An important factor in a child’s development is the home environment. An enriching home plays a pivotal role in fostering healthy growth and brain development. This involves creating a safe, well-organized space that offers opportunities for play, exploration, and discovery, all while maintaining a balance of love and emotional support. The quality of a child’s home environment significantly impacts their ability to regulate attention, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
As parents navigating the challenges of raising children with sensory processing difficulties, creating a home that accommodates both parents, the child, and siblings can be hard. This blog post aims to guide you through simple and cost-effective ways to set up your home for success.
It’s important to note that what works varies for each individual, so consider your child’s specific sensory preferences throughout the process and speak to your therapist for ideas tailored to your child’s needs.
- Reduce clutter! Ensure nice open spaces that aren’t too visually overwhelming. Having specific places where everything belongs can help your child to feel a sense of order and predictability.
- Opting for neutral colours and reduction of busy patterns throughout the house can promote a sense of calm and won’t be too stimulating.
- Have options for lighting including natural lighting, curtains, ceiling lights and lamps (you could even consider dimmers on the lights). This empowers your child to tailor their sensory environment to their preferences but also means the lighting can be changed when other people are using the space.
- Visual planners/schedules in obvious locations are a great way to help your child prepare themselves for their day/week and organise their thoughts. They can also be useful for the whole family!
- How to create a visual schedule: https://www.occupationaltherapy.com.au/how-to-make-a-visual-schedule/
- Importance of routines and visual schedules: https://www.occupationaltherapy.com.au/importance-of-routines-and-visual-schedules/?_ga=2.182628710.1773782827.1700176164-1529281835.1696726889
- If your child is seeking visual input, make sure to have a variety of visually stimulating toys This includes different colours, patterns and potentially lights. You can use lava lamps, glitter jars and reflective mobiles.
- Warn your child before any unexpected sounds such as a blender, coffee machine, vacuum. This gives them time to prepare and put into action any strategies they may like to use.
- Sleep is important for everyone. If watching TV after the kids are asleep, try listening at a low volume or with the door shut to ensure your child the best night’s sleep.
- Provide your child with options to tailor their auditory environment by having ear defenders or a white noise
- Be aware of street or community noise that may be heard from within the house when considering where to set up play areas or bedrooms.
- Choose odorless cleaning products and laundry detergent. This means any potential triggers or sources of discomfort that we may not even notice are eliminated. Similarly, avoid scented candles, air fresheners or diffusers.
- Adequate ventilation throughout the house is important. Turns out fresh air is good for everyone!
- Support your child to smell and discover a variety of scents they like and have them in spaces they use like play areas or bedrooms.
- Be conscious of the smells produced when cooking. If the scents produced are causing overwhelm consider opening a window, providing warning to your child or allowing them to play outside/far away from the kitchen during that time. If your child enjoys the scents produced when cooking, try including them in the cooking.
- Have snacks/foods available in the house that your child will eat. This doesn’t mean they never have to try anything new but they should be able to expect to eat something they do enjoy.
- Have a variety of textures available throughout the house, this includes rugs, cushions, blankets, furniture and toys. This allows your child to explore a variety of different inputs.
- Whether your child avoids or seeks tactile input, messy play can be a great way to encourage the exploration and enjoyment of different sensations. This doesn’t have to be everyday but try to incorporate some messy play from time to time. There are heaps of fun ideas online including slime, dough, painting, shaving cream and more.
- Fidget toys can be great tools for your child. They can help to calm and regulate your child or they may support them to maintain attention.
- Have safe indoor and outdoor play spaces for your child to run around where they won’t break things! Provide a variety of toys and play equipment that provides vestibular input. This could include swings, trampolines, hammocks, bikes, exercise balls, spinners or climbing frames.
- Include regular times throughout the day for your child to run, spin and move around. This could be particularly helpful before homework or mealtimes where they would be expected to sit still and sustain concentration. Consider speaking to your OT about a sensory diet if you feel this could be of benefit:
- What is a sensory diet? https://www.occupationaltherapy.com.au/what-is-a-sensory-diet/
- Housework and chores such as sweeping, vacuuming and carrying things such as laundry baskets or dishes can be a great heavy work activity. This should provide your child some proprioceptive input and you a nice break from housework! This can work nicely by incorporating tasks into your routine, making sure your child knows how to do the task and appreciating their efforts.
- Rolling your child tightly in a blanket with their head out can be very calming.
- Having stress balls, putty or playdough easily accessible.
- Set up play areas with lots of cushions or an old mattress for them to crash into.
- A resistance band around the legs of your child’s homework or dinner table chair can help them to regulate and maintain engagement.
- Have a calm corner/space in the house for your child to go to at any time. Set this up with tools that your child uses to regulate themselves, this could include fidgets, headphones, a weighted blanket, toys etc. Ensure that siblings understand what this space is for and give your child the space they need.
- If possible, use heating and cooling systems in the house to maintain a comfortable temperature. It can be much harder to regulate our emotions when we are too hot/cold.
It is important to consider your child’s sensory preferences and what will work for your family. Implementing strategies that work within your home can help to create a home environment that supports regulation and leads to better well-being for the whole family.