"So, what do you want to do today" 11 Tips for Including Sensory Preferences When Planning Family Activities
It's a common scenario. You're finally able to carve out time for the family to do something fun together, only to have everyone disagree about what that "something fun" should be. The precious family time you so painstakingly eked out from the busy schedule ends up being spent on conflict resolution instead, not what you originally intended!
Often, disagreements about how to spend family time stem from sensory considerations. Even if nobody in your family has confirmed sensory integration issues, we all have sensory preferences that affect our likes and dislikes for what we enjoy doing, and what we don't.
This is true for both children and adults. One family member may not enjoy the beach because it's too hot, too bright, or too smelly. Another may not enjoy visiting a museum because it's too crowded, too quiet, or too dimly lit. Your family probably has plenty of examples just like this!
So what to do when the family's having a hard time agreeing on how to spend time together
1. Start an ongoing family dialog about sensory preferences. While you don't have to use those exact words, it's important for everyone to understand at least the basic idea that different people enjoy different kinds of activities.
2. Keep these discussions non-judgmental. In a family where most folks love amusement parks, it may be hard for them to understand someone who finds amusement parks overwhelming. But it's important for everyone's preferences to be respected - nobody should be made to feel like there's something wrong with them if they don't enjoy a certain activity.
3. Continue to reinforce the concept that everyone can't have their first choice activity all the time. Give constant reminders that everyone will get their first choice activity some of the time.
4. To the extent possible, try to include everyone in planning family activities, whatever their age or abilities. The more everyone feels included, the more likely they'll be to cooperate with the plans, even when the activity isn't their first choice.
5. Some sensory-related choices to consider when planning activities
a. loud or quiet
b. wet or dry
c. active or still
d. messy or neat
e. indoor or outdoor
f. morning or afternoon
g. large crowds or more open space
h. fast-paced or calm
6. Once you decide on an activity, try to make it as sensory-friendly as possible for everyone, especially if it wasn't their first choice. For example, someone who isn't a big fan of amusement parks may enjoy taking breaks from the rides and the crowds a few times during the day. If you're going to the beach, bring umbrellas, sunglasses, and canopy chairs for anyone who prefers shade to the hot sun. And a trip to the library will last longer if you scout out a nearby playground where you might take an active child to run and climb halfway through the visit. Making these kinds of sensory accommodations helps everyone in the family have a great time.
7. Some of the ideas in No. 6 may involve splitting up if one child wants to stay but another child needs a break. For that reason, you might want to include extra adults in your outing - perhaps extended family members and/or friends - especially if it's a day trip.
8. And you don't have to be on an outing to include sensory considerations in planning your activities. You can vary activities right at home, alternating things like music and dancing, story time, finger-painting, sports, sculpting ... with a little planning, there are so many possibilities!
9. Does everyone really need to have a voice in planning family activities? Not necessarily. While consensus building works great in many families, it may not be a good fit for yours. Depending on the ages and abilities of your children, and the level of of your family's cooperative skills, the parents may need to make executive decisions on which activities or outings you'll do, and when you'll do them. You might also offer a limited choice of two or three options family members can choose from. That's okay! You can always gradually introduce consensus building skills later on if you like.
10. We started out this article with the question, "what do you want to do today" My top recommendation is actually to NOT wait until that day to begin the discussion! Start as far in advance as you can.
11. And as long as you're planning in advance, you may also want to have a Plan A and a Plan B, to be prepared for different types of weather, or other circumstances that may affect what you do during your family time.
This can sound like a pretty involved process just to decide on family activities and outings. But taking everyone's sensory preferences into consideration will become easier over time - and the resulting family harmony and happy times will be well worth the effort!
Reference: Joan Celebi founder of the Special Needs Parent Coach gives you practical strategies for successfully navigating life as a parent with a special. Visit Joan at www.specialneedsparentcoach.com