Toddlers experiencing sensory overload can benefit from a quiet activity to recharge.

Sensory Overload in Toddlers

by Melissa Gagnon

Toddlers are busy taking in the world around them, and because of all the new and exciting sounds, smells and sights, a toddler's senses may become overloaded. When a toddler experiences sensory overload, he may have a tantrum or a meltdown. Whether your toddler is quick to explore new things or tends to be hesitant in new situations, watch your toddler for signs of sensory overload.

1. Visual Stimuli

Too many toys or a lot of clutter can overwhelm your toddler. Toddlers with sensitivity to visual stimulation can experience sensory overload if a room is full of many bright colors or has very bright lights. Keep your child's room softly lit and well organized. Rotate toys so that only a few toys are on display at once. Minimize clutter by cleaning up after playing with something. When out in public, select activities and visit spots that aren't too bright or crowded.

2. Audio Stimuli

If your toddler does not respond well to noisy environments he may shut down or become stressed when there are too many noises going on at once. Creating a quiet refuge in your home for him to use when he is overstimulated will provide a relief for your toddler. If you have to go somewhere noisy with your toddler and you feel he may experience sensory overload, prepare him first. Talk to your toddler about where you are going and what sounds he can expect to hear.

3. Touch and Textures

Many toddlers are eager to get messy. If your toddler is hesitant and shows signs of tactile sensitivity, provide frequent low-stress opportunities for your toddler to experience touching different textures. Activities such as finger painting, sand play and water play may encourage your toddler to experiment with different textures. Never force your toddler to touch something he is reluctant to touch. Find items that are soft, such as silk fabric or cotton balls, and offer those to your toddler. Then gradually progress to different textures like sandpaper or spiky rubber sensory balls. As your toddler becomes familiar with different textures he may enjoy sensory play.

4. Smell and Taste

Your toddler is just beginning to develop a more acute sense of smell and therefore may be reluctant to eat foods he previously enjoyed. He may also refuse to try new foods. Avoid sensory overload by avoiding introducing too many new foods at once or forcing your child to eat something he is reluctant to eat. Instead encourage taking one bite to try a new food, and if he doesn't like it, he doesn't have to take another bite. Introduce new foods gradually. Encourage your child to smell new scents such as flowers and spices as opportunities arise.

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