You don't have to be sensory sensitive to feel the effects of a lively children's party, but that amount of sensory input may not be just fun and games for your kiddo. Perhaps they might experience some dysregulation before, during, or hours or days afterward.
In this episode, we dive into the huge amount of stimuli that make up the party experience (and there are a lot), and outline the variety of ways these could be affecting your child.
Then we talk about some strategies and communication tools you can use to help prepare for the party, including tips for open communication with the host.
There are also excellent toys, weighted items and specific clothing that you can use to create your very own sensory toolbox for going to birthday parties. With just a little preparation, flexibility, and honesty, there are lots of things you can do to make the party enjoyable for your little one.
Finally, we dig deep into our exciting new Q&A section at the end of the episode, discussing working with a young one who blinks a lot when there are loud noises, as well as taking care of yourself.
There are many different sensory components at birthday parties.
The stimulus from kids' birthday parties can be draining for adults too.
Providing various strategies to prepare for these kinds of events.
Communicating with your host what you'd like to do to help you keep your child regulated and having fun.
What therapy items you could take with you to the party.
Providing a social story template free resource for you to download and use.
When is a good time to leave?
The benefits of using a safe word.
Using honesty and adaptability can allow lots of options for an enjoyable party.
How to plan and what to provide if you are the host.
Q&A section: What to do to help your sensory system as an adult? What does it mean when my little one blinks a lot when they hear loud sounds?
“New foods, new cake, new frosting that had added sugar and food dyes, and gluten. And if you don’t have that in your child’s diet, usually then, it can cause a lot of challenges if they get into their system.” — Rachel[0:03:38]
“Using a visual schedule and a social story can be super helpful.” — Jessica[0:10:58]
“We want to have fun, and if we have a meltdown it is not going to be fun anymore, so instead of having a meltdown, we’re going to take a break so we can come back.” — Jessica[0:14:12]
[0:00:01.4] RH: Hey there, I’m Rachel.
[0:00:03.1] JH: I’m Jessica and this is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapist and educators live happy and healthy lives.
[0:00:12.2] RH: We dive into all things sensory, special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.
[0:00:24.6] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.
[0:00:32.1] RH: Hey everyone, welcome back to All Things Sensory by Harkla, you're listening to Rachel and Jessica and this is episode 177.
[0:00:39.7] JH: back in September, we shared about trips first birthday party on Instagram and we asked you if your child struggles with birthday parties and almost everyone said yes. That meant that we needed to do an episode on birthday parties so here we are.
[0:01:02.1] RH: We do have an episode on Halloween which is kind of a similar event, it’s number 18, the sensory survival guide for Halloween where we talk about why children might struggle with this particular holiday and we also give a ton of strategies to help. This episode is going to be similar to that but surrounding the theme of birthday parties.
[0:01:23.1] JH: First we want to talk about all the different sensory components that can be experienced at a children’s birthday party.
[0:01:31.8] RH: Okay, first thing’s first. A lot of visual input. People moving around, lights, balloons, movement, a lot of visual input to have to process and filter.
[0:01:46.3] JH: Then, the same with auditory input, there’s going to be a lot of noise, people, talking, children laughing and yelling and crying. If you’re at like a party place like Chuck E. Cheese then there’s going to be noises from all the different games and machines and it might even be really echo-y.
[0:02:04.9] RH: Not a fan.
[0:02:05.8] JH: It’s a lot.
[0:02:07.0] RH: In addition, there’s probably going to be some novel tactile input, so lots of people means there might be opportunity for physical contact, if you're in a bounce house, bouncing off of each other, new tactile input from whatever the environment is or what’s in the environment like balloons, grass, toys, play structures, all of the above. Food, new foods.
[0:02:34.5] JH: Yeah, there’s also going to be more or new different gustatory and old factory inputs so lots of different smells from all the people you’re around, all the different equipment you’re around, if you're at like a party place and then new tastes and smells from all the different food the smells, I already said smells but there’s a lot.
[0:02:55.4] RH: Yes.
[0:02:56.1] JH: Going on.
[0:02:57.7] RH: Then we have the vestibular and proprioceptive input depending on the location once again, there might be trampolines, bounce houses, swimming pools, climbing structures, swings, jungle gyms, monkey bars, parks, lots of movement and positional activities.
[0:03:16.5] JH: Then we have interception which is our sense of what’s going on inside of us, our feelings of hunger, thirst, new bathroom and even emotions. When you’re at a birthday party, there could be a lot of challenges if you’re in a new environment. Maybe your meal time routine is thrown off, you don’t know where the bathroom is, you can’t control emotions, all of the things.
[0:03:39.3] RH: Okay, that’s a lot.
[0:03:42.2] JH: That’s a lot of sensory input. Okay.
[0:03:44.5] RH: Potential, yeah.
[0:03:46.3] JH: Yeah, different sensory input than what you're used to.
[0:03:49.5] RH: Let’s kind of gear this in towards a birthday party and what a child might struggle with at specifically a birthday party.
[0:04:02.3] JH: If a child is struggling from a visual standpoint, there’s going to be too much visual information to taking and process and modulate, maybe the lights are too bright, there are too many people nearby, moving, and all of these visual input can cause sensory overload.
[0:04:23.7] RH: From an auditory standpoint, the noises are too loud and it physically hurts when a child screams or when a game beeps or even if people are saying happy birthday. This can cause an instant auditory sensory overload.
[0:04:38.4] JH: From a tactile standpoint, there’s textures and new tactile input that might actually hurt when they touch the child. Someone bumping into the child, whether it’s an adult or another kid or wearing an uncomfortable outfit can cause a fight or flight response.
[0:04:58.4] RH: From a gustatory and old factory standpoints, smells are too much, there are new smells, that are weird, the candle’s burnt out, when they get blown out, that burning smell, food, the thought of trying new foods or being required to touch new foods, it just gives these kiddos a heebeegeebees.
[0:05:21.0] JH: I was even just thinking, you know, like a partyplace. The smells are so different in that type of environment that can be so overwhelming. Okay, from vestibular and proprioceptive standpoint, you might, the child might need to motor plan new movements on new pieces of equipment and that can be overwhelming.
Too much movement can be overstimulating and then finally we have inter reception, everything outside is causing turmoil on the inside, emotions run high, holding in the need to go to the bathroom because heaven forbid we have to go to the bathroom in a public place, it’s loud, there’s blow dryers, we’re hungry because we’re refusing to try new foods or different foods or drinks, we’re dehydrated, we haven’t drunk enough water. All of these feelings can cause like a sensory overload internally as well.
[0:06:16.8] RH: These children might have a meltdown immediately upon arriving to the birthday party. Maybe even before, maybe just the anticipation of going to the birthday party causes the meltdown or they might have a meltdown halfway through the birthday party or they might be able to hold everything together for the party but then they meltdown as soon as you return home.
[0:06:39.1] JH: I think that’s important to recognize.
[0:06:42.5] RH: This kids might also experience the same dysregulation for days after the party or hours after the party, especially if they had new foods, new cake, new frosting that had added sugar and food dyes and gluten and if you don’t have that in your child’s diet, usually then, it can cause a lot of challenges if they get into their system.
[0:07:04.3] JH: Yeah, especially because those food items might take several days to fully get out of the system.
[0:07:10.2] RH: Yeah, probably a while. If you guys are pretty good about not getting that in their system but even if your kiddo is used to having that, those food diets cause a lot of – can cause a lot of behavioral challenges, gluten, dairy, a lot of inflammation in the gut and that directly affects behavior as well.
[0:07:28.9] JH: I was just thinking too, for my standpoint at a birthday party, I just always feel really tired afterwards. Even Trip’s birthday party. I mean, I did practically nothing but I came home from that and I was just – I just wanted to sit on the couch, I was tired.
[0:07:46.5] RH: Yeah.
[0:07:46.8] JH: I can only imagine how you felt.
[0:07:50.2] RH: Slightly more tired.
[0:07:52.0] JH: Even adults, even those of us who maybe don’t struggle with sensory processing like our kiddos do, even we can have after lasting effects from a birthday party.
[0:08:04.5] RH: Let’s talk about strategies, what strategy did you use when you got home?
[0:08:09.4] JH: I sat on the couch and rested.
[0:08:12.7] RH: You took a brain break.
[0:08:13.6] JH: I did.
[0:08:14.0] RH: You took a brain break, good for you for listening to your body.
[0:08:16.3] JH: Why, what did you use?
[0:08:18.3] RH: Well, I had to clean everything up.
[0:08:20.3] JH: You were still in go mode.
[0:08:21.6] RH: Yeah. Then, I think, went to bed when I got home. I was tired though, for sure.
[0:08:30.2] JH: If you have a child who has anxiety over these situations but wants to go, maybe they have meltdowns during the party, meltdowns after the party, let’s talk about strategies specifically for those kids.
[0:08:42.3] RH: Let the host of the party know that you might have to leave early, explain that you and your child want to attend the party but that it might be a little bit over stimulating and you would love to stay as long as possible but you might just have to sneak out and don’t make a big deal about it.
[0:08:58.9] JH: I think if you’re going to someone’s house for a birthday party, you can take items with you to provide your child with a sensory break when needed, right? You can leave items in your car but if you’re at a house, maybe you can take a small pop-up tent that you can setup in a guest bedroom for a quiet sensory break. Obviously, talk to the host first.
[0:09:25.0] RH: Yup. Use weighted items if your child benefits from that so bring a weighted blanket or a lap pad, use it during the car ride, a weighted vest or a weighted back pack during the party. Ankle weights hidden under pants and under socks or over socks could be helpful and then, a weighted lap pad during the party when everyone is seated.
[0:09:46.6] JH: I was also thinking about if you are going to a birthday party at like an event place and you can’t really take a popup tent with you, maybe you have all of these items, all these sensory calming items in your car and you can help your child take a break in the car during the party and use your headphones, your weighted blanket, whatever you’re using to help them feel calm again and then you can go back and return to the party.
[0:10:13.1] RH: Yeah, set a timer for five minutes and just decompress. Honestly, you’ll probably feel a lot better too.
[0:10:19.5] JH: For sure. My gosh, for sure.
[0:10:21.9] RH: Okay, fidgets and stress balls are also helpful, you can give your kiddo a little treasure to hold on to that’s comforting, that provides calming proprioceptive input, something like a stress ball for them to squeeze, a tangle fidget, a fidget spinner if those are still a thing.
[0:10:36.8] JH: I know, I think the trick with those is just making sure that there is a tool that they can use to fill calm, not let the toy that they’re going to play with. Unless I guess they need to and it’s appropriate. Noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs can be beneficial.
[0:10:51.6] RH: Wearing a compression shirt under their clothes is a great hidden secret sensory option.
[0:10:58.3] JH: Using a visual schedule and a social story can be super helpful. A visual schedule to show t hem the day of the party you're going to get up and do your morning routine and then you’re going to get in the car, go to the birthday party and then come home. Social story of what’s going to be expected at the birthday party, what they can do if they feel overwhelmed, those kinds of things.
[0:11:24.2] JH: Okay, we just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company Harkla.
[0:11:27.4] RH:Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs live happy and healthy lives. Not only do we work to accomplish this through the podcast but we also have therapy products, digital courses and a ton of free resources on YouTube and our website to try to bring holistic care to you and your family.
[0:11:44.8] JH: Listeners of the All Things Sensory Podcast get 10% off their first purchase at Harkla with the discount code “sensory.”
[0:11:52.2] RH: We would highly recommend checking out some of our bestsellers like the compression sensory swing, the weighted blankets and of course, our course on sensory diets and the primitive reflexes.
[0:12:03.1] JH: The cool thing is that one percent of each sale gets donated to the University of Washington Autism Center to support autism research and fund scholarships to families in need to receive in-clinic therapy for their children.
[0:12:16.9] RH: Learn more about Harkla and all we have to offer at harkla.co, that’s harkla.co and use the code “sensory” to get 10% off your first purchase. That’s “sensory” for 10% off.
[0:12:34.7] JH:Don’t forget that all Harkla orders come with a lifetime guarantee and free shipping.
[0:12:39.4] RH: All right, let’s get back to the show.
[0:12:42.1] RH: We actually made a birthday party social story template that we are going to link in the shownotes. It is a free download, a PDF, snag it and use it at your next birthday party and then tag us on Instagram when you do so we can see it.
[0:12:57.5] JH: I think this is a good thing for all kids to do but this is going to especially help those sensory kiddos who struggle at the birthday parties is to have them help pick out and wrap the gift and then when the child is unwrapping all their presents, your child and can go ahead and like walk up and give them the present.
[0:13:15.2] RH: Yep.
[0:13:16.6] JH: Because kids they just want a little control.
[0:13:17.9] RH: Yes and from the very beginning to the end, you pick out the present, you wrap it, you give it to them like it’s the whole shebang.
[0:13:27.1] JH: Yeah, that’s part of the whole process, yeah.
[0:13:29.6] RH: If necessary, leave before they open presents and do cake or take a brain break during these activities. These are often the most overwhelming for kiddos.
[0:13:40.2] JH: Decide on a safe word if the child is able to, on a safe word that means it is time to sneak away for a break or maybe you use a sign of some sort. Maybe the word is pickles and your child is starting to feel overwhelmed and they could just say, “Pickles” and you know that that’s their sign that they need a break.
[0:13:59.6] RH: Or likewise.
[0:14:00.5] JH: Yeah.
[0:14:01.3] RH: You the adult say, “pickles” and that means that you just sneak away.
[0:14:05.7] JH: Yep and it is not like a – you don’t want it to be a negative thing to say like, “Oh when you’re losing control we have to take a break.” It’s more of like, “We want to have and if we have a meltdown it is not going to be fun anymore, so instead of having a meltdown, we’re going to take a break so we can come back.”
[0:14:19.7] RH: Yes, I like that example. Okay, bring a baseball hat or sunglasses to help reduce visual overstimulation.
[0:14:29.8] JH: You can always bring your own snacks, food, cake items that meet your family’s dietary restrictions or dietary preferences or I feel like you can also talk to the host of the party and see if there is an option to have gluten-free cake or dye-free candy, you know?
[0:14:53.7] RH: Don’t be afraid to ask and maybe if they aren’t going to have those alternatives, maybe they will the next time. Maybe they’ll realize that, “Oh okay, this actually isn’t good for our kids to have, so maybe we’ll try something different” you know?
[0:15:08.8] JH: Totally, I think you know I have talked to families before who they have had real and honest conversations with their kids about their food and about how certain food make their child’s tummy hurt and so the child is aware and so if your child is aware of these, you can always give them the option and say, “Look, there is going to be cake.” I am just using this as an example, “There is going to be gluten in it. It is going to be your choice if you want to have a bite or a whole one, just remember how it is going to make your tummy feel” then that gives your child a lot of control.
[0:15:43.9] RH: Don’t come crying to me when your stomach hurts, no I am just kidding.
[0:15:47.0] JH: You can totally say that if you like.
[0:15:48.2] RH: That’s what I tell Daniel.
[0:15:48.8] JH: If you want, I mean he is also a mental.
[0:15:53.1] RH: You’re fault dude, no I am just kidding. Take that out.
[0:15:55.1] JH: It’s your fault. I don’t know, I think there is a lot of different things you can do to help make the birthday party enjoyable but you just have to be honest about it.
[0:16:05.1] RH: You have to be willing to make those adaptations and modifications, so whether it is your birthday party or you’re going to a birthday party, it just takes some conscious effort to make these events sensory friendly and you know, fitting inclusive to everyone.
[0:16:22.5] JH: Yeah, so if you’re throwing a birthday party, take into account all the different sensory components and see if you can make it more sensory friendly and maybe let your guests know, “Hey, you guys are totally welcome to go up to the guest bedroom if you need a break” you know, provide those sensory friendly options for your party guests.
[0:16:44.6] RH: Just keep in mind that if you have to leave early or if your child is having a hard time, it’s okay. No one will be mad at you if you have to jet out early, just have those firm boundaries and consistent expectations for your child. Practice in advance, role play and be kind and empathetic of course.
[0:17:05.0] JH: Always and if it’s your child’s birthday party, make sure you have realistic expectations and know that it’s okay if it’s not a picture perfect birthday party because the goal of the birthday party is to celebrate your child and if your child is not having fun, then –
[0:17:24.0] RH: You’re not having fun.
[0:17:25.3] JH: You’re not having fun then what’s the point, right? Make sure that it’s sensory friendly for your child and for their friends and I think everyone will just have a better time that way.
[0:17:34.8] RH: All right, that wraps up episode 177 but stick around, we are going to do our Q&A from Instagram.
[0:17:43.3] JH: Okay, so we have two questions we’re answering today. First one says, this was a little bit longer question so we kind of slimed it down a little bit. “As an adult, what can I do daily to help my sensory system and overall health?”
[0:17:58.0] RH: First of all, way to be proactive. I love this question, I think it’s great and I think the first thing you can do is recognize all of the sensory input that you get throughout the day.
[0:18:12.1] JH: We have an episode about that.
[0:18:13.3] RH: We sure do and then you can realize and you can understand what things you can modify in order to get different adaptive responses.
[0:18:22.9] JH: Identify the struggle and identify why you’re struggling in that specific area. For example, Rachel, we use this example a lot, Rachel struggles with auditory processing and so she knows that and so she uses the listening program.
[0:18:37.4] RH: The other night, actually I was standing in the kitchen, my parents were here, football was on, other stuff, there was other noises that I just looked at my mom and I said, “I am so overstimulated right now, there is too much auditory input” and she was like, “Okay, what do you want me to do about that?”
[0:18:53.4] JH: What do you want me to do Rache?
[0:18:55.0] RH: I was like, “Well, I’m just commenting because I am really proud of myself for recognizing that and not just shutting down and getting really angry” so I just quietly walked over, secretly muted the football.
[0:19:08.3] JH: Of course she did.
[0:19:09.2] RH: Yep and that helped a lot, so recognizing that if you need to wake up, Jessica you’re yawning.
[0:19:18.2] JH: I know.
[0:19:18.7] RH: You know, do some vestibular input.
[0:19:20.7] JH: We’ve been sitting all day.
[0:19:20.9] RH: I know, you know? Recognizing what input you can use to get specific responses will be really helpful.
[0:19:30.9] JH: I think too, it’s important to remember that like from a brain standpoint, your brain needs a break, right? If you are sitting down and you’re working all day long, make sure you schedule in brain breaks every 40 to 50 minutes for five to ten minutes at a time. You sit down, you’re working at your desk for 45 minutes, your alarm goes off, you shut it for 10 minutes and for 10 minutes you go for a walk or if you’re working from home, it can literally just be like unloading the dishwasher as your sensory brain break, you know?
Then you sit back down for another 45 minutes of work but making sure that you give yourself that opportunity to get up and move around because research has proven that that does help your productivity in the long run.
[0:20:19.5] RH: Absolutely. Okay, next question. “My little one blinks a lot when he hears loud sounds. Is that a sign of sensory processing disorder?”
[0:20:28.1] JH: My first response is not necessarily, my first thought.
[0:20:32.4] RH: Yeah, my first thought is that it is not necessarily sensory processing disorder.
[0:20:37.7] JH: I was thinking the morrow reflex depending on his age but also what loud sounds are these loud sounds that are like sudden? Because that can be just a startle response and we all have that.
[0:20:53.8] RH: That’s normal, yep.
[0:20:54.4] JH: Yeah, we all have that little startle response.
[0:20:57.6] RH: Is it frequently throughout the day? Is it more of a stem? I think that in some regards it can be normal but I also think that it’s him trying to process the auditory input and it could be challenging. I’m going to recommend the activity that we learned from Dr. Karen Prior in our previous episode 170.
[0:21:23.8] JH: Last week.
[0:21:25.5] RH: Was it last week? Yep, so try the drumming activity that she recommended in that episode and have the little one make the noise himself and seeing with it and then you participate with it and just see how he processes the auditory input when he is doing it himself and he is making the noise and that can help him learn to process that better and see if he blinks when he does it himself too.
[0:21:53.6] JH: Then I had two thoughts. My first thought was going on what Rachel just said of just do more auditory activities in general. Make sure there is more controlled auditory activities that he can learn to process but also do more multisensory processing activities, so combine auditory with movement. Combine auditory with visual. Combining those different senses together can also be beneficial. I mean, is beneficial.
[0:22:22.6] RH: Yeah.
[0:22:23.1] JH: Sorry, I guess I actually had three thoughts.
[0:22:25.6] RH: Okay, bring it on.
[0:22:26.7] JH: If, this is really only a concern if it is affecting his ability to get through his day. If he is having a fight or flight response and the blinking is a sign of that, that can be an issue but if it is not impacting his ability to get through his day then I mean maybe you don’t necessarily need to worry about it and you just do more auditory games.
[0:22:53.6] RH: Boom, I love that.
[0:22:55.1] JH: Okay, that’s it for today.
[0:22:56.9] RH: That’s it.
[0:22:57.6] JH: If you would like us to answer your questions on the podcast, we do have a post on our feed and you can go comment on it and we might just pick your question for a future episode.
[0:23:09.9] RH: Head to All Things Sensory Podcast on Instagram or Facebook and send us your questions there. We’re excited.
[0:23:18.2] JH: So happy you were here, hopefully some of these strategies for birthday parties are helpful for you. Let us know your thoughts, leave us a review on iTunes.
[0:23:26.5] RH: We will chat with you all next week.
[END OF DISCUSSION]
[0:23:29.5] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Things Sensory by Harkla. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the shownotes.
[0:23:40.6] JH: We always have the shownotes and links plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone. If you have follow-up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the shownotes or message us on our Instagram account, which is @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you’ll find us.
[0:24:00.3] RH: Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10% off of their first order at Harkla, whether it is for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code “sensory” will save you 10%. That code is “sensory.” Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now so you don’t forget.
[0:24:22.8] JH: We’re so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a more happier healthier life.
[0:24:30.0] RH: All right, we’ll talk to you guys next week.
[0:24:34.1] JH: Just a friendly reminder: This is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics and sensory integration. We do not know you or your child, therefore we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information.
BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS
While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.
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