Overview: Guest contributor Lynna Sutherland is a veteran large-family mom who is loves helping moms to find solutions for their own unique families and homeschools. Here she shares practical advice for managing sensory overload in Mom!
When you think about the challenges of homeschooling, some of the things that come to mind might be choosing curriculum or having the ability to explain algebra to a teen. One thing we don’t often think of until we’re in the midst of the day-in-day-out work of homeschooling is the potential for sensory overload! Experiencing sensory overload can feel overwhelming, but with some simple strategies it’s easy than you think to manage!
Sensory overload can occur when a person is exposed to too much sensory stimulation at once, leading to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, stress, and even physical discomfort. And when mom is stressed and struggling, that can have an impact on the whole mood of the home and homeschool.
Here are some homeschool schedule tweaks that might help you manage your homeschool day AND reduce sensory overload!
The Overwhelm of Everyone All Together
If you have a large family or you are homeschooling multiple ages, I know it seems most logical to do as much of the learning with everyone together in a group as you can. But sometimes this is a recipe for sensory overload. Lots of kids. Lots of wiggles. Lots of touching mommy. Lots of sibling conflict!
I realized that one of the things I dreaded about our homeschool day was trying to get everyone to settled down in one place all at the same time. Inevitably, some would be ready and getting restless while I had to go and track down the stragglers. And then once we got started with our time together, someone wanted to sit on my lap, someone else was pressed up against either side of me and the number of kids meant a multiplication of noises of bodies, papers, and activities.
Sit Still! Be Quiet!
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s natural to be anxious for calm and quiet.
It is tempting to try and train your children to all sit perfectly still and silent during read aloud or morning time, but this might be more of an exercise in frustration all by itself! Some kids pay attention and learn better if they can keep their hands busy or even their bodies moving. And interrupting what you’re doing every thirty seconds to tell someone to fold their hands in their lap isn’t very calming, either!
One on One Schooling
So we switched to more one-on-one learning during our school day. This means that I rotate through each of the kids, doing some part of their schooling with them in my room while the other kids play downstairs or work on some of their independent assignments.
Of course, the workability of this depends on the age of your kids, their ability to work or play semi-independently. It also depends on the layout of your house – whether there are separate spaces for schooling and playing – and even the weather – if it’s nice enough for kids to play outside.
Try different arrangements and schedules to see if there’s an approach to one-on-one schooling that might work for your family!
The Overwhelm of Interruptions
Recently I started working out of the house a few evenings a week. My mother-in-law lives close by and I work in the unused office in her home. I knew I’d be able to work a lot more efficiently without interruptions. But what I didn’t realized was how much it would reduce my stress levels!
Regular interruptions – even reasonable ones – are a big strain on the brain. It takes a toll on us when we are constantly having to switch directions, refocus on something new, and then return to the previous task again and again.
I know that as a homeschool mom, interruptions are pretty much an inevitable part of life. The baby is going to have a diaper blow-out. Two kids are going to start fighting when you’re meeting with their sibling. The list goes on and on.
So the goal isn’t to eliminate all interruptions, but to find strategies for reducing them.
When I was a public school teacher and I had to meet with a small group of students for a reading lesson, I developed a simple plan to remind my other students not to interrupt. I had a hat that looked like a bumble bee.
I taught the class (humorously, not with irritation) that when I had my “B” hat on, unless they were Bleeding, Burning, Barfing, or had Broken Bones, they needed to Buzz Off! I’ve reinstated a similar idea in my homeschool. Unfortunately, I no longer have my Bee Hat but I was able to find a fun bee headband online and that works just as well.
This isn’t meant to be a strategy for alienating and scolding your kids, but rather just a gentle visual reminder that you are meeting with someone else, or completing a task that needs your focus (hooray for sending emails about insurance issues and erroneous charges on a bill)!
Is This an Emergency?
When kids show up with a question or a request, one thing I often say to them is “Mommy is not the only person who can help you with that.” In our home, that’s true because there’s almost always a big kid on hand for tying shoes, pouring milk, or any number of various tasks little people come to me to do for them.
Another reminder is “That’s not something that needs to happen right now.” This might apply to a question they want answered “How many more days until my birthday?” (it’s eight months away) or “The next time we go on vacation, can we …” It might also apply to something they really do need your help with but isn’t urgent, like fixing a broken toy or putting some books on hold on the library website.
This isn’t an overnight fix. It’s a gradual process of helping the kids to develop a habit of not interrupting when you’re working with another child or focusing on an important task.
The Other Interruption
It can be lonely and isolating to be a homeschool mom. We often crave connection and adult conversation! So it’s normal that we might turn to our phones as a way to get some human interaction during a long homeschool day. No shame there!
But without realizing it, our phones can become just one more interruption or source of sensory overload during the day! Maybe you check social media and then you can’t stop thinking about that political argument on someone’s post. Maybe you get notifications every time you receive an email and so you’re constantly aware of how much you have to do … sometime when you aren’t so busy with the kids!
I know it’s tempting to want to stay engaged with texts and emails all throughout the day. But it is a brain strain to continually switch between tasks. Instead, allow yourself to focus on the task at hand – whether that be homeschooling, preparing lunch, or settling a sibling conflict – without the potential for random interruptions from your phone.
Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode or even leave it in your bedroom. Then, when you get a break (more on that in a moment) you can enjoy taking some time to look through emails or answer texts without constantly switching focus.
The Overwhelm of Being Constantly “On”!
Recently as I was teaching a parenting class, I joked that I was going to start recommend moms take up smoking. I’m only kidding. Please don’t take up smoking. But here’s why I mentioned that.
A client I was working with struggled with mom anger. Often her anger was actually a reaction to stress and overwhelm. I encouraged her to find ways to take a break during the day. She had a hard time not only believing that she could find time for breaks in the day, but even feeling at peace with allowing herself to take breaks.
Then she shared with me an important observation. She has a friend who is a smoker. This mom goes out on the back porch for 10-15 minutes at a time several times during the day. She doesn’t question whether she should or not. She doesn’t question whether she has time for it or not. She just assumes it must be part of her day.
Make Breaks Non-Negotiable
While I definitely don’t recommend taking up smoking, I do recommend taking up the attitude that breaks are just going to be a part of your day and they are something you can’t do without. The length and frequency of those breaks is up to you. But you do need room to breathe in your day.
A break could mean stepping out onto the porch. A break could mean having all the kids rest in their beds for a bit while you rest in yours. A break could mean putting in ear plugs or wearing noise canceling headphone to listen to your favorite music. To ensure that you are taking a break, you might even want to schedule it!
Sensory overload is like a car overheating. It’s bad for the car’s systems and it definitely doesn’t run as efficiently. Keep tabs on your overwhelm level and do things to cool it down when it starts to heat up. The goal would be to know yourself well enough to head off the overheating before it gets into the red!
Do you deal with sensory overload? What homeschool schedule hacks or other strategies have you found helpful?
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