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With three daughters in their tweens and early teens, mornings around our house are still my least favorite time of day. But when my girls were a little younger, there were mornings I was certain that I wouldn’t survive the school year with my sanity intact.

Two of my three darlings went through a phase of morning meltdowns that quickly turned into battles when I wasn’t successful at keeping my own frustration in check.

One of them was struggling with the sensory input inherent in the morning routine.

The other one had school-related anxiety.

Their behaviors were very similar. And guess what? Many of the same strategies worked for both.

Is it Sensory or Anxiety?

I hear from many parents who are questioning whether their children’s behaviors are due to sensory isms or anxiety. I’m not always able to give them a definitive answer. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that often the conditions overlap. We know that many of the same neurochemicals and stress hormones are present in increased levels in both conditions.  It could be that the anxiety puts the sensory system into fight or flight mode and that causes the child to over-respond to sensory input. Or the reverse could be true – an over-responsive child experiences a lot of stress and becomes anxious about encountering unpleasant sensory stimuli.

Strategies are Similar

Either way, many of the same strategies will be helpful in regulating the neurochemicals, decreasing the stress response and helping the child to regain a sense of control.  Check out the following tips for reducing stress due to anxiety and/or sensory processing isms:

Read books with your child on ways to handle anxiety and stress. Here are a couple of my favorites:
[easyazon-link asin=”1591473144″ locale=”us”]What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety[/easyazon-link]

[easyazon-link asin=”1934575216″ locale=”us”]My Sensory Book: Working Together to Explore Sensory Issues and the Big Feelings They Can Cause: A Workbook for Parents, Professionals, and Children[/easyazon-link]


Get Visual

For specific times of day that are consistently stressful, create a visual routine. Allow the child to choose some calming activities to put on the schedule before and after the must-do tasks.  You can make your own visuals by taking photos of different tasks and activities, drawing pictures, visiting a hobby store to find stickers representing daily tasks.

Decrease Your Own Stress

Do all you can to reduce your own stress that can affect you in the moment your child needs you to be strong. When I was going through this with my own daughters, I did best on mornings that I wasn’t rushed. Getting up 15 minutes earlier made a huge difference and allowed me to handle the meltdowns without panicking about being late.

Calming Activities

Try using some of the following calming activities proactively to prevent stress:

    • give your child a deep pressure massage upon awakening
    • ask your child to  do an animal walk (crab, frog, bear) to get from his/her bedroom to the kitchen table, or from the bathroom to the front door
    • keep calming music on such as kids’ songs, piano music or nature sounds
    • build in some extra snuggle time
    • include care of a pet as one of your child’s chores
    • encourage your child to play on a therapy ball instead of sitting on the couch while watching television or just hanging out
    • oral-motor activities such blowing bubbles, blow toys, drinking through a straw or blowing a cottonball toward a target
    • Deep breathing
    • If the child is worried about something specific, ask him/her to tell you the “worst thing that could happen.” Often once you talk about the worse case scenario and figure out how to handle it, the worry doesn’t seem so big.

If the stress is too big for you and your child to handle alone, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor or psychologist who can address your child’s specific needs.

And remember, most likely this is one of many phases you will look back on someday and realize how far your child has come. I was reminded of that statement this very morning when my 12 year-old, who used to be my high-strung morning fit-thrower, calmly looked me in the eye and told me (while running late and clearly stressed) to “Relax and take a deep breath, Mom.”