Sensory Tools for Anxious Homeschoolers

It’s the afternoon, and we’re feeling it.

We’re almost done with our homeschool work, but not so close to finished that we’re feeling relief. We’ve done enough today that the mental strain is apparent, the kids are getting wiggly, and everyone is tired.

I can see my daughter growing more and more agitated. She’s getting annoyed with her siblings, irritated by every little sound. Her frustration is mounting and I can see the outburst that is just simmering underneath, waiting for the moment to boil over. I could stop for the day, and we do sometimes, but I can’t reasonably halt all of her schooling everytime she gets overwhelmed. Instead, I quietly remind her about her Sensory TheraPLAY Box, work on something else for a few minutes, and we all return happily to finish our lessons for the day.

All four of my children struggle with anxiety in one way or another. Their struggles, while unique to them, aren’t surprising to me. Having spent more than a decade as a gifted specialist in the public school system, I encountered countless children who were affected by anxiety, perfectionism, and intrusive thoughts that made some days, some assignments, some sounds, some classrooms just unbearable. Now that we homeschool, though we’re in a different setting, the same struggles present themselves and have been known to derail an entire day’s work in a single meltdown.

Fortunately, between my experience in the classroom and our years spent together at home, I’ve been able to create and discover distractions and de-escalation techniques for those times when my kiddo’s anxiety threatens to result in a meltdown and a lost day of lessons. One of the most valuable and reliable tools in our anxiety arsenal has proven to be sensory toys.

It may seem counter-intuitive, handing toys to a child in an attempt to save school, but these are no ordinary toys. They’re playful tools designed to calm children like mine, and I couldn’t school without them.

When feelings and thoughts threaten to overwhelm, an outlet for little minds is necessary. Children often lack the vocabulary, or even self-awareness, to truly express what they’re experiencing when it comes to anxiety. Their bodies are thrust into a state of fight or flight, and suddenly they feel threatened with no real threat in sight.

Anxious children can become irritable, enraged, overwhelmed. They may feel nauseated, emotional, or experience sudden headaches. However their anxiety presents, it needs an outlet, and since therapists aren’t always on hand in the middle of an academic lesson, road trip, or family meal, sensory toys have become our go-to de-escalators.

Something as simple as being able to squeeze or rub an item, being able to seek sensory input or release too much energy, is invaluable when it comes to redirecting anxiety. When worry overwhelms, having a sense of control over something in the palm of their hand is empowering – as well as distracting – to a child. Whether the item is available throughout the day to stem intensifying anxieties or kept in a calm-down collection in the corner, homeschooling anxious kids without the help of sensory toys is pretty much a guarantee that meltdowns will derail your day.

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Sensory tools are as comforting to children as they are convenient to parents and teachers, too. Rather than just tossing a fidget to an overwhelmed child to buy some time or seeing sensory toys as a means to an educational end, they’re important opportunities for kids to redirect their anxious energy. We don’t just use them so we can get back to lessons, we use them so my kids can work through the very real panic and rage they experience when anxiety rears its ugly head.

Anxiety in children is on the rise, and it is imperative that we meet these kids where their needs are, empower them to work through such scary feelings, and do all we can to help them through something so big. Sensory Theraplay toys have given me just that opportunity and helped give my kids a sense of control when they’re otherwise overwhelmed and feeling powerless. Because their well being is just as important as whatever was on the lesson plan for that day.

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