“Mama, I want you to hold me! Hold me now!” My 3.5-year-old son constantly needs to touch me. He often asks to be held and carried around the house even though he’s super tall and weighs almost 35 pounds.
I know why he needs to touch and be close to me, but sometimes, I must remind him that I can’t carry and nuzzle him all day. The minute I lift him off the ground and into my arms, he immediately loops his arm into my shirt to have his hand on my back.
He always needs to touch my skin. He’s at the point now where he’ll say, “Mama, I want to rub your back!” And he will keep his hand there, just rubbing my shoulder blade until I tell him I must put him down.
This was probably the biggest clue for me that he was a constant sensory-seeker.
This went hand in hand with how he slept. He prefers sleeping with me and will only fall asleep if he’s sleeping on top of me, usually my head, with his hand wrapped in my shirt and rubbing my back.
While some children use a blanket or a stuffed animal, my son uses mama.
There are times when I love the closeness, but there are also times when I can be impatient with his needs. I don’t remember the last time I slept well, but it beats waking up every hour if he finds himself alone at night. I always try to remind him that he is a big boy and can sleep in his own bed, but he prefers sleeping beside me.
On the nights that I do lay with him in his own bed and I miraculously escape his grasp, carefully unlatching each of his tiny fingers that so desperately cling to my pajamas, and sneak out, I’ll always find him back in my bed in the middle of the night.
Another one of his behaviors is his oral fixations. He constantly has his shirt in his mouth. I often change his shirt because it becomes soaked throughout the day. If it’s not his shirt, it’s a toy or food.
There are many examples of sensory-seeking behaviors. Both of my boys were sensory seekers but in very different ways. My older son, who is now six, often put things in his mouth, too, but also had other things that jumped out at me, such as being a very messy eater, overstuffing his mouth with food, and often struggling with poor balance and coordination. He always had to be held and rocked; only a constant “shushing” noise would calm him. He later went on to receive speech services, as well as physical and occupational therapy, for his gross and fine motor skills.
What threw me off with my two boys was how different they were in terms of energy levels. My older son was always a very calm child, often found sitting quietly and playing by himself. My younger son can not sit still; after dinner is the hardest part of the day for me. He is jumping on couches, doing somersaults, dumping out toy bins, and running from one activity to the next after three minutes.
I realize how his body is trying to regulate his nervous system before bedtime, at the expense of mommy’s nervous system becoming dysregulated due to his constant destruction…and I say that with love and understanding!
While trying to learn about the boys’ sensory issues, I realized I had some of my own! I can not tolerate sticky textures in my hands…bye bye, slime. I also have a tough time with loud background noises, too much clutter, and turtlenecks touching my neck.
So, what’s a mom to do? First, breathe. There are helpful ways to work with your child who needs the extra stimulation.
Letting my son run and jump safely before bedtime was huge. I had to let go of the idea that children were calm after a bath and a story. I created a space on my bed where he could do his acrobatics without getting hurt. And when the weather is nice, I encourage him to use his swing set, throw the ball to our dogs, and jump in the leaves in the fall. When he wants to put stuff in his mouth, I make sure it’s something safe and clean. I also noticed that a mini trampoline helps! I also give him jobs around the house because it makes him feel important and helps his brain when busy.
What helped me the most was how I thought about the situation. When I stopped viewing his hyperactivity as a negative, I started to feel better about my little wild man. He keeps me on my toes, and I am better at responding to his antics. He’s taught me how to have more fun and to laugh at the lunacy…well, except for when he’s drawing circles on my wall with crayons.