Why know your dominant sense?

Learning about your child’s sense will help anchor your understanding of them, give you tools to use with your communication with them and improve your everyday interactions. You’ll be more aware of what makes them react positively or negatively, and how to explain what you want them to do in a way they will understand. By knowing and using your child’s dominant sense, you can bridge the gap of communication and create a harmonious and empowering relationship with your child.

Visual children relate to the world primarily through what they see. They learn by watching how you do things and imitating you. They tend to learn to read more easily than children with other dominant senses, and they respond well to flashcards. They are easily distracted by visual input from TVs, computers, crowds, clutter and chaotic environments, as well as by any changes from what they are accustomed to. What they see is the message they get. If they see a face that looks angry they get scared, a happy-looking face makes them happy, etc. They tend to like order and enjoy organizing their toys by color, shape, size or perhaps by some other criteria of their own choosing — which may be invisible to you.

Taste and Smell children seem to pick up information in an apparently unconscious way, as though through intuition, but part of what they are picking up on is sense-based. Everyone emanates a scent, and these children often have strong responses to people’s smells, which can color their feelings about people — even though these smells may be so subtle that you and I might not notice them. These children instinctively divide people into good and bad, nice and nasty, and they can be quite intractable once they have made up their mind. There will be people they like and those they don’t and not much in between.

Tactile children experience the world physically. They need some sort of physical stimulation to acquire memory. It could be outside stimulus like being touched, or it could be self-created, like crawling. If happy they skip, if sad they need a cuddle, if angry or excited they push. Tactile children tend to learn to walk and crawl earlier than children in the other sense groupings. Their fine motor skills also tend to be slightly ahead of their peers’. Tactile children need a lot of physical contact and support. Cuddling and physical touch are necessary for them to feel safe. They will often wish to sleep with their parents as they don’t like to be alone. And they tend to learn by doing.

For auditory children, sound is their first point of call for information about everything that makes up their environment — people, places, objects, etc. They notice the tone of people’s voices, like or dislike certain places because of the noise level, love experimenting with sound and respond well to music. All feelings are either vocalized or, at older ages, verbalized: if they are angry they shout; if sad they cry loudly; and if happy, they laugh uproariously. The sequence of events is important to auditory children, who are always looking for order and patterns; they like to know the step-by-step progression of any activity and want to be told the schedule for the day. They are mathematical and logical-minded.

A child’s dominant sense impacts not just their day-to-day routines as they grow from infancy to their preschool years, but how they expresses their needs and manages their feelings. Their dominant sense also affects how they begin to learn about the world, and how they play and interact with his peers. Knowing your child’s sensory orientation will help you to be more clear-headed and effective as you guide your children through the many challenges of their early years, which in turn helps them feel more confident and self-assured as they make their way through the world.


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