As information about sensory differences and strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and breathing have become more mainstream, items that OTs have used with kids for years to improve self- regulation are readily available for purchase. Here is a list of recommended items focusing on Rhythm, Pressure, and Respiration, the key components of RESTORING activities.
1. Weighted Blankets:
Once hard to come by, made to order, and very pricey, weighted blankets that give calming deep pressure (at night or cuddling on the couch) are now widely available for purchase on Amazon.com as well as shops like Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. When looking into weighted blankets, the rule of thumb is for the blanket to be about 10% of the body weight of the individual.
2. Weighted Stuffed Animals:
If a blanket is not on your “to buy” list but you have a child that loves stuffed animals – playing with them, piling them into their bed at night, bringing stuffed toys everywhere they go, then these weighted animals from Sensicalm will be the perfect gift. Deep touch pressure while your child sleeps and resistive input to your child’s muscles while carrying this animal from place to place could be the perfect match. This is definitely for the child who loves heavy lifting but also heavy weight, snuggles, and pressure to sleep at night.
3. Sensory Squishy Balls:
Adults have commonly used “stress balls” to relieve anxiety at work or while driving. Adult stress balls can be too rigid for little hands. OTs use squishes in therapy sessions and often recommend them as classroom fidgets. Once available only from therapy catalogs, sensory squishy balls can now be found in toy store aisles and check-out lanes. When purchasing these items, keep in mind your child’s preference for texture, resistance, and filling (gel, beads, etc) to find a perfect match.
4. Oral Motor Chew Toys:
Oral motor chew toys are like squishy toys for your mouth. Generally, they are used by kids who seek oral input in the form of chewing for calming. They can also be helpful for kids who bite their nails/clothing during the school day. Oral motor chew toys are designed to be chewed safely. Make sure you choose necklaces and bracelets that are socially appropriate given the settings where your child might need them. These oral motor gems can be purchased on Chewigem.
5. Oral Motor Blow Toys:
Taking deep breaths helps you calm down, but this can be hard to remember in the moment. Additionally, kids often need help to learn how to take deep breaths. Concrete items like blow toys can help improve execution of deep breathing while creating opportunities for breathing to support self-regulation. Parents/teachers will enjoy substituting the prescriptive language “take deep breaths” with handing a child a fun toy. Use care in your selection as some whistles with narrow mouthpieces can be too difficult for some children to use and make frustration worse. It is best to purchase a variety to see which one is most enjoyed by your child. Use the term “oral motor blow toys” in your search bar.
6. Dark Spaces:
Visual demands can contribute to overstimulation and dysregulation. Just like adults, kids need a quiet place to re-group. OT clinics include tunnels and clubhouses to allow children to take visual breaks as needed. Classrooms for young children include cozy corners to get away from the hub-bub of the classroom. At home, kids bedrooms may be too large/visually overwhelming to be adequate calming spaces. Some kids solve this problem for themselves by making forts out of their bed covers and hideouts in their closets. For kids who don’t spontaneously create their own cozy dark spaces, we recommend collapsible tents/tunnels.
7. Essential Oils:
Aromatherapy has been used for centuries throughout the world to promote healing. The scent of an individual or combination of essential oils can trigger an emotional or physical response, such as becoming more relaxed (lavender), being better able to focus on a task (peppermint), or feeling more energized (patchouli). Click here for a list of essential oils and their benefits.
Remember to Encourage Sensory Exploration:
Introducing calming tools to your child can be fun for everyone! Try out different chewies and have your child vote on the favorite. Count how many bubbles your child can blow or how long they can blow a whistle. Hide sensory squishy balls under the covers and let your child find them. Snuggle together under the weighted blanket with your child’s favorite weighted animal. Make a game out of hiding in the tent and popping out.
When new items are introduced in a playful manner, children are more likely to form positive associations in their minds about how each item makes them feel. This will increase the likelihood that your child will use them again. Remember to keep all items readily available to your child and try to re-introduce each item a few times prior to suggesting use when he/she needs help calming down.
Written by: Rachel Butler, COTA/L
Still need help figuring out what to add to your child’s calming toolkit?