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What is deep pressure and how can it help my child?

Deep pressure is a simple sensory tool you can use at home to help children feel calm and regulated. But what is it and why does it work?

What is deep pressure?

Deep pressure input is the application of firm, evenly distributed pressure to the body. This type of input is often provided through activities such as hugs, gentle squeezing, weighted blankets, or compression garments. Deep pressure input has been found to have a calming and soothing effect on children, particularly those who experience sensory processing difficulties or sensory sensitivity.

Why is deep pressure calming?

Deep pressure is calming because it provides proprioceptive input. Proprioception is the sensory information we receive from our muscles and joints, which contributes to body awareness and coordination. When we increase this sensory feedback, e.g. by providing a weighted item or a hug, it can help us feel where our bodies are in space and produce a calming effect.

Research also shows that deep pressure can impact on our autonomic nervous system (ANS) – which is the part of our body that regulates our automatic/involuntary functions like breathing and heart rate. Deep pressure input has been shown to activate the parasympathetic branch of the ANS, which promotes relaxation and a sense of calm by decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and overall arousal. By activating this, it counterbalances the effects of the sympathetic branch of the ANS, which is our “flight-or-flight” response.

How can I use deep pressure input?

The best thing about deep pressure input is that it is easy to incorporate into your day, particularly if you notice your child is beginning to feel dysregulated or needs some help calming down.

Here are some easy deep pressure activities you can try at home:

  • Place a wheat bag or weighted animal on your child’s lap
  • Give your child a tight hug
  • Roll your child up in a blanket to make a “blanket burrito”
  • Squeezing stress balls or playdough
  • Massage
  • Carrying a heavy load – moving heavy items like soil in a garden wheelbarrow or a stack of books

Using deep pressure can help modulate the autonomic nervous system, reduce anxiety, promote body awareness, and support self-regulation. We all process the sensations in and around us a little differently, so offer it to your child carefully and take note of how your child reacts to see what is helpful for them. Please reach out to your Occupational Therapist if you have any further questions.

 

SIENNA SMILEY

Occupational Therapist.

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