Calming anxious kids through sensory play

I consider myself one of the lucky people who experienced a mainly stress-free childhood. Afternoons were filled with valuable fun times spent with friends. After school and (a little bit of) homework, we’d ride our bicycles to the park, play on the slides and swings, climb trees, bake mud cakes, build imaginary castles in the sandpit, try to whistle like different birds, sing songs and literally smell the roses. Our parents allowed us to be bored and figure things out for ourselves. Home time was determined either by hunger pangs or the setting sun, whichever came first. And on the odd occasion, if you happened to hear the much-loved ice cream truck’s infamous tune and chase after it, there was dessert before supper. Life was good!

How things have changed…

Currently, kids are subjected to various daily stressors: crammed schedules, unrealistic academic demands, very little free time, multiple adult-directed extracurricular activities, emotional stress, limited exploration opportunities, to name but a few. As a result, our children’s stress levels are rising faster than inflation. We are finding that our kids are becoming more prone to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. That is just not right!

So, what can we do to turn back the hands of time and prevent children from becoming sad, depressed, anxious and eventually over-medicated human beings?


Our children need to experience what we were privileged enough to experience: contact with the tangible, magnificent world out there! Give them the opportunity to play, explore and learn through their senses. Engaging with their environments and thus experiencing life through sensory input results in neural pathways being formed… and before you know it, learning is taking place. When we learn through our senses, we use a bottom-up approach: input starts on a subconscious level and only relevant input gets registered on a conscious level. We are not consciously aware of each and every sensory input our nervous system receives. If we were, I believe we might all be diagnosed with concentration difficulties and having meltdowns might be a daily occurrence for most.

Even more importantly, play is a great source of happiness.
And who does not want to be happy?!?

Ideally, kids should “figure things out” for themselves and use their vivid, unique imaginations to come up with games to play. But to get the ball rolling, a few suggestions aimed at each of the 7 senses:

  • Movement
    – slide down a hill in a cardboard box
    – ride a bicycle
    – push your friend around in a wheelbarrow
  • Proprioception
    – play knee-soccer
    – tug-of-war
    – wheelbarrow walking
  • Tactile
    – collect different flowers, feathers, leaves and make bookmarks
    – build sandcastles
    – make mud-cakes
  • Visual
    – play “I spy with my little eye”
    – at night, go outside and look at the stars (with mom and dad)
    – have a treasure hunt
  • Auditory
    – play “the telephone game” or “Chinese whispers”
    – try to imitate bird sounds
    – identify sounds in nature
  • Smell
    – make playdough with different scents
    – help mom or dad with cooking
    – let kids choose their own shampoo in a shop
  • Taste
    – suck on different flavour ice lollies
    – bake cupcakes
    – have a blindfolded tasting competition

When our children get to play… not on tablets and watching tv, but REAL play like we used to do…  they get the opportunity to regulate their sensory systems and in turn their reactions to stimuli.   This is where they learn to listen to their bodies, take a break when less input is needed, and seek input opportunities when their systems need more.

A happy balanced sensory system will in turn result in a happy, balanced little human being.
Life can be good again!


Want to know more about your own sensory wiring? Do our free Sensory Quiz™.

click here to join the waiting list for our FREE parenting workshop

77% of people add spice to their food. Are you one?

The way in which we cook and eat is dependent on the senses of taste and smell. Our appreciation (or not) of food is reliant on these senses. It is widely known that if you cannot smell what you are about to eat (due to blocked nodes), food is far less appetising and enjoyable.

Just take a minute to think about the following questions:

  • Why do some people enjoy very spicy, flavourful and hot food and other don’t?
  • Why do some people prefer sweet foods to sour or salty foods?
  • Why is it that when we smell certain foods or drinks, we are sometimes taken on a journey through our memory banks?
  • How adventurous are you when trying new foods?

We have 2000 – 5000 taste buds in our mouths, each accounting for the different taste categories – sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Taste is a chemical sense and it has a short link in the brain. People are rarely overwhelmed by the sense of taste.  What and how we eat is dependent on our thresholds for taste. The higher your threshold, the more spice and flavour you will seek. The lower your threshold, the less adventurous and seeking you will be with regards to flavour in food.

People with high thresholds for taste will:

  • Enjoy a wide range of foods and be adventurous in trying new foods
  • Enjoy cooking from scratch and playing around with recipes
  • Enjoy several courses in a meal or a tasting menu
  • Enjoy spicy and flavourful food
  • Enjoy variety in choices of food (like a buffet)

People with low thresholds for taste will:

  • Avoid trying new foods
  • Prefer bland foods – avoid sauces and strong flavours
  • Prefer a set and familiar menu
  • Will not experiment with cooking

Sensory strategies for the high threshold person:

  • Be adventurous, try new foods and different flavours.
  • Experiment with food – adjust recipes as you cook.
  • Combine foods with different textures and tastes.
  • Keep the condiments close at hand – hot sauce, herbs, pepper, etc. so that you can add flavour to your food at your hearts content.
  • Have a varied and changing menu during the week.
  • Eat out – restaurants provide you with large variety of choices.
  • Join a dinner club.
  • Cook with others – the more the merrier and the more you will enjoy your meal.

Sensory strategies for the low threshold person:

  • Avoid rich and spicy foods.
  • Open doors and windows when you cook, so that the aromas don’t overwhelm you.
  • Have a planned menu for the week.
  • Eat at restaurants that cater to your sensory tastes and do so occasionally.
  • Follow recipes precisely.
  • Eat what you are familiar with – you still need to savour those flavours that bring you comfort.
  • When cooking, use recipes that include your favourite ingredients.
  • When in overload, remove yourself from the environment or avoid the sensory input as much as possible.

Many revolve their social and emotional wellbeing around food and eating – family dinners and gatherings are definitely made more memorable by the fact that we can share in the joy of spending time around the table.  Whether you are eating with many or whether you are eating with a small crowd, be aware that not all people have the same thresholds for flavour and spice in their food. It is always easier to add flavour if you find food a bit bland, but much more difficult to tone down if food is too spicy or full of flavour. I always have to remind my family when cooking curries or spicy food, that “our mild is very different to someone else’s “mild”.

Find out what your tastebuds are trying to tell you …

  1. For a quick summary of your sensory assessment, do our short free Sensory Quiz™.
  2. For a comprehensive 26-page report with tips and strategies on how to use your senses to live a productive, healthy and happy life visit Sensory Matrix™.
  3. Once you’ve done the online assessment and would like a one-on-one sensory coaching session, we can put you in touch with one of our licensed practitioners.
  4. For team-building with a difference, get your whole team to do the e-assessment – you can contact us here.

Who has benefited

Sensory Quiz™
Sensory Matrix™
Senses on Call™
Social media
Sensory Intelligence®