A few months ago, we had to take our son’s phone away in the morning. Not a great start to the day…
We are really strict around here when it comes to technology because we know the related dangers. One of our jobs as parents is to protect our kids. He had made some bad choices that he knew would result in getting the phone taken away for a time, but he was pretty angry at getting caught.
The morning turned ugly quickly. We got to hear all about how other people’s parents don’t have such “stupid rules”. There were even some manipulation tactics pulled out designed to distract from the real issue, but we held firm.
Fast forward to the evening and me picking this particular son up from his sports practise…
He was still seething. He gave me a combination of the silent treatment and if-looks-could-kill-glares on the drive home. Once home, things did not improve.
He slung harsh words, stomped around, snapped at siblings. I gave him a wide berth as I was afraid that an explosion of emotion could happen at any moment.
The rest of us had already eaten, so he ate his supper at the counter in the kitchen. There just happened to be something right next to his plate on the counter. I wish I could take credit and say that I planned ahead and placed it there for just this purpose, but I didn’t.
Here’s where the magic comes in. I stood there and watched in amazement as his anger just melted away and he became my sweet boy again.
What was this magic anger cure?
Sensory play! It seems ridiculously simple, but it works. It can work for your child too. (read more on the importance of sensory play)
You see, a few days before, I had made three colours of cloud dough and they were sitting in a bin on the counter next to this boy who was ruminating in his anger. As he sat there, he mindlessly started touching the dough, then began squeezing it tightly to make shapes with it.
He didn’t know what he needed, but once he began to get that need met, his brain craved more.
He sat there for more than an hour and a half! His breathing slowed, his face became softer, and after awhile, he began to talk a bit about the texture of the dough.
I took the opportunity to ask him if he’d like to try an even silkier feeling dough and I pulled out two ingredients to make a different cloud dough (flour and baby oil). I mixed it right there in front of him and asked him if he wanted to give it a try.
He smiled at me. (THIS IS HUGE. He had professed his hatred of me just hours earlier and now was offering me a genuine smile.)
He came over and tried out the new dough. We talked about the smell of baby oil and why it felt different than the other dough. We laughed about other things.
My husband got home in the middle of this and was surprised to find us in the kitchen playing, our son’s face and demeanour calm.
It’s funny because even though we have both seen the magic of sensory play before, it never stops being surprising just how effective it can be.
Those of you with teen boys know that it isn’t going to work to say “hey, come play in a sensory bin”. Teen girls you can usually entice with slime (because it’s “cool”). And some boys enjoy slime too.
But there are some ways that you can entice your older kids and teens to engage in sensory play.
The most effective method I’ve found is something I call “sensory strewing“.
I’ve found that the benefits of sensory play only seem to expand with my kids as they get older, so I just place sensory play opportunities around them.
Like the Fall sensory bag that I “happened” to have left on one of the couches that this same son ended up playing with this morning before school.
I also leave things out like playdough stations or sensory bins on a regular basis. I’ve had other moms watch in astonishment as their normally “crusty” teen sits with their hands in a bin of water beads or mindlessly kneading playdough and talking up a storm. It’s transformative.
- asking the kids to help me test out a new playdough or slime recipe “for the blog”
- asking my older kids to teach younger kids who are here visiting how to use a sensory bin
- get them to help me bake things that require kneading or mixing by hand
I hope in sharing this story with you, you’ll be encouraged to use sensory play to help a child in your life calm or regulate themselves. It has worked wonders in our house!
Get a free sample of our Sensory Play Recipes eBook when you sign up for our Sensory Solutions and Activities email series. These recipes will help you create sensory play opportunities for your child, even if they are a tween or teen.
You may also find these resources helpful:
The Mega List of Sensory Bin Fillers and Tools The After School Meltdown Strategy that really works Sensory Meltdowns: What They Are and What To Do