Understanding and providing sensory seeking activities to calm and organize sensory seeking behaviors in your “wild” child.
Would you describe your child as wild, rough, or dangerous… maybe even that they display sensory seeking behavior regularly? Although there are a variety of reasons a child may consistently seem to have a lot of energy or participate in extreme behaviors, sensory seeking activities can be used to help give a safe outlet for all that energy.
If sensory processing differences are the cause of the wildness in the first place, which is commonly the case, giving your child opportunities to get the sensory input they need can actually improve how they process sensory input in the future!
That is pretty cool, right? As a pediatric OT, I have some tried and true sensory seeking strategies that are effective for a wide variety of kids. Of course, each child is unique, and how your child responds to particular sensory strategies will be unique, too.
What Does Sensory Seeking Behavior Look Like?
One of the most common ways that parents describe their sensory seeking child is: WILD. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a families house for the first time to hear them say, “You’ve never seen a kid like mine, they climb the furniture, run constantly, plow through other kids, and then, you would think they’d be exhausted, but they have trouble getting to sleep.” Of course, the truth is I HAVE seen many kids like this! These kids seem to be in constant motion and sometimes have a hard time playing with other kids because they are so rough. They also may have a hard time sitting down to focus on activities. Those activities can be anything from homework to eating dinner.
Kids that are always seeking sensory input may even be unaware of dangers other kids seem to notice. They may run into the street or a parking lot without a second thought or participate in some really scary behaviors like trying to climb the refrigerator.
Why Is Your Child a Sensory Seeker?
What’s the deal? Why are some kids so active, rough, and even dangerous at times? Well, for a variety of reasons actually. It could be diet related, strictly behavioral, or due to differences in the way their brain processes the sensory input it receives all throughout the day. The last of which is what we are talking about today.
From a sensory standpoint, we are talking about proprioception and vestibular in particular, or our body’s ability to move through the environment effectively and stay balanced. Sensory seeking kids are often not processing the normal sensations they receive to stimulate those sensory systems throughout the day and as a result, seek it out more. Meaning, they want activities that give them lots of proprioceptive and/or vestibular input.
Of course, your child can seek sensory input from all of the senses, but the wild and dangerous behaviors are usually due to these two systems. With other senses, your child may seek out:
- Smelling different objects in their environment
- Touching everything in sight and being messy
- Loud noises, sound, and music
- Bright lights, spinning objects, and high contrast pictures
- Tasting, mouthing or biting on different items, toys, and foods frequently (read more on oral sensory processing)
The Solution to Sensory Seeking Behavior?
The solution is to give them opportunities to participate in activities that meet their sensory needs. For kids seeking sensory input that tend to be described as wild, rough, or dangerous, that means activities that give them a chance to move their bodies. But, it also would mean giving them a productive or safe outlet before challenging times of the day, like, meals, homework, and bedtime, for example. That may mean setting up sensory activities somewhat routinely (otherwise known as a sensory diet), or maybe not, depending on what is comfortable and effective for you and your child.
Affiliate links used below. See our full disclosure.
Powerful Sensory Seeking Activities
Proprioceptive activities involve anything with pressure to the muscles and joints, so actions like squeezing, hanging, climbing, and jumping give input to this sense. You can learn more about this powerhouse sense and find dozens of proprioceptive activities here, as well as on my Sensory Basics page.
Vestibular activities involve anything with movement, and kids tend to seek that out by spinning, swinging, or climbing something high.
I want to share with you 4 general ways you can help your sensory seeking child calm down and get a little organized. I’ll give you a couple examples of free or quick ways to implement activities and a few items that are worthy of investing in because they get a lot of mileage with a wild, active, sensory seeking child.
First, I’d like to introduce you to Fun and Function because they have a huge selection of exclusive and affordable items to support kids with special needs, especially those with sensory challenges. I’m particularly partial to them because their founder is an OT and mom who knows how hard it can be to find tools to help kids with sensory challenges. They believe in “Empowering Different”, as do I, so they are a great fit here at Your Kid’s Table. All the products shared below are affiliate links for Fun and Function.
- Jumping – Any jumping activity is great for sensory seekers because it is loaded with tons of proprioceptive and vestibular input. You can let your child jump on the couch, bed, or a trampoline, which is hands down my favorite sensory toy. It is almost always my first recommendation for kids that are super active, rough, or climbing the walls. Fun and Function gave me the Fold and Go Trampoline to try out, and we love it! It holds up to 150 lbs. (yay, I can jump on it too!) and all of my kids love it, especially my wild child. He initiates using it a lot on his own and if he seems antsy before bed or meals, I’ll have him jump on it for a few minutes before hand. The Fold and Go was really easy to put together, I did it myself. Of course, the best part is that it can fold in half and flat if you want it too. You do have to take out two screws and remove the cover from the springs so it isn’t something you would do every night, but it would work if you were traveling or wanted to put it a way for a little while.
The Fold and Go Trampoline from Fun and Function.
Very sturdy, no tipping or shaking with big bouncing!
Great big bounces with safety handles.
- Climbing – Climbing also stimulates proprioception and vestibular input! Using jungle gyms and stairs in the home are great activities. I also love the fabric tunnel, which requires some adult help to hold one end of the tunnel open. I share a DIY version here, or you can purchase one ready to go here. A lot of deep pressure is also happening with the tunnel, which is very calming.
- Vibrating toys – Vibration gives a lot of proprioceptive input and some vestibular too, believe it or not. Not all kids like vibration, so you might want to try a small bug like this first (as a therapist, I’d always keep one in my bag), or if you know your kid responds well to vibration using this vibrating seat is perfect for meals, homework, story time, etc.
- Pressure – Squeezing into tight spaces like a designated cool down spot or behind the couch achieve this, as well as big bear hugs. One item, in particular, I’ve been eyeing up is the Cozy Canoe. I haven’t used one of these myself, but this thing looks awesome. While it doesn’t provide vestibular input, it does give lots of proprioception with the squeeze you get while sitting in it. There will be times when a really active child won’t want to sit still for this, they may need to jump on the trampoline first or crawl through a tunnel a few times. If I were using the canoe, I would read bedtime stories in it or even put homework on a clipboard and let them complete in there.
These strategies are do-able right? Try implementing some of these sensory seeking activities and see how your wild child responds to them, truly it can make all the difference for you and them! And, if you’d like even more ideas, head over to Powerful Proprioceptive Activities that Calm, Focus, & Alert.
Don’t forget to sign up for the FREE Sensory Workshop!
More About Sensory Activities
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.