Understanding Under Stimulated & Over Stimulated Child Behaviors

Understanding over and under stimulated behaviors in preschool children.If you are reading this preschool article, chances are you have read ‘Part 1’ and are ready to go through the 4 types of behaviors.

This article is going to focus on the first type, and that is, calming a child who has over or under stimulated senses.

The child who has over stimulated senses will usually show signs of irritability, they may scream to drown out noise, tantrums, they may be non-verbal, try to run away, and show signs of nervousness or anger.

The child whose senses are under stimulated may show signs of moodiness, they may be very quiet, they may rock, chew their clothing, and have no or low energy/motivation.
Something must be happening to cause these behaviors to come out in a young child.

Over Stimulated Child:

For a child whose senses are over stimulated they may react in the ways noted above due to:

  • the environment being too loud
  • things moving too fast and its overwhelming
  • lights are too bright
  • things may be too confusing
  • words are too confusing
  • things may feel scratchy (clothing tags, certain materials, etc.)
    certain food textures may be painful to them

Under Stimulated Child:

A child whose senses are under stimulated is most likely experiencing mental and emotional shut down from boredom, and they will be spaced out and/or unfocused.

They may need:

  • more touch
  • more people watching or taking notice of them
  • more movement (rocking, jumping, running, etc.)
  • louder sounds
  • mouth stimulation (teething toys help)

What should we never do about those behaviors listed for both types of senses?

The number one thing to NEVER do is stop the behavior.
If it is not harming anyone or themselves, then let them be.

That behavior is more than likely having a calming effect on them and is helping them cope, and now we have an idea of how to help them.

Let’s put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine you were sitting in a room with a bunch of people and everyone got to play their favorite song on a CD player.

One member of the group plays a loud, ear piercing song that makes you feel uncomfortable and it’s so loud your ears hurt so you cover them and that helps you cope and you decide to keep your ears covered until the song is over.

The person who has the song playing sees you and immediately comes over to you and pulls at your hands to take them away from your ears because they think you need to hear the song. You resist and it becomes a struggle.

You then become angry, the person pulling your hands away is angry, and the rest of the people in the group become uncomfortable as they watch the struggle.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you were able to keep your ears covered until the song was over or you were able to leave the room until you felt comfortable enough to join them again?

If a pre school child is reacting a certain way to a situation and it’s harmless, why get into a power struggle. If it’s helping them, let them be and try to find alternative strategies to help them cope while still engaging in classroom activities.

Be creative and think of things you can incorporate in the classroom to help the child who needs the more or less stimulation. I won’t leave you with nothing though, here are some examples to get started and then based on the personal experiences you encounter you can use these examples, expand on them, or I am sure you will find it easy to come up with your own.

Examples of Strategies You Can Use in your Classroom for a Child Who is Over Stimulated:

If rough textures bother them, bright lights, and lots of noise, set up a quiet area for them to escape to when things seem overwhelming to them. An example of this could be to set up a child sized tent with soft blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals.

For safety purposes you want to keep the doorway to the tent open but the tent can be placed in a corner of the room where there is generally less commotion, or beside the library center.

If their constantly tugging at their clothing or seem uncomfortable sitting talk to their parents about possible sending them to school in a jogging suit or soft clothing which will help them feel more comfortable and less distracted about that so they can focus on classroom activities.

If you notice them throw tantrums when you move onto a new activity or during transitions, chances are they may need more time engaging in specific activities.

Instead of trying to jam pack so many learning centers into one day, why not spread them out throughout the week and focus on two a day instead of 4 or 5.

By doing this you slow down the pace and allow the children more time to focus on one activity.

Don’t worry about the other children; you are not taking anything away from them.

They are still benefiting from each learning center and they may also enjoy having more time enjoying each learning center in a more relaxed atmosphere throughout the week.

Here are some examples of strategies you can use in your classroom for a child who is under stimulated.

If a child needs more touch, put a bucket of toys on the shelf that are squishy, hard, soft, rubbery, rough (sandpaper) etc. so they can explore different textures.

If a child who needs more touch comes up to hug you, hug them back and make sure they let go first. They will hug you as long as they feel they need it and they will let go once they feel that need is met.

If they need more people watching them, why not keep an eye on them throughout the day and as you see them doing something good praise them for it. (e.g. Johnny, you made a great big castle with those blocks, it looks like you worked hard on that.)

You can also do that to other children in the classroom to who don’t necessarily need it but at least Johnny won’t feel centered out if he was the only one you focused on.

What if the child needs more movement and you notice them rocking or fidgeting?

Why not get a rocking chair for the classroom or a small one man trampoline set off to the side in the room. You might be thinking are you nuts?

The kids will fight over it.

Increased Physical Activity

Well the pre k children might all be interested in it at first since it will be a new unique item in the room, but, the children who don’t need that extra stimulation will explore it and leave it.

The child who needs the extra stimulation will use it to the full. A trampoline is great for balancing a child’s cerebrum which is also a cause for the both behaviors mentioned in this article.

Make sure you get lots of outdoor time for physical activity including running, jumping, kicking, throwing. If you get out first thing in the morning you might also notice a difference in the child’s behavior for the rest of the morning when you go back inside.

Music & Every Day Sounds

The last example I am going to share is if a child needs more auditory stimulation.

Playing background music is perfect for this or you could also create or buy a CD that has recording of a variety of everyday noises. (e.g. vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, train, cars, horns, buses, etc.)

You don’t need it blasting but if you have it playing in the background it will help fill the void of the child who needs it.

By trying some of the strategies mentioned in this article you will start to understand the preschool children who need assistance in these under stimulated and over stimulated areas and really change the dynamics of your classroom in a positive way for the specified child, the other children in the classroom, their parents, and yourself.

Stay tuned for the next article where we will talk about a child who needs help connecting to others.

Understanding Challenging Child Behaviors