Updated: Mar 24
Think about the following scenarios:
Your daughter is learning from home. She is confined to a small space for her studies. She’s sitting in front of her electronic device all day. She’s slouching. She’s tired and moody when she’s done with school. She has more intense tantrums that she’s ever had before.
Your son goes to school. The school has an in person learning program (did we ever think we’d have to say that?). He’s confined to a small space in the classroom. There’s no free indoor play. He’s wearing a mask all day. He sits behind a plexiglass. He sits there ALL. DAY. LONG.
He comes home moody. Recently, he’s been shuffling from side to side when he talks to you. He has a hard time focusing on what you have to say (more than usual).
Even though he was on his iPad for the entire school day, he wants to go back on it. You find yourself frustrated at him because you want him to just find an occupation that isn’t the iPad! He says he’s bored. “How could you be bored when there are so many things to do? Other kids don’t have as many toys as you”. Like he cares. You keep talking but he’s not even making eye contact at you. You call him on it. Again.
What is it?
If you’re like me, you immediately jump to conclusions: there’s something wrong with my child.
You feel like you’re in a panic.
And then you try to figure out where it’s from. Is this from my side or my husband’s? Definitely the husband...there’s none of that in my genes.
Truth be told, we don’t know where all this came from. But we know what exacerbates it.
Think about your space at home. Have you ever looked at your house as an outsider? In the eyes of your child?
Is it conducive for your child to be spending so many hours there? We can speak in terms of the COVID pandemic, or just the cold winter months. Our children spend way too much unproductive time at home, and it’s affecting their mental health.
According the to American Academy of Pediatrics, a study showed that the average child spends eight hours a day in front of screens (television, video games, computers, smart phones, and so on). Older children and adolescents are spending an average of eleven hours a day in front of screens.
How can we improve our children’s mental state in the house by still keeping them at home?
What can we do? These tips are especially helpful for children with sensory processing disorder, but all children can highly benefit from this as well.
1. De-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter!
Consider buying bins, shelving racks, and get ready to organize. The messier a child’s space is, the higher the anxiety. Do you ever feel like your house is so messy that you want to leave the minute you walk in? By tidying and organizing, the room will feel cleaner, more spacious, and you’ll see that even you will feel more at ease in that room. Sensory children can be especially sensitive to that.
Consider purchasing some equipment for your child to exert energy and delegate a specific area for it. Your child needs a place where she can be active. If you don’t have the space in your basement, find a small area in your house or in your child’s room and make sure the area is stationed off for that purpose. When a child’s room is organized into spaces, it can reduce anxiety. In that space, you can place a trampoline, a mat, rock climbing holds, a swing (it depends on space and budget), or a ball pit. Anything that will get your child to jump up and down, get her heart rate up and release some endorphins.
“Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention,” says Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Little, Brown). “On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”
Study after study shows that kids today desperately need more physical activity. John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do.
3. Furniture placement
Look at the furniture placement in your child’s room. Is the bed placed farthest away from the window? Is it too close to the door? Furniture is sometimes like puzzle pieces that need to fit together passively. The way furniture is arranged has a huge impact on a child’s comfort levels in their room. Some children are more sensitive to it than others.
4. Lighting in the bedroom
So so important. Is your child sleeping well? Is there light coming in through the shade? How’s the lighting in the room? Does she have a nightlight? Is she scared of the dark? What color is the light?
5. Make sure that the areas in the house are designated for their own purpose
Don’t have your child do their homework on the kitchen table for example. It is confusing, messy, and anxiety provoking. It is best for them to have their own desk area. When they are done with school, they will come out of that space and be able to completely disconnect from school.
6. Where does your child go when they need to relax, calm down or soothe?
I recently worked with a client whose son has behavioral issues. I asked her: when your child has a tantrum, where does he go to calm down? She said he wanders around the house attacking things. This child is anxious and needs a space to collect himself. Consider placing a teepee, or tent in a corner in his room, or squaring off a space for the child where he could learn that when he’s upset, that’s where he goes to calm down. If you don’t have a lot of space, get creative! I recently designed a sensory space for a child in an unused walk-in closet because that was the only space available for that child. Whatever works!
Lastly and most importantly- some children might have a hard time with transitions. Especially children with sensory needs or ADHD. If you’re going to revamp a room or a space, make sure to do it in stages.
When I was redoing my son’s room, it wasn’t rainbows and sunshine. He didn’t like some of the decor that I had initially put up. In fact, he took it off the wall and threw it on the floor.
What I had to do was present it to him in the room and lay it out in a different spot so that he could get used to it first. Then we talked about it, and I explained to him why I’d like to put the decor on the wall. And after a week or so, I asked him if it was okay for me to hang it up on the wall. He said no. I left it in the same spot. I asked him again after another week and he said yes, at which point I finally hung up the decor.
Make sure you work at your child’s pace- it makes them feel comfortable and respected. They will feel like they have a voice, and have a choice when it comes to designing their space.
For questions, or more information, don't hesitate to contact me. From one parent to another, we're all in this together!