Sensory Diet

Sensory Diet

kpt_adminOccupational Therapy

Surprise! Just as you finally fell into a groove with your summer routine. It’s time to get back into a school routine and change everything up again. Ah, the joys of parenting. If you’re noticing extra behaviors, meltdowns, and changes in your child’s demeanor, you’re not alone. We experience so many varying moods and behaviors at our clinic throughout the transition from summer routines to school schedules. And over the years, we’ve learned a few tips and tricks to help you and your family transition with ease.

1. Get into a consistent sleep/wake schedule as soon as possible.

Children thrive on consistency and structure, particularly when they are transitioning into a new routine. Or experiencing changes in their everyday life. Getting into a consistent sleep/wake cycle is really important. For biological processes, brain and body growth and development, adequate rest, mood stabilization, and a routine that is predictable and consistent. Quickly settling into a bedtime routine can help this process become even more seamless. An example of this might be:

1a. No screen time at least an hour before bed

1b. Creation and completion of a bedtime routine checklist each night (put on pajamas, brush teeth, read story, etc.)

1c. Use timers or countdowns to ensure consistent bedtime is achieved

1d. Sticker charts/calendars to mark successful sleep/wake days and successful bedtime routine completions

1e. 5-10 minutes of nightly “winding down” together. Which can include: light stretching in a dim room, listening to calming music, or lavender lotion to help promote relaxation. This is a great time for a warm bath or foot soak to further promote sleepiness. Additions of these small, quick, and simple routines can really help structure the evening. By implement a consistent schedule in the midst of many other changes occurring. This also allows the parent(s) to have consistent quiet time to relax and unwind as well.

2. Implement a “sensory diet” into your daily routine.

“You want me to add what into my diet?!” you might be asking. A sensory “diet” doesn’t actually involve anything you’re eating. Just as our bodies need food through a diet, our sensory systems need to be satisfied as well. We do this by adding or removing input in order to either calm or alert our sensory systems. This helps our bodies feel ready to engage in the tasks that are expected of us.

Small bursts of movement can make a big difference in overall focus and attention. Sensory diets must be tailored to each child, and every child’s needs are unique and different. In order to obtain a specialized plan, talk with your primary care provider. Or meet with an occupational therapist in order to implement a customized plan.

3. Use visuals to create more concrete and consistent routines.

Saying something out loud is one thing, but giving a child the chance to see and understand it through a visual adds an additional component in creating consistent habits and routines. You can find printable and customizable templates online. These will add visual schedules for morning routines, after-school routines, and bedtime routines. This also adds an element of predictability throughout the day, even when other components of the day are variable.

Once a visual checklist or chart is created, we’ve also found that the child ends up needing less verbal reminders to complete each task with repeated practice. This creates good routines, positive habits, and less of a headache in the long run for parents and caregivers. Creating a sticker chart initially can add a second visual “reward” component and foster confidence and responsibility in our kiddos through achievable and measurable daily goals.

4. Keep screen time under control.

It’s really important to keep screen time limited and consistent throughout the school year. As a baseline, we suggest limiting screen time to an hour or less per school day, and also suggest breaking this up into four 15-minute increments that can be earned throughout the day. This allows for a really good lesson in responsibility as well as choice and consequence.

A suggestion for earning the four components could be: 15 minutes for completion of morning routine, 15 minutes for a positive report at school, 15 minutes for completing all homework, and 15 minutes for no fighting or aggression with siblings. This is just a baseline example but could be tailored to each child and his or her individual needs. This also diminishes the idea that screen time is a right and, instead, allows for it to be a privilege that is awarded when daily expectations have been completed successfully. It also still maintains the boundary that there is a set amount awarded each day, limiting the overall time spent staring at a screen. For optimal results and increased compliance, make sure that these choices and consequences are consistent and not threatened without follow-through.

5. Talk about it.

This last suggestion doesn’t necessarily fall under implementing a school schedule, but it’s one of my favorite memories that my mom created with me while I was growing up. One night as I climbed into bed, I found a notebook on my pillow. My mom had written me a letter saying that she knows some things are hard to talk about, but this notebook is a safe place where I can write anything down that I might be thinking or feeling and also ask her any questions that I may have. She told me to put it under her pillow after I wrote back, and we could be “pen pals.”

We ended up writing back and forth for years. Sometimes it was light and fun, and other times we talked about more serious things like issues with friends, changes in my body, and different feelings or emotions I experienced as I grew up. We went through phases where we wrote many times a week, and other times we would only write a few times a month.


With the unfortunate rise in anxiety and depression statistics among children and the increased societal pressure kids often feel to look or behave a certain way, this opens the door for communication and fosters a deeper emotional connection with your child without adding extra pressure or expectation.

This article was written by Macaile Hutt a Occupational Therapist here at KPT. This article was featured in the September issue of Idaho Family Magazine.