A stimulating environment to play in and explore helps your child learn and grow. However, sometimes too many activities add up to overstimulation, so downtime is important for your child too. It’s all about finding a balance that’s right for your child.
What is overstimulation?
Overstimulation happens when a child is swamped by more experiences, sensations, noise and activity than she can cope with.
For example, a newborn baby might get very unsettled after a party where she’s been cuddled by lots of grown-ups. A pre-schooler might have a tantrum after a big event like a birthday party. A school-age child might be cranky if she goes to school, then after-school care and then a swimming lesson.
Overstimulated children get tired and can feel overwhelmed. When this happens, they need quiet time and a familiar, calm environment.
Signs of overstimulation
If your newborn or baby is overstimulated, she might:
If your toddler or pre-schooler is overstimulated, she might:
You’ll get to know the particular signs that your child shows when she’s overstimulated.
Balancing activity time and quiet time
In the first 5 years of life, your child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in her life. Your child’s early experiences – the things she sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate her brain, creating millions of connections.
This means your child needs a stimulating environment with lots of different activities that give her plenty of ways to play and learn, and lots of chances to practise what she’s learning.
However, it doesn’t mean you need to spend all day every day dangling toys in front of your baby, or that you have to rush your child from school to extra-curricular activities. Babies and young children also need quiet time in predictable and familiar settings.
Your child will benefit from quietly entertaining himself, exploring her environment in her own way and at her own pace. This time lets your child learn how to occupy herself, work out when she needs quiet time and find things to do in that time to make herself feel better.
Babies: Dealing with overstimulation
When you see that your baby is overwhelmed, take her somewhere quiet where she can calm down – for example, her cot. If you’re out with your baby, you can put her in the pram and cover it with a light wrap or blanket.
Wrapping newborns and babies can help them calm down because it reduces physical sensations. Your baby might also find it soothing to be carried next to your body in a sling or something similar, as you go about your everyday activities.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers: Dealing with overstimulation
Here are some ideas for handling your overstimulated toddler or pre-schooler:
If you’re seeing behavioural problems because your child is overstimulated or stressed, it’s almost always helpful to tackle them by changing the environment.
School-age children: Dealing with overstimulation
At this age, children can start to calm themselves down. Here are some ideas to help:
Your child needs enough time during the week to do homework, spend time with family, socialise with friends and just be by herself.
Finding the right amount of stimulation
There’s no one ‘right’ answer to how much stimulation is too much, because every child is different. Different children can cope with different amounts of excitement. Some children cope with stimulating environments better than others.
Let your child be the guide, and remember that moderation is best.
For babies and young children, it’s a good idea to give your child some time each day to spend quietly playing or resting, apart from sleep time.
Your school-age child will probably benefit most from one or two extra-curricular activities that she’s really interested in. Sport, music and other clubs can be a fantastic way to develop skills, make new friends and pursue interests. However, too much time spent on organised after-school activities might mean your child misses out on time to relax and entertain herself.
The ability to occupy yourself is an important life skill. By encouraging it, you help your child on her journey towards becoming an independent adult.