Outdoor summer fun with your child’s sensory needs in mind

Summer is here and so is the wide open outdoors. Have fun and minimize dangers and annoyances by being aware of your child’s sensory needs.

Tactile children will take great delight in playing in the openness of the outdoors and will tend to run — right into a playground, across grassy areas, into streams and around swimming pools over sand at the beach. This is why preparation is needed with a tactile child. Apply sunscreen before heading outdoors as their enthusiasm for life makes it hard for them to stand still once the fun is in front of them. Make the most of sun protective shirts, shorts and large hats. If in grassy areas use insect repellant clothing and walk around playground equipment, check a grassy meadow for insects and wear the appropriate repellant. Have a look at all possible hazards such as a grill or pool before enjoying your friends’ BBQ luncheon and bring your tactile child with you and explain the safety rules as you go, which will help prevent a boisterous accident later on.

It’s important with all children but especially the visual child that parents be aware of their capabilities. How well can they swim, do they get scared if they can’t see Mommy, do they need to have naps. Visual children can often push themselves beyond their limits to fit in with the group — so making sure that activities are age-appropriate is essential. Visual children are very aware of their clothes, towels, and play things and they will take some time to learn about sharing in more relaxed communal environments such as the beach or park where children share spades and buckets, and building projects. If your visual child is becoming bossy it may be a sign that they are becoming overwhelmed so perhaps a quiet break or snack is in order. Doing safety and preventative things in groups helps to manage a finicky child, if they see everyone else doing something, they are more likely to follow. For example every child puts on their sunscreen at the same time, everyone wears a hat, no kids allowed near the BBQ, no exceptions.

Auditory children will love being able to chat while building something with other people like a sand castle, tree house or playing make believe. They will love the outdoors especially if it is away from traffic. As a parent it can be fascinating to hear them describe all the new sounds they hear, from crickets to birds, to holding a shell up to their ear to listen the sounds of nature is an amazing auditory world. It can be difficult for auditory children to remember to tone down their noise when they get excited so expect squeals and screams. They will often get upset when splashed in the face and especially dislike the feeling of water in the ears so don’t expect them to be jumping into the ocean or lake easily and if they get squirted by a water pistol in the face there will be tears. Auditory children will like to be where all the verbal action is, so expect them to be amongst it all at gatherings, unfortunately this means they are prone to getting underfoot, so watch out for hazards like hot grills, glass, upset family pets and unsupervised play areas.

Playing together as a group and enjoying interacting with their parents in the low stress environment like the beach, park or playground is a taste and smell child’s dream. In group situations they will tend to hang back and observe for a while so rather than pushing them to join the other kids, set them up next to you with a view of how much fun the other children are having. They will soon join in when they are ready. Aim for clothing with sun and insect protection. Sunscreens and insect repellants can tend to irritate their sensitive skin and nose, so try low allergy and low fragrance and test out a few before you buy. Taste and smell children can tend to get caught up in their own imaginary world and see things as magical, so keep an eye out for them wandering off to find a unicorn or touching things they shouldn’t like poison ivy, grubs or poking fingers down holes.


Priscilla Dunstan is a behavioral researcher and creator of the Dunstan Baby Language and author of "Child Sense" and "Calm the Crying." She currently works in New York as a behavioral consultant. Learn more about Dunstan at www.dunstanbabynewyork.com