Reclaiming Calm: Strategies to Reduce Overstimulation in Children
18 September 2023
Do you have a highly sensitive child? Are you having trouble calming them down? If so, read on for our full breakdown of overstimulation in children and some handy tips to boost your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
We live in a fast-paced world full of sights, sounds, and distractions. From new technology to endless entertainment, it’s no wonder that overstimulation in children is a common concern for parents.
But what is overstimulation and how can it be reduced? In this post, we look at the science behind overstimulation and list some everyday steps to reclaim the calm in you and your child’s lives.
What is Overstimulation in Children?
Overstimulation occurs when a child’s sensory experiences become overwhelming. This may be triggered by music, flashing lights, moving images, or just one too many adults at a party wanting to hold the baby.
Even a trip to the supermarket can be sensory overload for young children. Put yourself in their shoes; it’s full of bright lights, strangers, colourful products on the shelves, music in the background, announcements over the speakers, and all the while keeping mum or dad in sight.
Young children, especially toddlers, are in a tender phase of cognitive development. Therefore, their tolerance to stimulation is much lower than adults, causing their brains to become easily overwhelmed. This may lead to:
- Mood swings
- Aggression (kicking or waving arms)
With these signs of overstimulation in mind, here are a few easy steps you can take to ease children back into a calm state.
1. Create a Calm Home Environment
With so much happening outside the world, it’s important to control what you can – your home. Establishing a soothing atmosphere at home can do wonders in calming children after being out at social events, childcare or school, or even a swimming lesson.
Try to reduce distractions at home to allow children to unwind by:
- Turning off the T.V. and other entertainment devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc.)
- Dimming the lights
- Playing soothing music
- Creating a calm corner in your living area or child’s room complete with soft toys, cushions, and age-appropriate books
2. Establish a Consistent Routine
While your child will inevitably attend parties, family events, doctors’ check-ups, and school or daycare where the sensory activities aren’t always in your control, try to establish a consistent routine outside of them.
A clear structure provides children a sense of security. In other words, they’ll understand that before or after these potentially stressful events, there’s a predictable and reliable routine waiting for them. Try and establish a routine by:
- Designating set times for rest or play
- Verbally reinforcing routines, e.g. ‘we always read a story before bedtime.’
- Use a poster or chart to visually reinforce schedule
- Congratulate your child when they follow their routine, even it’s as simple as setting the dinner table or getting ready for school
3. Encourage Outdoor Exploration
Encourage your child to explore the great outdoors, whether it’s the beach, your garden, or just a stroll around the park. Outdoor play reduces stress, fosters a deeper connection with the environment, and highlights the importance of preserving our natural spaces for generations to come.
4. Limit Extracurricular Activities
While extracurricular activities offer valuable learning experiences, an overloaded schedule can lead to an overstimulated mind. And this isn’t just for toddlers. Too many extracurricular activities may do more harm than good for young children and teenagers alike.
Consider the much needed rest time for children if they’re involved in sports, dancing, after school care, childcare, or any other activities outside of school. Remember that there’s also time spent in the car, unwinding afterwards, and social interactions involved in these activities which can be emotionally and physically draining.
Children need rest and may take some time to recharge their social batteries. This is especially important if you have introverted children!
5. Foster Mindful Play
Mindfulness is simply being present in the moment. For children, mindful play is vital to children’s sense of community, mental well-being, and emotional resilience. Moreover, mindful activities have a tremendous ability to calm overstimulated minds.
Encourage activities such as:
- Sensory art
- Exploring the five senses
- Muscle memory exercises
6. Listen and Communicate
Effective communication is key, particularly with school-age children as they navigate primary school and more complex social situations.
Pay close attention to your child’s emotional needs and anxieties, encouraging them to express themselves openly. Validate their feelings and unpack their concerns together. Something as simple as ‘it’s okay to feel like everything is a bit much sometimes’ as school workloads and social events pile up can make the world of difference. Remember, when children feel like they’re being heard, they’re more likely to work with you through developing healthy coping strategies.
7. Find the Right Balance
While it can be tempting to remove your child from stimulating activities altogether, it’s important to not go too far. Children need to experience the world, even when it’s uncomfortable. From learning life skills such as swimming lessons to navigating social cues at family events, children need to learn to cope with stressful and unpredictable situations.
Additionally, Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at Child Mind Institute, suggests the balance for school-aged children should be determined by how they affect their social life and everyday commitments:
‘Can you still do your homework? Can you still get 8+ hours of sleep each night? Can you still be a part of your family? Can you still hang out with your friends? If the answer is ‘no’ to one or more of these, then it’s too much.’
Overall, with these few simple strategies, you can help your child navigate through even the most overwhelming experience. Better yet, they’ll develop some handy coping skills along the way and come out the other side as resilient, strong, and level-headed in the face of our fast-paced, techy world!