Why does my ADHD child want to jump, spin and crash into things just when I’m trying to get them to settle down to sleep?
Understanding your ADHD child’s behaviour is very important, but let’s think about this behaviour in terms of the SENSORY NEEDS of your child rather than as BAD behaviour.
What Are My Child’s Sensory Needs?
Sensory needs are how our body takes in information through our 8 senses, from outside and inside our body, and processes it- this will depend on our own body and brain. We all have unique sensory needs.
How Can I Support My ADHD Child’s Behaviour?
You’ve done the evening routine, maybe even read stories and are just thinking that bedtime has arrived and suddenly your child is full of energy and just wants to jump on their bed, tackle their sibling and have a pillow fight with you!
Often our patience has worn thin by this time (we are not feeling regulated) and it doesn’t take long for us to shout, threaten and punish and then any notion of a peaceful bedtime goes out of the window!
This behaviour can often be explained by thinking about your child’s sensory needs. This is how their body and brain recognises and makes sense of information from the environment, and from inside their body, and then responds. This response is what we see as the behaviour.
Do These Scenarios Resonate With You and Your ADHD Child Too?
- Does your child ever seem to have a great time running and playing with friends, and then have a meltdown at home afterwards?
- Does your teen want to play rough with his younger sibling, but not recognise when he is being too rough?
- Is your child excited about an event and then spends the entire time close to you, or very upset and anxious and wanting to go home?
Sensory needs and sensitivities may be playing a big part here too.
Your ADHD Child Needs To Feel Safe
What makes sense and feels either safe or threatening for one body and brain may make absolutely no sense to another – hence we all have a unique sensory profile.
ADHD (and Autistic) brains may have a particularly spikey profile, being particularly sensitive (sensory avoidant) to some input and insensitive (sensory seeking) to other input.
We are not conscious of a lot of the sensory input we receive and therefore do not always understand why we are upset and overwhelmed in some environments and situations and yet actually seek input in others.
Your Child Has Senses They Don’t Learn About
We all have five better-known senses – the ones we all learn about and experience every single day…
Those senses are sight, sound, taste, touch and smell
But we also have three less well-known senses – vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive.
Your ADHD child will have no idea what these are, and that they’re impacting their behaviour…
Here’s what they are:
Vestibular processing is around our balance and the movement of our head. If our child is oversensitive to this input they can feel very unsafe when being moved into different positions, like being upside down, but others will purposefully spin and roll to feel regulated.
Proprioceptive processing comes from our muscles, tendons and joints and gives our body and brain information about what speed, force and direction we are moving in. Our child can struggle to recognise the force they are using if their body is not very responsive to this input or may need a lot of this input to feel safe – tight hugs, weighted blankets, etc.
Interoceptive processing is the messages from inside our body, such as heat, pain, hunger, etc. If our child doesn’t recognise these signals easily or feels them too much, it can hugely influence the behaviour we see.
Remember that our body and brain are always concerned with keeping us safe and alive! If sensory input is determined to be a threat in any way, it may trigger a stress response in the body such as fight, flight or freeze.
So Why Bedtime?
Sometimes sensory seeking behaviour, such as playing rough or jumping around before bedtime, can be the body’s attempt to restore a feeling of safety, to stay regulated and not become overwhelmed by emotion, because the situation feels unsafe or uncomfortable in some way.
When we see behaviours from our child related to sensory processing issues, there are many ways that we can make changes to support them.
- Can you make changes to the environment that will make them feel less ‘unsafe’, can you change the situation they are in and give them more of a feeeling of safety, even if you are struggling to understand why their body is responding in this way? Trusting that their experience is completely valid for them is vital in helping them feel safe with us. More opportunities to climb, less noise or people or a warm, fluffy blanket to cuddle in, may make all the difference to their brain and body’s reaction!
- Regulating ourselves so that we can co-regulate with our child or teen is also essential, but not always easy when we are triggered by their reactions and our brains and body’s have their own sensory likes and dislikes. If we can be that safe person and build our child’s trust in us, they will be able to develop more self-regulation skills. This means we can collaborate with them, on what is difficult and how we can support them.
Building stronger connection with our child is easier when we have trust and collaboration. This connection certainly doesn’t take away the challenge of their sensory sensitivities, but it does help them to feel seen and heard, to know that we are there to support them, which in turn will build their confidence and also enable them to build more resilience and regulation themselves.
How Can You Help?
Could you build in a pre-bedtime routine of some jumping and rough play, to fulfill these sensory needs? You may find they settle to sleep much more easily after this. As with all behaviour, developing more understanding and communication around them, as well as nurturing that strong connection with our child or teen, will support them and us, to navigate these situations and respond to the needs rather than just trying to manage the behaviour.
How Can I Help?
If you’d like to explore your child’s sensory needs (as well as your own), you can download my free e-journal on sensory needs in ADHD children.