Calm and Alert: How Activities Can Affect Your Attention / by Laura Kett

Swimming, digging in dirt, chewing gum, playing with playdough, jumping, and coloring – what do they have in common?  All of these activities can affect behavior and emotions.  The big question is which activities work for you?  Which ones work for your child?  The same activity may have a different result from one person to another.  For some people digging in dirt or sand is calming, for others the feel of sand in between their fingers would be totally irritating!

In past posts, I have written about how we can use activities to help us move from one state of behavior to another.  For example, we may go for a run to help us organize our thoughts or even decrease feelings of anxiety.  Similarly, children may intuitively choose the swings at recess or the climbing structure to release pent-up emotions.  After recess they may be able to concentrate better.  Hooray for recess!  And if they have a hard time calming down when they come back from recess, the teacher may have them do some deep breathing before transitioning into seat work.  It may look like this:

“Take a deep breath.  Hold.  Let it out slowly.  Again.  Now give yourself a hug.”

In the world of sensory processing, there is a host of strategies categorized as heavy work activities. The list is endless and varies from deep breathing to jumping on a mini-tramp.  There are considerations for particular environments and for personal choices.  Some activities are more appropriate for larger spaces (pushing a loaded cart) and some for smaller spaces (squeezing a fidget).  Some are appropriate for home (bike riding) and some for school (carrying books to the library).  The goal is to choose an appropriate effective activity or mix of activities. 

One of my favorite suggestions for a calming activity is coloring with the use of colored pencils or crayons because they give you good feedback and require more pressure (heavy work J).  I was recently talked to a bookstore owner who told me about the explosion of coloring books for adults, especially mandalas.  There are many with the express intent of soothing the adult soul with books such as Color Me Calm and the Zen Doodle Coloring Book.  Maybe this is something to put into your schedule before or after a challenging bedtime routine! J

Choosing activities and seeing how they work with your child is a challenge! Contact me if you would like help talking through activities which may be helpful for you or your child to help with transitions and daily routines.  I would love to help you develop a plan. 

Here are some resources and related articles:

OTMama blog has 40 heavy work activities listed which you can use and expand upon! 

NPR interview on adult coloring includes the benefits of coloring followed by an interview with a Scottish author of adult coloring books (love that accent!).  The comments at the end of the article are a great promotion for coloring

Dover Publications has some great low cost coloring books for all age levels.

NBC news article on fidgeting and movement which incorporates ideas on heavy work.