Children with various isms have challenges with regulating their emotions. Heck, I know of a lot of adults who struggle with this. Think about sitting in a lecture. What do you do to keep your attention on the lecturer? Do you play with your hair? Tap your pencil? Bounce your leg? We all do little things without thinking about it to regulate our emotional state. But little kids have yet to learn all the tools that can help. That is where we step in to guide them.
Oral stimulation or sensory input can help children change the level of alertness. Chewing takes the lead as you may already find your kids are innately obtaining oral sensory input by chewing on their collars, their hair, their tongue or their pencils.
While sensory diets usually focus on proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile input, oral sensory input can offer a quick and quiet option when you are in a pinch. The effects of oral input are not as long lasting, but they are quick acting.
Start the day off with some good oral sensory input at breakfast, pack a snack with sensory input in mind and then Prepare a Sensory Packed Lunch to send in.
To spare the collars and pencils, and ensure that kids have tools throughout the day to aid them in self-regulation, consider these options for home, in the car or in the classroom.
Munching on crunchy food is a wonderful calming and focusing tool! Teachers, let the kids snack on pretzels, popcorn, nuts (if there are no allergies) or other crunchy snacks. It settles them down and motivates them too. Have them complete 3 math problems and then they get to reach into their snack bowl. For a measuring activity, have the kids make their own classroom trail mix. Crunching and munching is guaranteed to help most kids focus during their lessons.
Gnawing on chewy foods such as gum, raisins, bagels, or chunks of cheese offers a nice oral motor workout. Add some raisins or bagel bits to your trail mix above for a crunchy – chewy combo oral sensation. Some teachers are actually allowing kids to chew gum in the classroom, as long as the rules are followed, like keep the gum in your mouth and dispose of it into a tissue.
Sweet & Sour Food
Sour foods are said to induce joy and a sense of peace. Pickles offer a nice crunch while providing a sour sensation. Chop them up and pack in their lunch box. Greek yogurt is a great sour option to add to home made smoothies. Get extra oral sensory input and drink the smoothie through a straw. Kumquats are great for the immune system and pack a nice helping of protein. Slice them up for a mid morning snack. Lemons and limes are also a good snack – consider dehydrating a batch.
Sweet foods make everyone just feel good. But we don’t want to load the kids up with too much sugar. Consider naturally sweet options instead. Cinnamon is great sweetener, add to unsweetened apple sauce and you have a desert like treat. Get a big straw and try to suck the applesauce through the straw. Dip a sour apple slice into a nut butter for a sweet and sour combo. Bananas are a wonderful sweet fruit that you can add to oatmeal, smoothies or alone for a quick sweet treat. Consider dehydrating banana slices and add to a trail mix. Chop up dates and add them to your trail mix. Sweet vegetables can do the trick too – consider sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and bell peppers – raw or cooked.
Drink from a Straw
Get a variety of different sized straws and start sucking! Or use an ‘exercise bottle’ to drink liquids such as a milkshake, smoothie, a ‘Slurpie’ or other thick drinks. Curly straws provide extra work sucking through a long, curly straw.
Make a Trail Mix
As mentioned above, make a combination trail mix that contained crunchy, chewy and sweet. Add Starburst bits to a trail mix to get a bit of chewy, sweet and tart in the mix. Chex offers an abundance of recipes for salty, sweet, and gluten free crunch!
Hard candies, even the sugarless kind can offer great input, whether crunching or sucking. Make your own hard candies to be able to control the ingredients within. Also, a great activity with kids!
If food is just not an option and you’ve got a chewer on your hands, consider the various chewlery options or Chew Stixx pencil toppers. Also, check out 8 Fun Oral Sensory Activities to Improve Your Child’s Regulation.