How to Include a “Sensory” Toddler on Errands
First of all, going on outings or errands with any 2 year old is difficult. What you may think is awful behavior may be completely normal for a child his/her age! However, some kiddos that have sensory needs may need a little extra help. Here is some advice to keep some of those necessary errands as peaceful as possible. This list isn’t meant to be a step by step process to go through before each outing (that would be overwhelming) as much as a compilation of ideas to try with your kiddo.
1. Plan to keep the outing short and simple. If possible, save longer outings when the child is staying with another caregiver. Even a laid back and well behaved 2 year old will struggle with long errands.
2. If you are going on a shopping trip, be as organized as possible to keep the outing short. For example, use a list of items and write them in the order that you find them in the store (i.e. list groceries in order of produce, dairy, baby items, toiletries, etc.).
3. Have a small backpack ready with activities specifically for outings for your child, if they carry the backpack it is a great way to learn responsibility. (Try magnadoodles, finger puppets, board books, etc.) Bonus: If they enjoy “heavy” work and weighted items, put a bottle of water or 2 in the backpack for calming input.
4. Prepare your child in an upbeat manner about the outing. Make it seem like it is an adventure!
5. If your child uses a picture schedule make sure there is a picture to represent errands such as a picture of your car, a shopping cart, or his/her favorite “car toy”. Show the picture to the child and also what activity is next to get them ready.
6. If the child follows a “sensory diet” do some calming activities prior to leaving. For example, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, deep pressure massage and joint compressions, crawling through a tunnel, pillow squishes, etc. Do a quick search of “heavy work activities for toddlers” to come up with more ideas.
1. For children with good comprehension, reading a story about riding in the car could be a good way to prepare them for the ride. Try: http://projectautism.org/blog/social-story-riding-in-the-car-for-road-trips Don’t worry about doing this right before you leave, just read the book whenever you would normally have reading time.
2. Have a small toy that is for the car only (i.e. doll, action figure, sensory bottle, etc.) for the child to look forward to in the car. Keep this for the car only (if possible) and make it seem like it is extra special.
3. If the child has auditory sensitivities or global sensitivities try using sound cancelling headphones to block noise which can be very calming. Try playing classical music such as Mozart (it has a very organized structure and rhythm) or just turn them on without music.
4. For a visually stimulated child try sunglasses to block harmful light and also consider blocking side vision. Side images go by very quickly and can be stimulating as well as nauseating.
5. Use a weighted lap pad on top of the child’s harness for calming input. *Warning: Be cautious about the child’s temperature and ability to move, talk to a therapist about weight guidelines and size if you use this option.
6. Save portable DVD players and tablets for longer trips. These are appropriate to use during traveling, but we don’t want the kiddos to become dependent on them for short trips.
During the Errand
1. Positive reinforcement: Praise them for little things during the trip. “Great job staying in your seat at the grocery!” “Thank you for waiting in line with me!”
2. Stay busy! Break out that backpack of items during long waits in line. Play simple games like “I-Spy” or simply naming the colors of items while waiting to pass the time.
3. If your child has a weighted vest or compression vest, consider wearing it during the errand as part of the wear schedule. *Talk to your therapist about this first for guidelines about length of time, amount of weight, etc.
4. In the home stretch it is perfectly fine to use your phone or tablet to buy a few extra minutes. Hold off as long as possible and think of it as a reward for making it through the errand.
5. Treat yourself afterward. Reward the child AND yourself afterward. Bribery goes a long way and is perfectly appropriate! Frozen yogurt anyone? McDonalds’ Fries? Cookies at home? Sometimes a small treat is all the motivation you need to get through the day.
Written by Rebecca Smith, OT