The world is a new place to children. As soon as they’re born, they start learning about the world through every sense they have and through everything that happens to and around them. Such an immersive education can be fascinating, but it can also be overwhelming. If you’ve noticed that your child is easily overwhelmed in certain situations, they may be dealing with overstimulation. Keep reading to learn what overstimulation is and what it looks like in children of various ages.
Definition of Overstimulation
The formal definition of overstimulation is excessive physiological or mental stimulation. Children may be overwhelmed with more sensations and experiences than their brains can process. Overstimulation can happen through any of the five senses or through a combination of them. If your child sees more images, hears more noises, tastes more flavors, smells more scents, or feels more textures than they can process—or any combination of those options—this may result in overstimulation.
Symptoms of Overstimulation
Children of different ages will show overstimulation in different ways. Babies younger than 24 months will often turn their heads away from the overstimulation and possibly away from whoever tries to soothe them. They’ll cry easily and seem cranky and tired. Their body movements may be jerky, and they may clench their hands into fists, wave their arms, or kick their legs.
Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 5 years may also cry and seem cranky, tired or upset. Even though they’re learning how to talk, they may refuse to use words to communicate. They may throw tantrums and refuse to continue the current activity or do other simple tasks they’ve previously performed easily.
Children between the ages of 6 and 10 years probably won’t cry, but they may seem bored, cranky, tired, clumsy, or clingy. They may complain about specific experiences, such as mealtime, and refuse to cooperate or only partially cooperate when asked to perform or assist with a task.
Overstimulation often happens during or after a tiring day. If your child overexerts themselves at an event or with a certain experience, they’ll be easier to overstimulate as the day goes on. Creating calming routines after big events or experiences and designing calming bedtime routines to prevent nighttime overstimulation are key.
Different situations will calm different children, so every calming routine will look different. However, there are some classic calming rituals, such as reading together, taking a slow walk, and listening to soothing music. All of these can help after an overstimulating experience, depending on what caused the overstimulation. If touch or sound were one of the sensations that caused the original overstimulation, your child may not respond well to being held or listening to more music.
Baths can help babies sleep, so incorporating baths into bedtime routines for babies and older children may help them calm down after an overstimulating day. Massages and deep-breathing exercises can also ease your child’s overstimulation before bed.
Now you know what overstimulation is, what overstimulation looks like in children, and how to address it. Individual children will each respond differently to various stimulants and different calming techniques, but these common symptoms and classic responses should be able to help you navigate overstimulation and help your child.