The Sensory System & Your Child's Development

Written by Dr. Allie Ticktin

Beginning at birth, babies learn about their world using their senses – all 8 of them. Yes, 8 senses. Most people don’t know that we have three hidden senses. Our three hidden senses: proprioception (our sense of where we are in space), vestibular (our sense of movement) and interoception (our internal awareness) are a mystery to most, but they are just as important as the big 5 for development. It is through sensory play that a child builds neural connections in their brain, reaches the next milestone, builds creativity and learns to problem solve. 

Our senses also have an impact on a child’s self-regulation. In fact, each of our 8 senses used in different ways can either have an alerting or calming effect on a little one (and adult). For example, the proprioceptive input that comes with sucking on a pacifier is incredibly calming for many babies. Our senses, used in a calming way, can help tame a tantrum, help a little one who has a hard time sleeping get a good night’s rest and help regulate a busy child after an exciting birthday party. Here are a few easy ways to use the senses to help your little one calm:

1. Eliminate visual clutter 

This is a big one. It starts in the nursery and is important all the way through childhood. Often having too many things can be overstimulating and add to a child’s dysregulation. Instead, I suggest using muted colors, keeping all toys well organized and put away and avoid overbuying. Especially when it comes to toys, you don’t need much!

2. Use calming music 

Turn on sound machines and nice calm classical music when your little one is having a hard time. You can also introduce meditation young with guided meditation music. Avoid loud, jarring sounds and create a peaceful environment to help your little one calm.  

3. Turn to deep pressure

Deep pressure is incredibly calming and a great way to help a child regulate. There are so many ways to provide a child with deep pressure. You can build a massage into their daily routine, safely swaddle them, or carry them in a baby wrap. 

The sensory system is complex and there is so much to learn. If you want to learn more about the sensory system and how to use it to understand your child’s development, check out my book Play to Progress or learn about our classes at Play2Progress.com

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