us grown-ups fall in to one of these categories; some of us need to exercise and move after work and some of us would love a few minutes to decompress. In this post, my focus is on the later of the two.
It is the sad truth, but as soon as I look at my kids’ faces as they get off of the bus, I can tell how the rest of our afternoon (or at least the next hour) is going to go. It can easily turn ugly with my kids fighting and picking on each other as they are taking their stress out on each other and then me yelling at them and sending them to their rooms.
I have to catch myself and remember the reason for their behavior. When I do this, it helps me to help them to regroup without any major catastrophes or breakdowns. I have to remember that their sensory systems have been working so hard for the last 7 hours and then had to put in overtime on the bus ride home (and now they are having to endure my 10,000 questions about their day).
This is where I put on my Occupational Therapist hat and start pulling some tricks out of my bag. My first trick is a 20 second hug. Something as simple as a hug can provide so much healing and that tight squeeze gives them good proprioceptive input, which is calming and mentally organizing. My second trick is to decide whether or not they need a 5 minute “time in” in their rooms to decompress. Once we have this covered, we then sit down at the table for a few minutes and use our hands to do something creative. Using your hands to do something creative actually generates a sense of balance and wellness. It generates quietness and stimulates the brain areas related to motor skills, the senses, and creativity. Ooooh! I feel relaxed already!
I want to share with you some of our favorites:
- Mess-Free Glitter (This stuff is amazing!)
- Coloring or drawing
- Peel & Press Stickers
- Scratch Art
Sometimes just sitting down at the table together and not even talking but just being engaged in a task together that allows for creativity can be just what the doctor (or OT) ordered! It’s almost magical. Before you know it, everyone is happy and ready to go about the rest of his or her day.
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