Sensory Issues: The Sensory Seeking Child

Have teachers, other parents, friends or family questioned you on why you are unable to “control” your child or ask you why your child “acts that way”? Do you find yourself asking your child to use their inside voice, to stop jumping/spinning/climbing-to just sit still, over and over and over again? If so, you may have a sensory seeker on your hands.



It can be exhausting and isolating as a parent to have a child who is constantly sensory seeking. You may not feel comfortable taking your child out to places and activities due to their behaviors. You may feel judged by others and embarrassed; making excuses to not go out in the community. It is totally justifiable and understandable to have those feelings, to want to have a “normal” kid, to not have to worry about the “what-if’s” that can happen.





When you have a sensory seeking child, it’s not about control; controlling the behavior is not going to happen. Maybe in the short term scolding your child to comply with social norms will work, but long term? Not it’s not likely; by doing that you could be setting your child up for failure. Have you ever been nervous/anxious or exited and were absentmindedly bouncing a knee or chewing your nails? Stopping that behavior once you realize you’re doing it can be relatively easy, however how often do you realize that you just started right back up after a few minutes? A sensory seeking child is very similar to this-they do not realize that they’re engaging in disruptive behaviors; they’re just doing what their body tells them to do, what feels natural to them. When you attempt to stop the sensory seeking altogether, it can be like an over pressurized pressure cooker; the behaviors coming out in more destructive or aggressive ways.


Each child is different in what sensory stimulation they seek out, but here are some examples of sensory seeking behavior’s:


-The need to touch or smell things or people

-getting into others personal space

-jumping, spinning, rocking, climbing, crashing

-constantly moving

-repeating the same sounds/phrases over and over again

-chewing or mouthing non-food items

-being clumsy/uncoordinated

-having a high pain tolerance

-using their outside voice or screaming randomly

-stomping while walking

-break items unintentionally


When a parent has a child who is sensory seeking it can be draining on them, both physically and mentally. However, here are some potential solutions to ease some of that tension:


-having movement activities that have a goal/purpose

-have your child run back and forth, picking up and putting away their toys; you can make it a game by putting on a timer (think of that test in High School gym where you had to run back and forth to beat the Beeps). Or if your child likes to jump or crash; take your couch cushions (unless you have access to a trampoline or gym mats) and have your child participate in a gymnastics competition. Ask them to jump, land, twirl, and summersault in different ways. Or play a game of Simon says: Simon says jump up 5 times and touch your toes. Simon says spin twice and bounce a ball once.

-having activities that have a clear “Stop” and “Start” can be helpful

-putting a limit on how many big jumps and how many small jumps your child is allowed to do at one time. Putting up an obstacle course in your living room or outside where they have to save their stuffed animals or other toys from danger, then putting the toys into corresponding boxes.

-Put your child to work! Have them lift or move heavy objects that are age appropriate.

-have your child help bring in the groceries, carry the laundry basket, take the garbage out or help with the yard work. (win-win).




It should be noted that if your child is a “true” sensory seeker and you provide them the wrong kind of stimulation that their body is craving, the activities may be fun for them, but it may not be helpful. Those children who don’t get what their body is craving can end up being more exited, hyper, seemingly more out of control than before you provided them stimulation in the first place. For example, if you send your child outside to play in the backyard or on a playground and they come back home even more riled up than before. They may not have needed the big movements, running or jumping kind of stimulation. Maybe they just needed some deep pressure, or something to chew on to get their needs met. A lot of children with sensory seeking behaviors/sensory concerns or even those children who can be physically aggressive have had great success participating in Occupational Therapy. OT can help your child understand when they are in need of stimulation and learn how to process and react to sensory input in more effective ways.


And as a reminder: every child is different and figuring out your kids can sometimes feel like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube, in low light, where all the colors are slightly varying shades of grey. For more information about Sensory processing the book The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA and Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D, OTR is a good resource on what sensory processing is, symptoms, treatment, coping with sensory processing, how to talk to the school system about sensory processing and advocating for your child and other Sensory processing disorder related conditions.