Going back to school can be both exciting and stressful for all children, but for kids with sensory processing challenges these feelings can be even more intense. I encourage you to remember the acronym P.L.A.Y to support your child in this transition and all the time. P.L.A.Y stands for Playful interactions, Layered with sensory experiences and Affect arousal where You are the reward.
During times of transition we often lose the ability to be playful. After all, the definition of play is to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Preparing for the school day is inherently “serious and with purpose”. How can you possibly make this playful?
When thinking playfully, think about what your child is most interested in. Here we can use their interests as ways to turn a challenging situation into a positive one. Weave their interests into the activity. If your child loves a particular video game you can set up the morning routine to mimic the video game such as crawling under the table to get to breakfast to avoid the evil villain. This strategy brings play back into a normally monotonous and challenging routine and will get your child’s mind into the play zone. The play zone is the safest place for kids.
Layered with Sensory Experiences
Consider sensational aspects that can be added to the morning routine.
Is your child slow and sluggish? Try activities that require stop and go movements, a variety of touch sensations, music that is up-beat, bright and multi-colored visual decorations. You can experiment with different smells that increase alertness. He can race his sibling or you to see who can get ready first and be at the breakfast table. Have a dance party while breakfast is being prepared. Turn on all the lights in the house during the morning routine – maybe even add a disco ball.
Is he or she excitatory and hyperactive? Try activities that require pushing, pulling and carrying. He can make his bed including tucking sheets in under the mattress and fluffing the pillow. She can pack her backpack and then carry all backpacks and your workbags to the front door. Put on calming slow music and minimize touch experiences. Provide small goal oriented activities throughout the morning accompanied with short checklists. A clear goal can be just as calming as sensory experiences.
Affect arousal refers to how you can use your affect – facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and movements – to impact the attentiveness and alertness of your child. It is common to think about how sensations can bring a child to the “just right” place. Did you know that you can do the same thing through changes in your affect!
Is your child slow and sluggish? Try to increase your affect. Use wider more excited and exaggerated facial expressions. Use bigger gestures. Vary the tone and volume of your voice. Move in faster, silly, bigger movements.
Is your child excited and hyperactive? Try to decrease your affect. Lower your voice and use a deeper tone or even a whisper. Slow down your movements and gestures. Dull down your facial expressions.
While you are experimenting with these strategies always remember to name and validate your child’s emotions and engage with them around how they are feeling.
You are the Reward
From a very early age through childhood, adolescence and even adulthood the parent-child relationship is one of great importance. Children, again of all ages, seek relationships with caregivers. Make extra time for your child during time of transition. Try to get up early so that you are done with what you need to do before they are awake. Although this time is very difficult to do this, try to be present with them and give them “time in” with you before they are off for their day.
I wish you much joy as you PLAY with your Great Kids during your morning routine!