Fussy children in the classroom

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Education

Fussy children in the classroom

Jessica has just started attending preschool. She is a bright child with good language skills but is unhappy in her new class.

  • She struggles to adapt to the classroom routine and don’t fit in very well.
  • She rarely smiles and has not established any relationships with her peers.
  • She is a very picky eater with a limited diet consisting of foods such as bread, bananas, yoghurt (without the bits) and smooth pudding. Her mother packs lunch in for her, but she usually just stares while the other children eat.
  • Jessica dislikes art and refuses to participate in ‘messy activities’. When the class planted tomato plants in their outside pots, Jessica clung onto her teacher and said, “YUCK! I don’t want to do it!”
  • When the other children accidentally bumped into her, while carrying a jug of water, and spilled some on her leg, Jessica cried and screamed on the top of her lungs, “Aah! He spilled water on me!” After 10 minutes of crying, the teacher was forced to separate her from the rest of the children.

Jessica may be a tactile defensive. Her nervous system finds it difficult to process inputs, like textured foods, being touched, clothing and other children being in her space. Even simple everyday activities such as eating can be overwhelming. Her brain is especially over-stimulated by messy experiences, such as having her fingers dirty, playing in the sandpit, finger painting or playing with play dough. She is afraid and attempts to avoid these activities. When another child bumps into her and spills water by mistake on her leg, Jessica’s system is overloaded and her brain says, “OUCH! That hurt!” and she responds by crying.

How to identify a tactile avoider in the CLASSROOM:
• Respond to light or unexpected touch in a negative manner for example, hitting or biting
• Avoid messy activities like painting, gluing, crafts
• Run away or hide when tactile experiences are introduced
• Walk at the front or end of the line to avoid being touched
• Is a picky eater
• Prefer to be very clean and wash hands immediately after an activity
• Appears stubborn or inflexible
• Be excessively ticklish
• Dislike going barefoot and/or have a tendency to walk on toes
• Refuse to hold hands with someone else
• Overreact to minor bumps, cuts or scrapes
• Complain about certain types of clothing, tags in shirts, socks
• Try to talk her way out of touching or playing with textures. E.g. ” My mommy told me not to get my dress dirty”
• Have difficulty establishing relationships in the classroom, because he/she stays away from other children to avoid being touched unexpectedly or lightly
• Refuses to wear hats or dress up clothes

Some tips to help these children cope better:
• Let these children stand at the end of the line/row so that no-one can bump them unexpectedly from behind
• Don’t seat them in the middle of the class but at the sides/ends where there is less opportunity for touch
• Allow for their sensitivities without criticism
• Create structure and routine
• Organise classroom spaces and create “quiet” spaces in the classroom (i.e. reading corner)
• Pre-warn when change occurs
• Allow the child to work with a brush rather than fingers when painting
• Identify the child’s keen awareness to the environment and detail
• Don’t give too much and too loud instructions
• Use a gentle, calming voice and comfort them if they get stressed


Who has benefited

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