ADVICE: Why Is My Kid Doing That?
A look at our “sixth sense” and how it can help our children get calm and focused
Proprioception (proh-pree-o-sep-tion) isn’t a word we hear every day. Often referred to as our “sixth sense,” proprioception gives us an awareness of where our limbs are and how our bodies are positioned in space. In other words, proprioception gives us our sense of body awareness.
Our proprioceptive system takes in information from receptors in our muscles and joints through compression (like a hug) or heavy work of our muscles (such as jumping up and down). Proprioception plays a role in just about everything our kids do in a day. It helps them know how much pressure to use when they hold a pencil, ride a bike without having to look at their feet to pedal, sit up and sit still in a chair, maneuver playground equipment, and demonstrate an overall sense of coordination.
When parents understand this “sixth sense,” we can offer proprioceptive input, which can help our children focus when they’re melting down, bouncing off the walls, or daydreaming to focus.
As with any of the senses, children can have trouble processing this sensory input. There are two categories of children who struggle with this; those who seek out proprioceptive input and those who do not properly register the proprioceptive input their bodies receive.
Children who are proprioceptive seekers are the most common. They can appear hyperactive, seem as out of control, and display some of the following behaviors:
- Play too rough
- Appear aggressive
- Move constantly
- Chew on everything
- Seek out jumping or crashing activities
- Prefers heavy blankets and tight spots
- Have difficulty understanding personal space
Less common are the children who do not register the proprioceptive input their bodies receive, or are slow to respond to it. This means they need more input to understand where their body is in space. These children may:
- Appear lazy
- Avoid movement activities
- Appear clumsy and uncoordinated
- Have poor body awareness
- Fatigue easily
- Have difficulty learning new motor tasks
- Slump in their chair or have poor posture
In either case, we can help by giving them frequent opportunities for proprioceptive input. Remember, proprioception helps our children find a state of calm and focus. This means every child can benefit from a lifestyle chock full of opportunities to get this type of input. My motto is, “When all else fails, give proprioceptive input.” The good news is, you can do many of these activities in a pinch and with no equipment. Again, think compression and using their heavy work muscles.
Here are some examples of ways you can do this through activities:
- Animal walks (crab walk, bear crawl, snake slither, frog jump, etc.)
- Wheelbarrow walking
- Bouncing on an exercise ball
- Crossing the monkey bars
- Household chores (carrying groceries or laundry, vacuuming, raking, digging, etc.)
- Chewing gum or chewy snacks (apple slices, dried fruit, granola bars, etc.)
- Wrapping up like a “burrito” in blankets
- Sitting in a bean bag chair or hammock
And remember: the best proprioceptive activity of them all is hugs. When all else fails, think proprioception!
CINDY UTZINGER is an occupational therapist, mother of two, and author of Why Is My Kid Doing That?, a book to help parents better understand their child’s behavior.