Children’s Sensory Needs

Just as children need food throughout the day, they also need sensory input, as well as the chance to get away from stimulation.

Little boy holding his parents hands, they are smiling and laughing on the way back.


A “sensory diet” is an activity plan that supports the child to stay calm and regulated throughout the day.  In the same way that adults jiggle a knee or chew gum to stay awake or soak in a hot tub to unwind, children need to engage in stabilising, focusing activities, too.


Activities that “perk up” a child,  or calm them down,  are not only effective in the moment; they help to restructure your child’s nervous system over time so that they are better able to:

  • tolerate sensations and situations that they find challenging
  • regulate alertness and increase attention span
  • limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviours
  • handle transitions with less stress


The goal is to provide a “just right challenge” to help a child move forward into being not too active, not too inactive.


Every child is unique, and so there is no instruction manual for creating a sensory diet.


Generally, when children’s nervous systems are causing them to be hyperactive they need more calming input and when they are more underactive or sluggish they need more arousing input.


Input to the muscles and joints is regulating: it can be both calming and alerting.


Some ideas for activities can include weight-bearing activities e.g. crawling, push-ups, resistance activities e.g. pushing/pulling, heavy lifting e.g. carrying books, cardiovascular activities e.g. running, jumping on a trampoline and oral activities e.g. chewing, and blowing bubbles.