3 Ways to Reduce Over-Stimulation in the Home
We hear a lot about the importance of providing stimulation for children – new toys, new people, new places, new experiences. What we don’t hear about as much is over-stimulation – when a child experiences more sensory input that they can effectively process and understand.
What is over-stimulation?
We learn about the world around us through our senses – primarily sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Children know very little about the world around them, so every experience is filled with new opportunities to learn. A trip to the supermarket is a standard boring job to an adult. To a child, a supermarket is filled with smells and sounds that need to be investigated in order to be understood. Adults know the scent of fresh bread, and can connect it to a specific taste. Young children can’t, but will often feel an urge to find out what it is… or what that brightly-coloured apple feels and tastes like. Adults can hear music and chatter and sort out which song is being played and which conversation needs to be listened to; children often just hear a cacophony of sound while their brains try to sort, classify, and understand these new noises.
How does over-stimulation happen?
Overstimulation occurs when a child’s brain is so busy trying to figure out what to do with all of the sensory input flowing in that it can’t cope anymore – and anxiety and stress levels rise. Often, this results in a classic screaming and kicking ‘tantrum’ as the child tries to express just how overwhelmed they’re feeling. This doesn’t just happen outside the home. Because so much of the sensory information that children experience is new, and hence needs extra processing time, children can easily become over-stimulated in the home as well. New people, music, loud talking, new scents, different foods, and unfamiliar toys can all contribute to a child experiencing an overdose of stimulation.
How to avoid over-stimulating children
• Get to know your child’s triggers.
Some children can happily exist in noisy environments full of weird smells with zero issues, but will be overwhelmed by a lunch containing unfamiliar foods. Others will be fine until lights start flashing, and still others will get overwhelmed by a lot of people all talking at once.
• Watch for early signs of too much stimulation.
Children will often frown more, look confused, or get grouchy when they’re starting to get overwhelmed by what’s happening around them. Help your child to recognise how they’re feeling and express it. “You seem upset. Is there a bit too much noise?”
• Make it OK to seek a less-stimulating environment.
It’s easy to get caught up in a fun experience and encourage a child to stay and have fun, rather than taking time out. But being able to leave something that’s become overwhelming and move to a quieter or less-intense area can give a child time to relax and reset.