7 Must-Know Ways to Deal with Parental Overstimulation

Ways to Deal with Parental Overstimulation: A mom working at her desk in front of her laptop while her two kids are playing behind her.

While parenting has ample heartwarming and rewarding moments, there is no denying that it is a journey filled with daily challenges.

Let’s talk about one of the most common ones I’ve personally faced raising young kids— parental overstimulation.

Roughly 15-20% of the population is considered highly sensitive (myself included), but we all have a limit to how much input we can take.

If you find yourself losing it with your kids due to sensory overload, you aren’t a bad parent.

The key to success is recognizing that overstimulation isn’t a matter of willpower in tough moments, rather it is about having the self-awareness to find healthy ways to deal with parental overstimulation before you hit your breaking point.

Let’s dive into healthy and helpful ways to navigate stressful times with grace and create a nurturing environment for both you and your child(ren). 

Parental overstimulation got you feeling frazzled? Check out these 7 practical ways to deal with parental overstimulation and reclaim your sense of calm! From simplifying your schedule to practicing gratitude, these tips will help you navigate the ups and downs of parenting with ease. By Such a Little While LLC

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What is Parental Overstimulation?

You know the feeling you get when your kid throws a fit, the dirty dishes are in the sink, the living room floor is scattered with toys, and dinner still needs to be cooked, all while you’re running on 3 hours of sleep?

That breaking point feeling, the one when you want to jump ship on your gentle parenting goals… that’s overstimulation.

Overstimulation occurs when any or a combination of our 8 sensory systems become flooded. It’s where the mind and emotions become overloaded and manifest as feelings of exhaustion, irritability, and an inability to stay focused. 

What is Overstimulation: 8 Types of Sensory Input. (1) Visual (e.g., bright lights, fast-moved or changing patterns). (2) Auditory (e.g., loud, high-pitched, or overlapping noises). (3) Tactile (e.g., undesired textures, physical contact, changes in weather). (4) Olfactory (e.g., intense smells or odors). (5) Gustatory (e.g., food with undesired tastes or textures). (6) Proprioceptive: (e.g., rough play, heavy lifting, or tight clothing). (7) Vestibular: (e.g., spinning or swinging). (8) Interoceptive: (e.g., inner-body sensations such as hunger, pain, or emotions). More information at suchalittlewhile.com. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

There are 8 types of sensory input:

  1. Visual – e.g., bright lights, fast-moving or changing patterns
  2. Auditory – loud, high-pitched, or overlapping noises
  3. Tactile – undesired textures, physical contact, changes in weather
  4. Olfactory – intense smells or odors
  5. Gustatory – food with undesired tastes or textures
  6. Proprioceptive – rough play, heavy lifting, or tight clothing
  7. Vestibular – spinning or swinging
  8. Interoceptive – inner-body sensations such as hunger, pain, or emotions

Everyone has a unique sensory threshold, and recognizing your signs of parental overstimulation is critical to learning how to deal with it properly.

Why are parents prone to overstimulation?

Parental overstimulation is common because of the immense physical and emotional demands of raising children, managing a household, and keeping up with work.

Young kids especially are loud, seek physical touch, and often have behaviors (although developmentally appropriate) that can trigger a strong emotional reaction in us.

Imagine your sensory threshold is a cup as we walk through a typical day parenting young children.

You wake up and get dressed. Your pants feel a bit tight, and you got 2 hours less sleep than typical. You start the day with a small deposit in your sensory cup.

Sensory Cup 1/5 full of water

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

Your child has been touching you non-stop all morning, grabbing your legs while you’re trying to make breakfast.  Splash. Another sensory deposit.

Sensory Cup 2/3 full of water

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

It’s time to head out for the day. Your baby starts to fuss as you attempt to put your toddler’s shoes and coat on. Splash.

Sensory Cup 95% full of water

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

Your toddler doesn’t want to get ready- a tantrum unfolds, and now both kids are screaming. Splash AND overflow. Cue sensory overload.

Sensory cup overflowing and knocked over.

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

Once that cup hits the brim, you’re entering your reptilian brain. Patience in these situations isn’t a matter of willpower, you have activated your fight/flight/freeze response.

If you feel rage within you during these moments you are not a bad parent.

And if you were told not to show big emotions or even punished for crying as a child, you are even more likely to feel triggered in these scenarios.

Ongoing self-awareness is key to keeping your sensory threshold in check.

7 Essential Ways to Deal With Parental Overstimulation

Parenting can be overwhelming, and taking essential steps to prevent sensory overload can make all the difference. By listening to yourself and setting proper boundaries, you can create a calm and healthy environment for both yourself and your kid(s).

Let’s discuss 7 key steps to ward off overstimulation as a parent.

Ways to Deal with Parental Overstimulation: "7 Tips for Parental Overstimulation: (1) Reduce Noise Input. Wear noise-reducing earbuds or headphones. (2) Reduce Touch Input. Take breaks as able or change activities to increase personal space. (3) Limit Distractions. Go screen-free during highly stimulating activities. (4) Take the Weight Off Your Shoulders. Lean against a wall & take deep breaths. (5) Adopt a Mantra. "My child is having a hard time, not trying to give me a hard time.” (6) Set & Maintain Boundaries. Commit to self-care time and follow through. (7) Know Your Limits. (Aim to implement the above steps BEFORE reaching sensory overload.) More information at: suchalittlewhile.com" Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

#1: Reduce Noise Input

Sure, we have a responsibility to teach kids not to scream in the library or solve problems through yelling; however, sometimes kids are just being kids… and they’re LOUD!

I’m very sensitive to noise- particularly when my responsibility of cooking dinner coincides with my toddler’s “fussy hour.”

I received Loop noise-reducing earplugs for Christmas, and they have been a total game-changer! I can still hear my kids and affirm their big feelings, but I feel a sense of calm instead of stress in response to their noise.

#2: Reduce Touch Input

This one is easier said than done, depending on your child(ren)’s age(s).

One of the best ways to deal with parental overstimulation by touch is to change activities when you feel your sensory cup filling.

Consider environments that offer a little more physical space between you and your kid(s) and a change of scenery for you. Going on a stroller walk or heading to the playground are great ways to reduce touch input!

#3: Limit Distractions

Have you ever tried to send an important work email while your toddler also needed your attention? This attempt to multi-task can be stressful and a common trigger for sensory overload.

It’s no surprise research shows mothers’ use of screen time in front of their kids tends to increase their stress levels.

Creating dedicated spaces and times for focused interaction, such as turning off or limiting screens during family meals, can minimize external stimuli and evoke a sense of calm.

Instead of multitasking, aim to give your child 10-15 minutes of undivided attention before redirecting your focus to other responsibilities.

While this isn’t a perfect science (and highly dependent on your child’s temperament!), kids tend to be much more likely to play independently after you have filled up their attention and connection cups.

Ways to Deal with Parental Overstimulation: A mom closing her eyes and lying down next to her sleeping baby.

#4: Lean on Something/Push Against a Wall

This is a fun one you can do WITH your kids! Particularly when they also might be headed toward sensory overload. Watch this cute and educational video on how a physical activity as simple as pushing against a wall can settle your nervous system and help reset the brain.

#5: Adopt a Mantra

Having a go-to phrase that you can repeat with intention can help put things back into perspective and calm the mind and body.

It could be as something as simple as:

“This behavior isn’t personal. It’s developmentally expected.” or “My relationship with my child is more important than this issue.”

Write on a post-it note and place it in a location where you often feel overstimulated like in the kitchen or your child’s bedroom.

#6: Set & Hold Boundaries

Set and hold boundaries where you can (now that I’m out of the baby/little toddler years, I’ve instituted a new one of closing and locking the bathroom door!)

You may also consider instituting a daily quiet time once your child stops napping.

By honoring our boundaries, we can find better ways to deal with parental overstimulation and prevent overwhelm.

#7: Know Your Limits

Setting boundaries and prioritizing self-care not only benefits you, but it helps your kids, too!

By recognizing when you need a break or some time for yourself, you can feel better, recharge, and be in a space to take care of your children.

This might mean:

  • Leaving the party early.
  • Limiting daily screen time (for yourself and your children… remember kids’ overstimulation often triggers ours!)
  • Reducing the number of activities in your family schedule.
  • Talking with your partner about how to support each other and take breaks as needed.
Ways to Deal with Parental Overstimulation: A dad holding up a pillow in between him and his daughter.

The last thing you need to know about sensory overload as a parent

Finding healthy ways to deal with parental overstimulation requires self-awareness and self-compassion. It’s okay to take breaks, set boundaries, and prioritize our well-being to be the best parents we can be for our children. 

Remember, you’re not alone. Using effective positive parenting tools during tough discipline moments can help you stay the course in managing overstimulation.

I invite you to join the thousands of parents worldwide who have taken part in Such a Little While’s free 30-day Positive Parenting Challenge. I’m cheering you on every step of the way!

Managing Routines & Transitions in Early Childhood: Positive Parenting Challenge PDF Workbook by Such a Little While

Graphic of free PDF workbook.  Text Reads "Positive Parenting Challenge 3.0, must-know positive discipline do's & dont's, 30 powerful, easy-to-follow tips & tools, unlock 10 key features of positive parenting, customizable parenting solutions, master the art of effective consequences).
    My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
    Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.

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