By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 109


Caring for the needs of one child with sensory processing differences can be a challenge. But what if there are multiple kids with conflicting sensory needs? Or maybe you as the parent have the opposite sensory profile from your child.

I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes, it’s gonna be messy. There’s no way to make it perfect. Let’s just set our expectations right here.

But what I can offer you are some strategies to get through the day, some priorities to focus on, so we can increase regulation in your home.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

Let’s set our expectations

If your goal is 100% regulation, 100% meeting everyone’s sensory needs 100% of the time, I will tell you with all of the compassion in my heart that this is simply not possible.

Instead, let’s shift our goal to increasing regulation. Helping to meet more of our kids’ (and our own) sensory needs.

Let’s talk about how this can be done.

Creating separate spaces

You don’t have to have a 12-bedroom mansion to create separate spaces for individuals in your family with different sensory needs. Instead, here are some creative ways to make different spaces (however small) work for you:

When in a shared space

The above strategies might work for some, sometimes. But often family members with different sensory needs must be in the same space together. How can we make this work?

Keep these three things in mind when we’re creating inclusive shared spaces: boundaries, compassion and sensory layering.

1. Setting boundaries 

Here are some scripts you can use and modify for different types of shared spaces:

  • “In the car, your choice is to listen to an audiobook, chew on gum, or play I Spy. Screaming or singing loudly is not an option because I need to stay safe when driving the car.”

  • “At the dinner table, we need to keep our voices to a level 3 so everyone’s bodies feel safe enough to chew and swallow their food. You can ask for a break if you need to step outside to make some noises.”

  • “We are all sharing space on this couch. Bouncing and jumping is not an option right now. If you need to bounce, you can do jumping jacks on the floor or sit on the yoga ball.”

An important part of these scripts is that they should be stated beforehand, proactively, and not as a reaction to something already going on. We also need to make sure our children are already familiar with these other options (yoga ball, jumping jacks, etc.). These should be offered after it’s already established how to safely do these activities.

Remember that simply shutting down a sensory need (bouncing, making noise, crashing, etc.) does not turn it off. Instead, we need to give them a safe and acceptable alternative.

2. Compassion

Of course, I know that setting the boundaries above doesn’t guarantee compliance. And that’s why we also need to cultivate some compassion and empathy.

Understanding our child’s abilities. You might have an extremely loud, screechy, hyperactive toddler with little impulse control. We will need to have some realistic expectations of their abilities and likely practice some of our own self-regulation strategies while keeping our child safe.

The sensory cup talk. Where does empathy come from? When Sister is moving, vocalizing and bothering Brother, how can we help one to understand the needs of the other? My answer: teaching them about their sensory cups.

We can explain to Brother that everyone has different-sized sensory cups for different kinds of things. Maybe Brother has a small sensory cup for moving and bouncing, whereas Sister’s sensory cup is big! Maybe Brother has a big sensory cup for sound and Sister’s is small. We can explain that one is not better than another, but that everyone has different brains, different needs to feel comfortable and safe.

Teaching kids and other caretakers about sensory cups not only helps them deal with feelings of annoyance for certain behaviors but can also be an important tool for self-advocacy, giving kids language for what they need. “My sensory cup is almost full. Can I have my headphones?” “I’m too wiggly to play this game. I can’t sit still – be right back!”

3. Sensory layering

Sensory layering is a term I came up with, but it’s a concept that many OTs and intuitive parents are already using. You can see my post/podcast episode all about it, but I’ll summarize it here:

Sensory layering is the idea that you can manipulate an environment to add or take away sensory input in an infinite number of combinations to try to boost as much regulation as possible for each person.

Here’s what sensory layering might look like for a sensory-seeking child and sensory-sensitive child doing homework in the same room:

  • Your sensory-sensitive child might benefit from a weighted lap pad, a quiet room, dimmed lights.
  • For your sensory-seeker, you can change up their positioning by allowing them to wiggle or stand, a Theraband around the front two legs of their chair so they can bounce while sitting, providing a crunchy snack, a cold smoothie to drink through a straw, a bright desk lamp, headphones on with their favorite music playing.

If you’d like to learn even more strategies for sensory layering, check out my podcast episode “Using ‘sensory layering’ to enhance nervous system regulation.”

A personal recommendation: Loop Earplugs

You may know that I myself am sensitive to loud noises, and when I’m already dysregulated, certain noises and volumes can be almost intolerable. Even for parents who aren’t necessarily sensitive to loud noises, we may be sensitive to our child’s loud noises, am I right?

I highly recommend Loop Earplugs because they allow me to fully participate with my family in some loud spaces without getting overwhelmed by the volume. They’re discreet and effective and have helped me for the many months I’ve been using them.

Check out Loop Earplugs >HERE< and use my promo code LOOPXLAURAP10.

Episode Links

How to provide regulation in a home with conflicting sensory needs
Laura Petix 0:00 And when we need to set a boundary and redirect a certain sensory driven behavior, we do need to make sure that there is an alternative that we can provide them. It's not just about setting a boundary to shut down the behavior. That's something that's really important to continue to be...

Laura Petix 0:00 And when we need to set a boundary and redirect a certain sensory driven behavior, we do need to make sure that there is an alternative that we can provide them. It’s not just about setting a boundary to shut down the behavior. That’s something that’s really important to continue to be affirming of everyone’s sensory needs. Welcome to the sensory wise solutions podcast for parents, where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Lilyana a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new ot mom, bestie. I know my stuff. But I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 1 0:50 Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s try the podcast. Laura Petix 0:56 Hey, real quick before I start the episode, I wanted to let you all know if you’re listening to this before April 4, then doors to the sensory detectives boot camp are now open for the spring enrollment. This is a four week group coaching program, where I will teach you how to use sensory strategies for more regulation in your home for any neuro type. So you can be your child’s own OT, here are what some parents had to say. One of them said, I am so grateful for how jam packed this course was with information and practical strategies to increase my children’s regulation. Another person said the depth of information you shared with your program will be valuable for many years ahead. Another previous graduate of the sensor detectives boot camp said I feel like no one has ever gone into depth about all of the senses. And I’m so thankful you dug so deep and explain that. And lastly, someone mentioned I honestly have learned so much more from this two week boot camp than I have in a full year of my children attending OT. So that person mentioned this in my first cohort, which was two weeks long, but I have since extended it it is now a four week program. And if you want to join us, you can head to the OT camp to find out more. All right, let’s start the episode. So this episode is all about how you can balance needs within a family when you have kids with multiple sensory profiles, maybe conflicting needs. First, I have to say, I have one major caveat to start this episode with. And that is, I am a parent to an only child. I also have only ever worked in one on one settings for OT. Sometimes I did an occasional ot group, but I mostly worked one on one with kids. This means that when I give you the insights and education in this podcast, know that I have very limited real life experience in in terms of managing multiple kinds of sensory profiles at once. All the advice I give is based on what I think I would do, though, I will share some real life experiences in my own family. My husband and I definitely have some clashing sensory needs. I am going to give myself a little bit more credit though, because I have coached many families both in my private calls and of course in my sensor detectives boot camp that have multiple kids who have found success using these methods. So I’m not completely making things up out of the dark. But I just like pointing it out to families that No, I’m not in your same exact shoes. But anyway, without further ado, let’s talk about it. What do you do when you have multiple kids whose sensory profiles conflict, one might have an insatiable appetite for sensory input, while the other needs much less. Or maybe you have a conflicting profile with your child, which is actually quite common. Let me start out by saying you won’t always be able to meet every single person’s needs including your own in the same space at the same time. You cannot put that pressure on yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you. It feels hard because it is hard and you can’t just strive for perfect. So what options do you have? What can you do? The first area that I would focus on is creating separate spaces within your home. As much as possible create separate spaces that allow for different kinds of activities, different kinds of focus levels and volume levels. For example, maybe you have a playroom in your house that has no volume filter, you can be as loud and active as you want in the playroom. But the living room is a shared space. And that’s the room that you’re all hanging out in. If one of your kids is a sensory seeker and is bouncing off the walls making loud sounds, you can offer them an option to stay and hang out with the family. But to use a level one voice, or they can take a five minute jumping, dancing or singing break, in the playroom. If you’ve got a kid who likes quiet and dark, maybe you create a pop up tent that’s cozy and provides them their own space that they can doodle read, unwind or cuddled with a stuffed animal. Maybe they even have some headphones, but they can kind of retreat to that area of the house whenever they feel like they need to. The point is that every person with a sensory with a different sensory profile should have a place in their home that they can be who they are, unapologetically. And they should be able to have access to that most of the time. Now, some of you might be hearing this and thinking that you don’t have the space to do that definitely not for every kid. Or maybe you just don’t think that something like that can work. No problem. We’re also going to take a look at some strategies you can do for when you’re in a shared space, a smaller space. Like when you have a smaller living area, or maybe if you’re at the car, or you’re in the car or at the dinner table. So we have three things that we can rely on when we’re thinking about creating inclusive shared spaces. And those three things are boundaries, compassion, and sensory layering. So setting boundaries and shared spaces, sounds like this. In the car, your choice is to listen to an audiobook, chew on gum or play I spy, screaming or singing loudly is not an option. Because I need to stay safe when driving the car. It could also sound like at the dinner table, we need to keep our voices to a level three. So everyone’s bodies feel safe enough to chew and swallow their food. You can ask for a break if you need to step outside to make some noises. Or we’re all sharing space on this couch bouncing and jumping is not an option. Right now, if you need to bounce, you can do jumping jacks or sit on the yoga ball. The key here is setting the boundary in advance and making sure that they know exactly what those options are like if you say they can go sit on the yoga ball on the floor. This means that they’ve done that before they know where the yoga ball is they know the rules about the yoga ball and they know exactly what that means and how to do it, you’re not just going to pull up this redirecting option that they’ve never done before. And when we need to set a boundary and redirect a certain sensory driven behavior, we do need to make sure that there is an alternative that we can provide them. It’s not just about setting a boundary to shut down the behavior. That’s something that’s really important to continue to be affirming of everyone’s sensory needs. The second area we can focus on in shared spaces is compassion. So this is not really something that you technically do in the moment, except internally. But setting boundaries doesn’t mean everything is gonna go according to plan, like you set this boundary and then all of a sudden, they’re like, great, that was such a clear boundary. Mom, I’m definitely going to listen to you now. It doesn’t work like that. But you still set a boundary, you may have maybe a really extremely loud screechie are very active and wiggly toddler who really can’t control their actions much. So first, most importantly, have realistic expectations about your child’s abilities. What about older kids who need constant reminders because they have a hard time with impulse control, you constantly tell them to keep their hands themselves constantly telling them to lower their voice and it’s just not working. They might also have a hard time controlling the volume of voice and controlling the areas of their body that or otherwise being triggered by their nervous system. So teaching the entire family including yourself, including any other caregivers in the house, including any other siblings, teaching the entire family about the nervous system. And the different sizes of sensory cups that people can have is the first step. So I love doing this by teaching that everyone has a different size sensory cup for different kinds of things like maybe brother has a small sensory cup for moving and bouncing but sister has a ginormous moving and bouncing cup. Maybe sister has a big sensory cut for sound and little brother has a small sensory cut for sound. Neither of these kids have a better cup. They just have different brains and different needs. Kids that make their body feel comfortable and safe, which we all deserve to feel in our homes. When you teach everyone about their sensory cups not only can siblings and other caregivers start to have more perspective about the behaviors they may be getting annoyed by, but each child and caregiver can become better self advocates for what they need. So it falls less on you. The more that our kids know, and understand their own bodies, the more they can have an adaptive response to situations. Like saying that’s too loud, can I have my headphones, or I’m too wiggly to play this game. I can’t sit still be right back. Okay, and the last piece to trying to manage multiple kinds of sensory needs in one shared space is sensory layering. Now I have already done an entire episode on sensory layering, which is episode I believe, 84. I will put the link to that below this below this episode. So I’m not going to go over it too much here. But basically, sensory layering is the idea that you can manipulate an environment to add or take away sensory input and an infinite number of combinations to try to boost as much regulation as possible for each person. So Dimming the lights, and turning off as many background sounds as possible for one sensory sensitive child to focus on homework, but providing bluetooth headphones for another child who needs music at a standing desk. For the other child who needs sound and movement to focus on homework. That’s an example of relying on sensory layering. So I want to leave you with some examples to put it all together. Here are some scenarios and how this might play out with some different options. So let’s say big brother, eight years old, is really fidgety and keeps drawing his hands on the dining table while waiting for food. And younger siblings six years old is sensory sensitive and cannot stand the tapping. It’s a shared space, what are our options, you could offer big brother to go to the kitchen to help you with dinner. You could offer big brother to go take a five minute drumming break on his drum kit, and then come back when food’s ready. You can offer little brother to help with dinner. You can offer little brother some headphones. There’s of course other options, but those are just where my brain goes. Whatever we choose. We’d like to model compassion while holding the boundary and offering accommodations. We want older brother to know his needs can be met in different ways. We also want younger brother to know that his comfort matters too. And we want both of them to understand that it’s okay to need different things. Here’s another example. Let’s say it’s weekend playtime and you’re all hanging out in the living room. It’s raining outside so no one can go outside. So maybe you’re reading on the couch kids are playing blocks. The sensory seeking child keeps making loud crashing sounds with the blocks throwing them laughing and knocking over the other siblings block towers maybe on accident because they lack body awareness. The other sibling is a perfectionist hates loud sounds and is getting increasingly triggered, gathering yourself remembering your compassion for your older child who has a high threshold for sounds and movement and muscle input, which is why they like to move fast and hard. And also having empathy for your little one who worked so hard on the tower, here are your options. Well, some of them at least, you could create completely separate spaces for play. Some blocks can go in the bedroom for Big Brother, some blocks can go in a little room for in the living room for a little brother and they can maybe switch halfway through. You can offer headphones for the little brother, you can also turn down the lights and the volume of the TV to decrease the environmental stimulation to help both little brother and big brother because even if Big Brother has a high threshold for sound, sometimes the competing sounds in the environment can just add to the overall chaos and dysregulation feeling in the environment. You could pull older brother aside and let him build a tower with pillow cushions instead of using blocks which offers more heavy work and is more forgiving for crashing and for crashing into and crashing down versus using tiny block towers that make a higher pitch crashing sound. Again, those are not all the options but just kind of how I start to think things through. Here’s a real life example of what happens in daily life for me that that happens quite often. So the conflicting sensory profiles are mine and my husband’s my daughter and I have very similar sensory profiles and and anxiety um But my husband tends to really like constant background noise, music or TV. I very much prefer silence. If anything, maybe some calming music, but it cannot have any lyrics to it if there is any words going on in the background, I cannot focus. But he likes to talk to fill the space if it’s too quiet or put on music, and sometimes I truly just like to be in my own head to myself quietly. So this makes some dinners and some drive time and some co working spaces as we both work in the living room that can make it a bit tricky. So what do we do? First of all, I always have a pair of headphones, whether it’s electronic headphones to listen to calming music, or white noise or brown noise or my headphones or noise reducing earplugs. I’ve just gotten really comfortable at taking care of my own sensory needs proactively and making sure that I always have a space to retreat to or headphones to drown out noise. So I got comfortable with that. But at some dinners I will literally Plan to Eat separately. So I’ll eat either later after Liliana goes to bed. And when I know my husband is usually doing his scrolling time or playing a video game. So I’ll eat later when I can eat by myself or maybe I’ll even eat earlier. My husband knows it’s not personal. Liliana knows it’s not personal. I also sit next to them sometimes while they eat, but I will have my meal separately at a different time. If I feel really overwhelmed that day, I usually say something like, I need some quiet time. And I prefer to eat by myself tonight. Not mad at anyone. I just want to enjoy my food and peace. And my kid and my husband. Know what that means. On car rides, when my husband drives. He’s constantly surfing the radio or switching playlist songs. And then he’ll still say things to me and like talk to me while talking over the music. And that really triggers my nervous system. So I usually like reach for the volume knob and turn it down when he asks me something or shares, you know, like a random thought. And I’ll say something like, sorry, I just, I can’t do music and talking at the same time. And then he’ll say, oh, sorry. And he’ll kind of get the hint. And then either keep quiet or like, turn the volume down. And we’ll have a conversation about whatever he wants to talk about. And then we’ll turn it back up. But then he knows I’m not going to talk to him when the music is on. As I mentioned earlier, I always always always keep my loops earplugs, nearby. And if my husband and I are in the car, this is why I prefer for him to drive because I believe it’s illegal in a lot of states to wear headphones while driving. So I know if I’m in the car with him, I’m going to need headphones usually. So he drives and I sit in the passenger seat with my loops earplugs, I have a 10% discount. By the way, if anyone wants to try the loop, in ear noise reducing earplugs, there’s a link below in the show notes. But I’ll usually pop those in. And sometimes I’ll say as he’s driving, like, I’m just gonna put my earplugs in for a bit until we get there. And it’s sometimes not even about him talking. Sometimes I just liked the feeling of having them in and knowing that I’m drowning out sound, especially if I know I’m going somewhere that’s going to be really loud or busy. So I will proactively put them in. And he usually knows what that means and is fine and keeps the music on. Sometimes I will also simultaneously chew gum or sip water. Both are regulation strategies that work for me when I have sensory overload or anxiety. But the point is, I am very verbal about my sensory needs to the point where my husband and daughter understand it and welcome it and just know that’s who I am. And they have no gripe about it. And that’s what I hope that your kids can have in your family. And you can do that hopefully by modeling any sensory needs that you have as well. Lastly, I just want to say that if you are a caregiver and your sensory needs conflict with your kids, which I said is really common. Usually it’s that the parent is quite overstimulated, and sensitive to sound and movement and clutter and your kids are the ones causing the clutter and the movement and the sound. And you can set boundaries and you can ask and you can take care of your own sensory needs and it still won’t go all the way as planned. This is just when it’s really important to know some quick immediate ways to help regulate your nervous system and tiny ways. So I like relying on deep breaths. I like relying on taking quick 32nd to two minute breaks in the bathroom with the lights off with my back up against the wall. Literally just taking little micro moment moments to reset the nervous system and try to get through the day. All right, so there you have it. I hope you got some ideas to try or at least validation that You’re already doing everything as best as you can. And I hope to see some of you in the sensory detectives boot camp again, I will leave a link to that below but you can head to the OT camp. All right, I’ll see you next week. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me? I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT butterfly. See you next time. Transcribed by




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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