10 Christian Parenting Tips for Sensory Super-Heroes
Why can’t we just use traditional parenting methods instead of sensory parenting?
This question can have several different meanings depending on the person who is asking it. A bystander at the market or restaurant may be wondering why your child wasn’t properly disciplined. “Why not a time-out? Take away a toy? Give a spanking?” they might add. A mother or grandmother may want to know why you have shunned your upbringing by using new-wave trends. But a parent of an ASD child or child with other sensory issues may be asking, “Why, oh why is nothing working?” If you are a Christian, you’ve probably heard Proverb 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Try as we may to train our children and teach them right from wrong, it can feel hopeless.
When comparing traditional parenting methods to sensory parenting methods, it might seem at first like comparing apples to oranges. They are both fruit, but the taste and results of making juice from them is remarkably different, and certainly would taste bad together. Instead, we can think of these two methods as comparing a sweet red apple to a tart green apple. Some prefer one over the other, but when baked into a pie or made into a juice there is a unique flavor enjoyed by many.
This is not a discussion of which one is better, neither is it an attempt to prove one method over the other. We can combine many different styles to meet our children’s needs in order to create a method fit for each need. Let’s take a look at some effective methods in which we can mesh our faith into our need for sensory training. Who knows, you just might become the next Sensory Super Hero.
- Make play part of learning about Jesus using sensory objects.
If you read any Christian parenting guide, article, or pod-cast they will all tell you one thing: Always talk about Jesus and make time for prayer and bible activities. When your child doesn’t allow even non-bible activities to happen, it can be hard to do this part. The solution: talk about Jesus anyway. Find some small, safe objects that your child can hold and play with: think fidget spinner or texture cubes. While they are handing this object, say a prayer and read a children’s bible book. Don’t worry if they aren’t looking at you directly or responding when you think they should be responding.
Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Therefore, something good will come from your efforts, even if you never get to see the results trust that it is the right thing to do!
- Create a routine and stick with it—but don’t worry if you have to try new routines until you find one to keep.
One common factor that improves daily life across all types of needs is to write out a schedule. Depending on your family’s needs, it might be a very specific schedule, or it could be a pretty lax schedule. Either way, most children with sensory issues thrive under the repetition of predictability. Having the stability of a schedule may seem counter intuitive when your desire is to manage outbursts when things happen out of your control like emergencies or unexpected events. The reality is, when a person feels comfortable they are more likely to learn. When a person is uncomfortable or over stimulated, they are responding to stress and not to the learning opportunity.
- Create an environment for child-led play.
It is so important to allow children to explore and play without an adult’s influence in choosing the game or activity directly. Of course, you do want to ensure a safe environment with child-safe items, but giving the child space to play and be themselves is vital to their development.
Perhaps, when you’ve tried all the fun activities only to watch them do their own thing anyway it can feel like playtime is always child-led, but simple leaving out blocks to climb over, texture balls, or other objects and allowing the child to interact with whatever they want is excellent for building independence and confidence—they might even decide to include you in their antics by bringing you toys or playing near you. Here are some great things to include in your play area:
Being a child and learning like one must be pretty important to God. There are several instances where He references being like children to enter His Kingdom: “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:3
- Experiment with new styles of learning and engagement.
At this point, it might feel like you’ve tried everything. However, one method that has shown great results for many families is Auditory Training. At first glance it might seem like your child is just listening to music or blocking out the world with headphones over their head, but the positive sensory engagement of Auditory Training can help improve almost every crucial area a parent could hope for. The key areas can be improved with these audio activities are:
- Cognitive thinking
- Memory Retention
- Mental Focus and Clarity
- Improved Mood
- Reduced Stress
- Behavior Improvement
- Organizational Skills
- Auditory Processing
The Bible says: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.” –Psalm 96:1-2
Our children with sensory needs are definitely singing a new song—one many of us have never heard before. Let’s help them engage their voice for the glory of God!
- Get messy and get creative.
You can probably tell by now, but by letting your child experience their senses in a fun, creative way is a huge part of parenting a child with sensory issues. Making sensory tubs filled with things like rice, pipe cleaners, shaving cream, and more or playing with non-toxic paint are all fun ways to let your child explore their senses. Free of rules and full of mess might seem counterintuitive to your parenting instinct, but it can lead to a happy, confident child.
- Incorporate textures—in ways would you never have allowed before.
Natural instincts tell parents to stop their children from chewing on everything, singing or screaming when indoors, or touching everything in sight. This all stems from the need to prepare children for social interaction with others and to be a well-behaved adult someday. But for children with unique sensory needs, experiencing life is amplified for their receptors. Their senses are engaged in a way that becomes overloaded and overwhelmed so easily. Part of showing compassion to a child with these disorders is to incorporate their desire for stimulated senses in a positive way. If your child chews, then let them chew on a child safe chew as an alternative to the corner table. If your child loves to make noise, then let their sounds become a creative outlet with a kazoo. Get to know your child’s unique needs by watching closely to their reactions to different surfaces, sounds, and objects. Then, you can customize what to give your child so that they may engage in life more efficiently.
- Don’t compare to other children, not even those with sensory issues.
A tip for any parent, whether those of a child with sensory problems or not, is to think only of what’s best for your child and their unique thumbprint — not about how anyone else’s child compares. A child with sensory needs is capable of so many things. You don’t need a timeline to tell you when these things should or should not happen.
Galatians 1:10 says this, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
To put it bluntly, God wants us to mind our own business! Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray. Did Jesus prefer the one who compared himself, or the one who focused on his own progress?
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 18:9-14
- Accept your child for who they are: God’s own image.
Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
God could not get any more specific than that. We are all made in His image. Therefore, we know that He loves us—His own creation designed after himself. So when we are loving and caring for our family members with a sensory processing issue, it is important to know that they were created with a purpose just like you and me!
- Begin Occupational Therapy
““Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…” –Matthew 7:7-8
This journey through parenting a child with sensory issues is challenging. It may seem like an endlessly spinning wheel that isn’t really going anywhere. Like the tantrums and unexpected tendencies are ceaseless. If this is the case, it is time for a change. Finding an occupational therapist is a crucial step in learning your child’s behaviors and understanding how to be more proactive in their live in the world of the senses. I am thrilled to offer the opportunity to offer Occupational Therapy training that you can access from the comfort of your own home. To get started on your journey to a become a Sensory Super Hero, schedule your free call to speak with someone that understands what you are going through and has lived through these same struggles who can help you in your journey.
- Pray for understanding.
Depending on your experience, there me be an overwhelming element of surprise coming from your child, never knowing what they will like or what will trigger a tantrum. Likewise, you might have many patterns figured out or have a very unresponsive child.
Everyone experiences their own unique sensory thumbprint!
Remaining in that state of constant prayer is not only what God wants from us in our relationship with Him, but also a vital part of being a Christian parent of a child with sensory processing issues. It doesn’t matter what the world says about you or your child—what matters is what you hear from God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Truly, parenting a sensory child is something no one can be prepared for alone. They speak a language we must learn to understand, and what better place to learn it than from the one who created them.
Regardless of what other parties may feel about your parenting skills, you must remain dauntless in your efforts and steadfast in God. The only person whose opinion matters is your Savior. He sees your heart. He knows your struggles. His joy, love, and peace that surpass all understanding are but a prayer away. This journey that you are on is long and rocky. It can feel like pulling a heavy load like yoked oxen. But Jesus says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30