The Bull in the China Shop / by Laura Kett

“Oh my word, why do you keep knocking things over?  You tore your paper again?  Here’s a new one, but it’s the last one.  Will you please close the door more quietly?  Indoor voice please!!  Your zipper is broken?  You have to be more gentle!”

Do you know this child?  The child who seems rough on everything?  Sometimes seems to do things on purpose, but often is just like a bull in a china shop leaving a path of destruction?  The cause for this behavior varies, but sometimes the child just has a need for bigger input into his body.  This is the child who will gravitate toward the puddle and jump into it, run up and down the aisle in the market, chew on their ice, insist on climbing into their car seat (no help please!), dump all of their toys out, and break the crayons accidentally on purpose when coloring.  They seek more resistance, more intense feedback.

What’s interesting about this child is that when I start questioning the teacher – and especially the parent – and start giving them ideas for meeting this child’s deep sensory needs, they will often say, “Oh, he loves to do that!”  In other words, when they think about it, this child chooses what he needs.  So we’re all good, right? Unfortunately, some of the ideas the child comes up with are not so appropriate or acceptable.

So how do we intervene after we have observed this pattern of behavior?  One way is to guide them to acceptable and effective strategies for meeting this evident sensory need. Some of these are referred to as “heavy work.”  They include activities such as:  having your child help you carry groceries, open heavy doors, wipe off tables, and – for older children – push the vacuum cleaner.  Yes, your child can do chores!  Sweet.

Other ideas you may want to consider include:  sucking water from a water bottle, riding a bike, climbing at the playground, jumping, fun yoga, drawing with chalk on a sidewalk, coloring with crayons, crunchy or chewy snacks, playdough play, building with heavy wooden blocks.  Swimming, sand play, and swinging are also favorites for many children.

There are several points to remember:

  • Sprinkle these activities throughout their day. Consider putting them into your routine right before a time they have challenges such as mealtime when they have to sit for a bit…or before bedtime when they need to calm down.
  • Try catching them before their behavior starts spinning out of control. My son-in-law started a “calm song” activity with his two-year-old daughter.  What a great practice for her to learn!  It helps her to regain that calm necessary for engaged play.
  • Choose activities which will work for you and your child. Observe the effect of each activity and toss out the ones that don’t work.
  • Some activities can work both ways, e.g.,running can be calming for some people and can stimulate others.

So, what about that bull in the china shop?  He needs support if he is to enter and stay in the china shop, but altering the environment might be better. 

April 24, 2015