Sensory Smart Winter Tips
While it’s tempting to hibernate through the winter and to increase “screen time” (TV, computer, Wii), be sure to continue active sensory diet play during the winter months to keep brains and bodies functioning at their best. Here are some sensory smart ideas you can use to help your child tolerate winter clothing and have fun during the cold weather.
Desensitize before going out.
- Slough off itchy dead skin cells with an exfoliant. You can purchase excellent preparations online or in a store or make one at home, which can be a fun sensory activity in itself. For a homemade exfoliant, mix a dry, coarse ingredient like sugar, ground almonds, or corn flour with a moist, smooth ingredient like honey or olive oil. Rub it on the skin using gentle circular motions to avoid irritating skin, and don’t use on inflamed or damaged skin or around the eye or genital area. Focus on legs and feet, back, arms and hands.
- Right after a bath or shower, slather on and firmly massage in high-quality skin moisturizer, focusing on extra-sensitive parts like hands and feet. Again, you can use store-bought preparation or try making one yourself. There are lots of recipes on the Internet.
- Provide sensory input before piling on the cold weather gear. Provide a deep pressure scalp massage before putting on a hat. Give deep pressure to the hands and feet, along with joint compressions, before putting on boots and gloves. Discuss desensitization techniques with an occupational therapist.
- Many kids cannot tolerate loose layers moving against their skin. Try putting on a snug shirt and leggings before piling on the rest of the layers. You may also find that your child does better with a tighter fitting hat and gloves along with snug socks. Or, the absolute reverse may be true: your child may do best with loose layers against his skin. Also experiment with the weight of the clothing. Some kids are calmed by a lot of heavy layers (including a weighted vest) while it may really aggravate other children. Lighter layers include down and polar fleece. Heavier layers include wool. Be creative. While your child may not be able to tolerate the feel of snowpants, she may be warm and happy with fleece leggings worn under lightweight rain pants. While he refuse to wear a hat, he may be fine with a hood.
- Watch out for overheating. There’s a tendency to pile on clothing while still indoors, and some kids just can’t tolerate getting heated up. You may need to put on the final layers outdoors. It’s better to have your child ask for his hat when he realizes that his ears are cold than to have him meltdown in the house and refuse to wear his hat because his ears are burning.
Have fun out there!
- Set up an indoor sensory bin. Get a big plastic bin with a cover that holds at least 20 gallons. Get the largest size your child can reach into from a sitting position without pulling it over, or one that’s big enough to sit in with several toys. Then fill it about halfway with inexpensive dry rice and beans. Add some plastic cups, spoons, and small plastic toys. Have your child pour rice and beans from cup to cup, use spoons to fill cups, bury and find “treasures,” sort out and count beans, and do other interesting things. Best of all, a sensory bin is a fun way to desensitize hands (and feet if they stand in it barefoot!).
- If your child has trouble tolerating snow or ice, you can use your sensory bin to work on that too. Take out the usual contents and fill it snow or even ice cubes. Try building a snow pyramid or an ice cube igloo.
- Make an outdoor snow castle using buckets. Carrying heavy snow from one place to another provides wonderful proprioceptive input.
- Sledding is great fun, as is going downhill on a piece of cardboard or cafeteria tray. All great vestibular input for sensory seekers, but for kids who tend to be sensory avoiders, just watching others or going downhill slowly on your lap may be challenging enough.
- For crashers and bangers, set up a landing pad in the snow.
- This is a great time for sensory seeking kids who love to ski, sled, ice skate, and have snowball fights. For oversensitive kids, just walking around in the snow and making snow angels can be completely amusing and a sensory smart way to spend a wintry day.
- If your child is hyposensitive to temperature, he or she may not have those numb, achy warning signs about being too cold. Be sure to stop and visually check your child’s hands, ears, nose, and even feet every so often to keep winter play safe.
See Raising a Sensory Smart Child for more on advocating for your child at school, handling holidays and parties, and practical solutions for issues such as grooming, dressing, picky eating, and more.