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5 Simple Steps for Regulation: The Shopping Edition

We at STEAMer Trunks are delighted to introduce Sarah Hernandez, a licensed and registered occupational therapist. Sarah is consulting for us to add even more value to our products. Read below for Sarah’s tips on assisting children with regulating their emotions during shopping.




toy-shopping-cart-942362_1280It’s a tale as old as time – well, as old as grocery stores: you’re almost done shopping for the week and start heading to the register, your little one in tow. At the register, they spot the ONE THING they absolutely need, want, must have in their lives. Of course, the requested item is filled with sugary, synthetically-colored goodness and you gently refuse the purchase. Cue tears, screaming, arched backs, and angry words, along with the occasional package of hurled crackers. Welcome to the Meltdown Club!

There is a difference between tantrums and meltdowns, which we will discuss at a later date. In the case of a meltdown, which is the result of too much sensory stimulation, your best bet is prevention; while you can certainly help support your child after a meltdown, it’s more effective to provide regulation strategies before and during an activity to prevent the meltdown all together. Here are five simple and inexpensive activities to help support your child’s regulation:



1: Alien Toes

alien-1295486_640Strategies using imagination are a great distraction tool! Alien Toes encourages imagination, deep breathing, body awareness, and whole body relaxation.

Instructions: In a low whisper (this also helps to distract from other stimuli and focus their attention on you), say to your child, “Imagine your toes are little polka-dotted purple aliens. Wiggle your toes and make them dance around! Stretch your toes up so the aliens take a big breath. Breathe in with them! Now, curl your toes down as the aliens sigh a long, slow breath.”



2. Sensory Snack

Ever hear of being ‘hangry’? When we are hungry, everything feels more difficultbanana-1294314_640 and frustrating – even things we typically like! Providing a small snack is an excellent way to help your kids stay calm and regulated. You can make it even more fun by adding on a sensory game!

Instructions: Bring a small snack with you. Encourage your child to use all of their senses as they open the snack. How does the wrapper/peel feel? What sounds does it make when you crinkle or scratch it? How does it smell? What colors do you see? Inhale deeply to smell. Turn the snack over and over – what does the shape remind you of?

Keep adding questions that involve the senses to lengthen the experience.



3. Balloon Balance

balloon-885715_640Oral motor resistive activities are among the most regulating interventions used by parents and professionals. Balloon meditation is a fun way to provide oral motor resistive activities, engage in deep breathing, and support sustained attention.

Instructions: Keep a small bag of balloons with you, and bring one out in a time of need. Have your child blow up the balloon. If necessary, tie the balloon closed for your child. Challenge them to balance them on their fingertip. To lengthen the activity, time them! Set a reasonable time for them to beat, or encourage them to keep beating their ‘best’ time. You can also challenge them to balance it on different body parts like their nose, toes, and elbows!



4. Balloon Release

Progressive muscle relaxation is a tried and true method to encourage whole-bodyballoon-154183_1280 relaxation. The process occurs when a person tenses a muscle, holds that tension, then relaxes the muscle. Progressive muscle relaxation is an excellent way to get proprioceptive input!

Instructions: Offer your child the string imaginary balloon to hold in each hand. Tell them to hold it tight, tight, tight and to not let it go – tighter, tighter – even tighter! After about eight seconds, let your child know they can let them balloons go. Encourage them to look up at the pretend balloons, raising their hands and waving goodbye as the balloons float away. To lengthen the experience, have your child hold tight to their balloons until you place an object in your cart – then they can let the balloons go!



5. Sensory Checklist

checklist-1622517_640Checklists can be an excellent way to set expectations for any experience. Typically, people write out a grocery list before going to the store. Why not add some sensory fun? Empower your child be in charge of the list and let you know when it’s time to do something sensory!

Instructions: Before going shopping, write your grocery list with your child using words or pictures. After every five items, add a fun activity to do! Examples of activities include stomping, skipping, bunny-hopping, joke telling, hugging, song singing, hokey-pokeying, and hand jiving!


Remember – prevention is the key to success!

gearrow2Happy Sensing!


Sarah HernandezSarah Hernandez MOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist and consultant to STEAMer Trunks, has worked with children for over two decades in various settings. She specializes in sensory integration and pediatric mental health, and now works as an assistant professor at Bay Path University. Her professional accomplishments include presenting research on progressive muscle relaxation at the national American Occupational Therapy Association conference. At home, Sarah enjoys nerd stuff, her three children, her collection of animals (currently up to one cat, one dog, and one guinea pig), and her ever-patient husband.

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