Keeping a peaceful home when you have kids is a seemingly impossible task. As parents, it feels like we’re always one wrong decision away from another tantrum, argument, or melt down. Of course you love your children immeasurably, but living with chaos is stressful, draining, and leaves you with no energy left to parent effectively.
A simple first step to rein in some of the chaos is to manage the sensory input your child receives. The following tips will be especially helpful to children with a disability or other diagnosis, such as Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), ADD, ADHD. However, anyone with kids of any age looking to create a more peaceful home will benefit from the suggestions below.
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Learning From the Best
As a special education teacher, I taught students with very high needs in a residential treatment facility. In addition to having severe forms of Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD, they also had a history of trauma in their past. This combination shaped their behavior in such a significant way that it made it impossible for them to function in a traditional classroom/school setting. I mean, our school was the school for the kids with the worst behaviors in the state.
Everything Affects Behavior
It was a challenging job, but it was a HUGE learning experience for me. I saw immediately, and in with great magnitude, the effects of each teeny, tiny decision I made around my students.
The words I said. The clothes I wore. The way I moved my hands and my body. How I structured the environment. The materials I used. The images on the walls.
Any wrong decision in any one of these areas would have been enough to set off a student’s (and subsequently, the whole classroom’s) behavior for the entire day.
The most difficult trait these kids shared was also what made this experience such a powerful learning experience for me: their reactions were big and immediate. I could see, almost instantly, if a change I made in their surroundings was helping or harming them.
Look Critically at Sensory Input
When teaching, I developed a spidey-sense for anything that was overstimulating. Flashing lights? Loud noises? I’d have had a room full of chaos.
Years later, I transitioned back into working with typically-behaving students and young children. I learned quickly upon this reintroduction that the things I used to do with my high-needs students helped the behavior of more typical kids, too.
While my former student’s reactions were impossible to ignore, the subtle reactions of other children are much easier to miss.
They might fight sleep. Or pick a fight with their sibling. Or let the sensory overload build up and then let loose with a meltdown over the smallest thing. Their reaction is there, too, but it’s harder to decipher the cause.
When I remember to manage the sensory input that kids receive, I see behavioral improvements in children of all ages and abilities. From a newborn infant to moody teenagers, kids just seem more at peace in a calm environment.
I’m not immune, either. I’ve found that I’m calmer, more patient, and more peaceful when I keep these things in mind.
At first, managing the sensory input your children receive seems like an overwhelming task. As you make small changes, though, you’ll become an expert at how each little thing affects your kid. Every little change you make will help your child relax a little bit more.
I’ll take you through some potential areas of sensory overload in the home below. For each area, I’ve included a guiding question: if you answer “no” to these questions, you may want to think about making some changes in that area.
Guiding question: Is this space one I would choose to relax in at the end of the day?
Sit where your child sits – on the floor, in their bed. If you have a nonmobile infant, lay on your back and look around. What would keep you from relaxing in that environment? Bright colors? Lights? Noise? Toys hanging in your face or all over the floor?
These are all potential sources for overstimulation.
Take a critical eye to your child’s space. Look at the wall color, Use a neutral or muted color paint in the rooms your children’s bedrooms and playrooms. Avoid brightly colored art or busy wall decorations. Use soft or dimmable lighting.
If background noise is necessary, choose songs with soft, soothing melodies.
Guiding Questions: Would having this design in my workspace help me focus? (Or, at least, not distract me)?
Would I wear this to relax around the house?
Children’s clothing is an often-overlooked area of stimulation. Children’s clothing is brightly colored, often with loud patterns, images of characters or phrases written in large letters. These attention-grabbing clothing items are okay for occasional wear, but may cause sensory overload when your child is exposed to them all day, everyday.
Aside from colors and designs, also consider the comfort of the clothing your children wear. Feel inside the garment for possible uncomfortable tags or scratchy fabric. Check that the stitching on the seams won’t rub and become uncomfortable. Be especially choosy about buying pajamas; you want to encourage calm at bedtime. Solid-colored, tag-less, soft pajamas are best when buying for your little one.
It may seem like an impossible task to find kid’s clothes that don’t cause sensory overload. My absolute favorite place to buy clothing for my daughter is Primary.com. They make simple, comfortable, affordable children’s clothes in solid colors. No sensory overload here.
Guiding Question: Can I engage in deep thought with this toy nearby?
It seems like every toy marketed to kids these days is loud and flashy, screaming to get their attention. Then we wonder why our kids scream to get our attention.
My general rule with toys is that if it requires batteries, it is too stimulating. I also carefully look at the colors of toys. Bright and loud reds, oranges, blues, greens? Too much. Choose natural or soft-colored toys instead.
To a child who is trying to make sense of the world around them, every little thing is interesting. They could (and often do) stare at the shadows on the walls forever. A big, bright toy that flashes lights and plays music is too much for their sensory system to handle.
Amount of Toys
Guiding Question: Is this a toy that my child will enjoy for years? Could I potentially pass it along to my future grandchildren?
When it comes to toys, less is more.
I know how tempting it is to buy your little ones something “just because” – they had a good day at school, the toy is on sale, you just love them so much. These frequent toys “just because” quickly turn into a sea of knickknacks and toys that overtake your home.
Having a lot of toys is incredibly stimulating for children – there’s always something different or more exciting to do; how do I choose?
Instead, I recommend investing in a few high-quality toys that will last throughout your kids’ childhood. This will save you money in the long run, and fewer toys are easier to clean up and keep out of sight for when you’re trying to settle your little ones down.
If you’re already overloaded with toys, pick out 5-7 favorites and donate the rest. Another option is to periodically rotate toys in and out of their play space.
Guiding Question: Does my child know what to expect next?
Have a predictable routine at home. When children know that lunch comes after play and then we clean up and hear a story, it takes a lot of uncertainty and worry out of their lives. A daily routine will help your child to feel save and secure, and show them what they can expect moment-to-moment. And if you need to change the routine – tell them! Give them as much notice about a change in a routine as you can.
Take a critical eye to the activities your family is involved in outside the home. Are they providing a clear and strong benefit to the individual who participates and to the whole family? Are they causing a disruption to your routine? Is your little one having a hard time transitioning into and out of this activity? Is this activity truly necessary? These are questions to consider when evaluating your scheduling priorities.
Guiding Question: Do I have effective limits on screen time in place?
Screen time is a huge source of sensory overload for children. It is also addicting, which makes it very hard to change existing screen time habits. I promise you this, though: Setting limits around, or eliminating, screen time in your house is where you’ll see the biggest and most immediate results in your child’s behavior. This website is a great resource for parents who are interested in the effects of screen time or are looking to change their family’s screen time habits.
Go Forth in Peace
Critically reviewing these sources of sensory input over time will slowly transform your family. It won’t happen over night, but with each small change you make you’ll see improvements in your home. You’ll start to see your kids sleep better, become more creative, and lengthen their attention spans. You’ll find yourself more at peace and less stressed at home. Your family will still have it’s trying moments – they’re still kids, after all – but you’ll begin to find that they are fewer and farther between. By making these changes, your family will go a long way towards a less chaotic, more peaceful home.