Unique learners often cannot achieve “just right” levels of excitement without help. We start learning how to help by discovering what they need.
Keeping track of your child’s level of stimulation in various circumstances can give you important information. I call this detective mode. In detective mode, you must try to observe without action or reaction (or judgement). You are looking first to see if their reaction fits with the circumstances. Then you are watching to see what happens when they are over- or under-excited.
Try to wait and watch a little longer during a time when your child is physically safe, but in a partially excessive and over stimulating environment, such as a wild birthday party. Observe your child’s response during the over stimulating event. If the child is safe, just observe and note how he or she acts when over stimulated. They may rock their body, shut their eyes, or hold their ears and vocalize. Note the behavior without judgment. Intervene, of course, if the child is uncomfortable in any way.
Right after the event, and for a considerable time following the event, be aware of subtle changes. Changes in eating patterns, responses to friends and family, as well as any change in sleeping patterns are all significant. Note how the over stimulating event either provided appropriate coherence or caused a breakdown in performance and behavior, resulting in a state of mental chaos.
By way of contrast from an over stimulating environment, watch your child in a calm setting. Note the methods that your child uses to seek slower, calmer mental states.
Our grandmothers taught us that a soft voice, low lights, warm setting, and tight swaddling in a blanket would allow a child to calm, settle down, and fall asleep. These actions inhibit the brain and nerves from working too quickly. A soothing environment turns down the volume and slows down a revving engine. A soothing environment helps the brain calm down.
Observe your child’s behavior. Are they calming down as though readying for bed, or are they becoming highly excited, such as leading up to a wild birthday party? Note the activities that would prevent sleep behaviors versus those activities that would help create sleep behaviors. Anything that excites the child can serve to prevent sleep mode. This is like turning the volume up. Low lights and low voices can help create sleep mode, which is like turning the volume down. Almost everyone can recognize the distinction between these two modes, so this becomes an excellent place for the beginner detective to start helping their unique learner in their day-to-day approach to life.
Those same activities that your child finds to be calming, soothing, and sleep producing are ideal strategies to employ when faced with an overexcited student. Hearing a quiet voice, slow directions, or lowering the lights can give cues to the body to calm down.
Activities which are used to prevent sleep can be used to wake up a fatigued brain. Movement, such as jumping or dancing, or even just walking can do the trick.
Children at a noisy birthday party are often keyed up and in a highly excited mental mode. Being excited is not bad. Children just need to learn how to turn up or turn down the level of excitement. It is desirable for the brain to be keyed up for learning math or studying for a test. But not as keyed up as they would be at a party. Depending on the situation, too much excitement can be nonproductive.
By taking the detective approach, you will begin to notice how your child reacts to different situations. When you know how they naturally try to bring their excitement level up or down, you can help develop their responses into a strategy they can learn to use when needed. You can also help them understand and prepare for different situations.
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Your child might benefit from a calming strategy he or she can take to school. Here is a weighted vest that looks like a regular vest but has a very calming effect.