I have been blessed to have a few children who find themselves easily overstimulated. They are great kids, but sometimes they just get so ramped up, they can’t begin to calm themselves down. Over the course of the last few years, I’ve learned a few techniques to help them. These three tips to help overstimulated children work for my children, and I thought I’d pass them along.
What does an overstimulated child look like? Overstimulated children can look very different. One child may shut down completely and just sit there – without paying attention to anyone or anything in their environment. Another child may become angry and aggressive – trying to control the environment by using physical aggression. Another child may start running around and “bouncing off the walls” as a way to deal with the overstimulation. And another child might just start crying uncontrollably because everything feels out of control. Overstimulation manifests itself differently for each child and looks like “out of control” for that child. Anyway about it, an overstimulated child can cause chaos in the family.
Before going into the tips, though, it’s important to note that what is over stimulating can vary greatly from child to child and person to person. Sometimes, it can be too much background noise. Sometimes, it can be too many bright colors. Sometimes, it can be the feel of the fabric the child is wearing. It is very important to try and understand what is causing the overstimulation. Limiting exposure to that stimulus will help the child greatly. However, sometimes that’s just not possible. That’s when these tips can come in very handy.
Calm Down Blanket
For some children, physical touch is very reassuring and soothing. It helps them to calm down and feel secure. When that is the case, using a “calm down blanket” helps the child get in control quickly. The “calm down blanket” is a really simple technique.
Simply find a soft blanket – one the child enjoys snuggling in – and gently wrap it around the child. Then (if the child is young enough) I hold the child on my lap. After a while, I’ll start talking to the child more about whatever the child wants to talk about than anything I want to talk about. I let the child lead the discussion – this is not a time for teaching. It is a time for listening to the child who needs help.
After the child has regained control, then I’ll talk about what happened and discuss different ways the situation could have been handled. This discussion only takes place after the child is better in control physically and mentally.
I have a child who often spends the last few moments before bed in activities that are over stimulating – watching TV, running around the house, or playing in rowdy ways, for example. This causes that child a great deal of difficulty when that child then tries to go to sleep.
To help with this type of over stimulation, I have a two-step plan. First, I try to call my child’s attention to the behavior that causing the over stimulation. Then, when it is bed time, I spend five or so minutes helping my child go through a guided imagery session.
Guided imagery is a relaxation technique where the participant listens to the facilitator as the facilitator gives suggestions about which body part to focus on and relax next. It usually starts with the participant practicing some deep breathing techniques. Next, the focus is on relaxing specific body parts in order – feet, calves, knees, thighs, trunk, chest, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, neck, head, cheeks, eyes, nose and mouth. The focus given by the facilitator helps the participant relax more fully and completely – which allows my child to go to sleep.
Calm down, not time out
Finally, when my overstimulated children get physically out of control, and/or violent, I send them to their rooms. It’s not as a consequence, or a punishment. It is simply so they can have a place where they can go and calm themselves down. I place no time limit on how long they need to be there. And they are allowed to do whatever they need to do in order to calm themselves down. My only restrictions are that they cannot hurt themselves or others, or household property, and must clean up whatever mess they may have made. One child will tear up paper into tiny pieces, another child will throw pillows around, and another child will scream like crazy – for a while. Then when they are calm, they will clean up what needs to be cleaned up and we will talk about what happened.
Time out is so often seen as a punishment or consequence, instead of a time to step out of the situation and think about things. Because of this, I don’t use the term any more. Any consequence needed for a situation is given after the child has had a chance to get in control—otherwise the child doesn’t really have a chance of understanding why the consequence is happening.
These three tips have really helped my household handle the sometimes explosive aftermath of an overstimulated child. They are resources I use almost daily and they also help my children begin to develop their own ways of calming down.
Is this a situation you deal with in your family? What do you do to help your children handle their overstimulation?