What is proprioception, and how does it affect my child's ability to self regulate?

Mostly, when talking about the senses, the first that come to mind are sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch... but did you know there are more?

Proprioception is using input of the environment on muscles and joints to understand where you are in space. This information is processed by the nervous system, and your body then decides how to move around and interact in the space accordingly.

You can essentially think of it as the body reacting to pushing or pulling sensations.

The sense of proprioception affects children's behaviour in two ways:

1. Regular sensory input is needed in order for children's brains to support self regulation. If they aren't receiving this regular proprioceptive input naturally, they may find it more challenging to regulate their emotions and subsequently have more tricky behaviours. Have a look at the graph below which describes and example of how children's ability to regulate changes throughout the day, and how proprioceptive activities can help this:

2. If children aren't able to understand where their body is in space, and how to respond to input from their muscles and joints, they won't be able to understand and implement instructions like 'gentle hands'. If your child is doing things like hitting, throwing themselves around, pinching, or biting, they actually may be seeking some sensory input!

'Okay....' - you might be thinking - '….that's great to know, but how do we actually use that information to support our children's behaviour?'

Firstly, have a look at your day to day activities – is your child drawn to art and craft activities, love reading, or not necessarily seek out any big gross motor movement experiences? Maybe by the end of the day they're feeling a bit antsy, maybe finding it tricky to cope, follow instructions or regulate their emotions?

Consider adding in some pushing and pulling activities throughout the day that are tied in with an arty, crafty, or reading theme, to stick with what they like! Some examples may be painting with a squishy sponge that requires a firm push into the paper to release paint, putting paper on a wall up high so your child can jump to make paint marks on it, or rolling out and pushing objects in to play dough.

There are a huge variety of ideas online if you search 'heavy work activities'.

Let us know your child's favourite, and feel free to ask questions over on our Instagram or Facebook page!

Esther is a mum from Adelaide, with a psychology and early childhood background, who has a passion for supporting parents and educators to understand challenging behaviours in early childhood.

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