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  • Writer's pictureCoach Patty, HealthSmart! Kids

From Chaos to Calm: The Sensory Diet for ADHD Kids to Improve Self-Regulation

Updated: Jun 22


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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children worldwide. The symptoms of ADHD can range from hyperactivity and impulsivity to inattention and difficulty with executive functions such as planning and organization.


Self-regulation is critical for kids with ADHD to manage their symptoms and achieve success in daily life. In this article, we'll explore the importance of a sensory diet for ADHD kids and how it can improve their self-regulation.


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Understanding ADHD and Self-Regulation

ADHD is a disorder that affects the brain's ability to regulate attention, behavior, and emotions. Children with ADHD often struggle to pay attention, control impulses, and manage their emotions. Self-regulation is a critical skill for children with ADHD to learn, as it helps them manage their symptoms and emotions, and enables them to make good decisions.

Self-regulation involves monitoring and controlling one's own behavior, thoughts, and feelings. It's a key component of executive functioning, which is essential for success in school, work, and social situations. Children with ADHD may have difficulty with self-regulation, leading to behavior problems, academic difficulties, and social challenges.

What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is a set of activities designed to provide sensory input to the body in a structured and organized way. It is based on the idea that our bodies need sensory input to function correctly. Sensory input can come from the environment, such as light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. A sensory diet aims to provide the right kind and amount of sensory input to help a child self-regulate and manage their emotions.

The term "sensory diet" was first coined by occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger in the 1980s. She developed a sensory diet to help children with sensory processing disorders regulate their sensory input. Since then, the concept of a sensory diet has been used to help kids with a variety of conditions, including ADHD.

Importance of a Sensory Diet for ADHD Kids

Research on emotional self-regulation demonstrates that children with ADHD have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may be more impulsive, have more difficulty following rules, and have a harder time controlling their behavior. Studies have shown that a sensory diet can help children with ADHD improve their self-regulation and reduce their symptoms.

A sensory diet can help kids with ADHD by providing them with the right kind and amount of sensory input to help them self-regulate. It can also help them improve their attention, behavior, and social skills. A sensory diet can be used in conjunction with other ADHD treatments, such as a healthy diet, supplements, behavioral therapy, and medication, to help children manage their symptoms.


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Self-Regulation Strategies for Early Childhood

Self-regulation is an essential skill that can be taught as early as preschool age. It helps kids manage their emotions, control their behavior, and make good decisions. There are several strategies that parents and teachers can use to help young children develop self-regulation skills.

One strategy is to provide clear and consistent rules and consequences. This helps children understand what is expected of them and what will happen if they do not follow the rules.


Another strategy is to provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. This can be as simple as praising a child for following the rules or completing a task.

Another strategy is to provide opportunities for children to practice self-regulation. This can be done through games and activities that require children to control their impulses and emotions, such as Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light. Engaging in sensory play, such as playing with playdough or sensory bins, can also help children develop self-regulation skills.

Sensory Diet Activities for Kids

A sensory diet can be beneficial for children of all ages. There are several sensory diet activities that parents and teachers can use to help kids regulate their sensory input and improve their self-regulation skills.

One activity is to provide a sensory bin filled with materials that provide different sensory input, such as rice, beans, or sand. Children can explore the materials with their hands and feet, helping them regulate their sensory input and improve their focus.

Another activity is to provide opportunities for movement, such as jumping, running, or climbing. Movement can help children regulate their sensory input and improve their attention and behavior. Engaging in sensory play, such as playing with playdough or finger paint, can also help kids develop self-regulation skills. These activities provide sensory input while allowing children to engage in creative play.

How Emotional Regulation Develops Due to Sensory Input

Sensory input can help children regulate their emotions by providing them with a sense of calm and control. For example, deep pressure input, such as a hug or weighted blanket, can help kids feel grounded and calm. Sensory input can also help children regulate their energy levels and reduce hyperactivity.

When kids receive appropriate sensory input, they are better able to manage their emotions and behavior. Over time, this can lead to improved emotional regulation skills and better overall functioning.


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Emotion Regulation Activities for Kids with ADHD

Emotion regulation activities can be beneficial for children with ADHD. These activities can help children learn to manage their emotions, reduce impulsivity, and improve their behavior. There are several emotion regulation activities that parents and teachers can use to help children with ADHD.

One activity is to teach children to identify their emotions. This can be done by providing visual aids, such as emotion charts or flashcards. Children can also learn to identify their emotions by using a feelings diary or journal.

Another activity is to teach children coping skills, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These skills can help children calm down when they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

Engaging in physical activity, such as yoga or martial arts, can also help children with ADHD regulate their emotions. These activities provide sensory input while allowing kids to engage in physical exercise.

Implementing a Sensory Diet for ADHD Kids at Home and in School

Implementing a sensory diet for ADHD kids can be done at home and in school. Parents and teachers can work together to create a sensory diet that provides the right kind and amount of sensory input for the child.

At home, parents can provide sensory activities and play opportunities that allow the child to regulate their sensory input. They can also provide a sensory diet plan that includes specific activities and strategies for managing the child's symptoms.

In school, teachers can create a sensory-friendly environment that provides sensory input in a structured and organized way. They can also provide sensory breaks and activities that allow the child to regulate their sensory input and improve their self-regulation skills.

Summing Up

A sensory diet can be a beneficial tool for children with ADHD to improve their self-regulation and manage their symptoms. By providing the right kind and amount of sensory input, kids with ADHD can improve their attention, behavior, and social skills. Parents and teachers can work together to create a sensory diet plan that is tailored to the individual child. When we meet the sensory needs of our kids, their ability to self-regulate improves, putting them at their very best for healthy learning and behavior.


For more about sensory issues for our kids, check out our other posts here:




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All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.





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