#242 - The Overstimulated Parent's Guide to Parenting with Larissa Geleris, MS, OTR/L from @steadyparents

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC February 08, 2023

#242 - The Overstimulated Parent's Guide to Parenting with Larissa Geleris, MS, OTR/L from @steadyparents

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The Overstimulated Parent's Guide to Parenting with Larissa Geleris, MS, OTR/L from @steadyparents

Larissa Geleris, MS, OTR/L, is a licensed occupational therapist specializing in identifying and treating sensory processing dysfunction. She is passionate about supporting parents who are experiencing overstimulation, overwhelm, and dysregulation. She has written multiple courses, has been a guest on several podcasts, and runs an Instagram platform that provides practical and evidence-based strategies for the sensory challenges of parenthood (@steadyparents). Larissa's dream is to help all parents feel confident and steady in their parenting journey.

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The Overstimulated Parent's Guide to Parenting

Parenthood entails situations that instantly trigger our protective system to react. Realizing this helps you comprehend why and how you're responding, as well as letting go of any guilt associated with your reactions. Many parents have found solace in understanding there was nothing wrong with them - which is exactly what we hope to achieve by recognizing the circumstances around us.

It's hard to process multiple streams of sensory inputs simultaneously when you're in a state of fight or flight. Insufficient sleep plays a pivotal role in this too. With the perpetual noise, there’s an overabundance of sensory input. Some of the most common struggles parents have are feeling easily irritated or yelling out of nowhere, or a physical reaction like ringing ears or tight jaw shoulders.

Strategies to help with parental overwhelm

By trying out different approaches each day, you can begin to identify what is causing your stress—overstimulation due to having two children or lack of sleep associated with sensory sensitivities. That way, you’ll understand the root cause and work on solutions that help reduce it.

Self Care

To be able to process and respond to our environment, we must nourish our brains. That means fueling your body with the right nutrition by making smart food choices - not just snacking on leftovers from your child's plate! We all do it sometimes but don't forget that you have control over what you put into your body. Eating healthy will help keep both mind and body in top shape!

Another strategy you can use is to take a break. Give yourself permission to go away for five minutes or even just one minute and take deep breaths, close your eyes, and recenter yourself. That helps prevent you from the downward spiral of feeling like there's no way out.

Parents often find success with the practice of mindfulness. A particularly hard time is 4-7pm and it can seem overwhelming - but try to remember that there are moments when things will relax again too!

One of the most advantageous tactics is to perceive sensory overload as a wave. It may appear like it will never improve, but I assure you that it will! Knowing that this feeling is merely temporary can be incredibly beneficial in helping cope with such moments. Visualizing these sensations as waves allows for understanding and patience when dealing with them.

One method that may be really helpful is leaning against a wall. That may sound simple, but it's very effective. By doing this you don't need to expend as much effort and energy to stay upright since standing properly involves certain skills and sensory abilities. This strategy has proven highly beneficial for me over time! Let yourself be enveloped in deep pressure and calming sensations that blank out all external visual and auditory stimuli. Feel your ribcage moving as you take those slow, deliberate breaths; it serves to ground you into the moment so that you can focus on what's happening here and now. One of the defining aspects of this technique is that your children won't realize that you're engaging in anything extraordinary. This way, they will not be tempted to follow you as if you were running off to lock yourself inside a bathroom - an act which often leads them to pound on the door for attention. By staying with them and leaning against the wall until calmness sets-in again, it can work wonders!

You can even discuss it with your child after, and explain how you were feeling overwhelmed, but then leaning against the wall helped you regain composure. This approach for your children will generate great results!

Talk to your kids

It is also important for children to learn the boundaries of other people's space. For example, it is essential for them to recognize that their parents need some time alone and understand when they should not intrude upon it. Equally as crucial are teaching kids about consent, body safety, and awareness of their own bodies - lessons which will serve them well throughout life.

All of that stimulus we encounter in the course of our day can eventually add up and leave us feeling overwhelmed. As parents, it's often easier to just grit our teeth and get through it - but at a certain point, usually between 4-7pm, all those extra sensory inputs become too much to bear. We'll still want to go out and explore with the family; however, what was once an enjoyable experience has now turned into an overload on your senses!

Create a routine

That is why it is essential for us parents to create a regular routine; what we have discussed about parenting, sensory processing disorder and other related topics are applicable to ourselves as well. Establishing a sensory diet, just like with our kids who display signs of SPD, will be beneficial in the long run.

To protect yourself from sensory overwhelm, there are two key strategies: one is for long-term preparation and the other is for handling it when it arises. Start by ensuring you're getting enough sleep which might feel like an unattainable goal if you have young children but can be done with some effort - focus on improving the quality of your sleep!

Creating a routine for the day, and including sensory strategies into it is key. Everyone's vestibular input needs some kind of stimulus, so taking time to identify which strategy works best for you will be extremely beneficial. Think of this as creating your own 'sensory diet'! When the stress becomes overwhelming, have a few methods to help. One might be visualizing standing against an imaginary wall like a wave crashing - this can be especially effective when done while out on walks or another outdoor activity. Such a straightforward solution can make the world of difference!

Balancing your own needs and your child's needs

It is often seen that characteristics such as Autism, ADHD and Sensory Sensitivity tend to run in families. Even if one parent has a higher degree of sensory sensitivity it doesn't necessarily mean that their child will too; however managing these can be difficult when you are living through them every day. It is possible that your child may have additional sensory issues, varying in intensity from mild sensitivity to full-blown Sensory Processing Disorder. Regardless of the level of issues, it can be a big challenge for both you and your little one. As a parent, it can be tough to balance your own needs with those of your child. To reconcile this dilemma, I recommend assessing what is truly necessary - discerning desires and essentials. Adopting this approach will create space for each side without being overwhelmed by the other's demands.

It's likely going to take some trial and error for you to find strategies that work in harmony with your child - an extremely difficult task! When it comes to being there for your child, it's essential that you take a step back and assess what your nervous system needs. By understanding this, you can then provide yourself with the support you need in a consistent manner so that when an opportunity arises so you're able to make informed decisions about whether or not you're capable of participating. That way, if needed be, instead of saying no all together; you'll still have something meaningful and productive to offer them.

Parents constantly feel frazzled and unable to bear the heaviness of their workload. However, in spite of this exhaustion, they will still go above and beyond for their children—fighting tooth-and-nail just to ensure that all of their needs are met! Yet, these same parents fail to demonstrate an ounce of that same love towards themselves; self care is never a priority. It's about time we practice what we preach by showing ourselves some compassion too!

Finding support from others

How do you go about communicating your sensory needs to your partner or friends who maybe doesn't understand sensory overload? Maybe they're out of the house all day, and they aren't constantly inundated with the same sensory input that you are. How do you go about communicating that with someone? Your nervous system needs assurance that it's supported which is why the presence of another person so important.

Therefore, my most relevant advice is to ask for assistance and confide in your partner or friends. Your nervous system requires assurance that it's not alone through this situation; speaking with other people who might also be going through similar struggles can help you find comfort. When I post about the stove vent, countless individuals comment saying how difficult it is for them too – just being aware of these small details makes a substantial difference! Connecting with others has been an invaluable source of strength throughout all of this.




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.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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