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What is Overstimulation?

As adults, we can all become overwhelmed at times when we have too much happening in our lives, and this is no different for children. Babies and children can become overstimulated when they are inundated with noises, experiences, and activities that extends beyond their current level of coping. For example, a baby may become unsettled in a new environment or if they have been held by too many different people in a short space of time. They may show this by crying to being fussy. While a preschooler may have a tantrum at the end of a birthday party or family outing. While a school aged child may be become overstimulated by too many activities that require a lot of energy out-put, like school, after-school-care, and then another extracurricular activity at the end of the week.

When a child becomes “overstimulated” this is their body saying it is fatigued and needs some quite time with familiar people in a familiar environment to re-coup. One way to be mindful of moderating a young persons energy output and risk of overstimulation is to maintain a balance between activity time and quiet time. During a young person’s first years of development, they benefit from stimulating environments as this helps them learn and grow, particularly as their brains are developing. But this does need to be balanced with quiet, calm time to rest and feel safe again.

How to manage an overstimulated child:

Managing an overstimulated child be quite challenging as you need to remain calm yourself. Here are some ideas to try the next time you are faced with an overstimulated young person.

1. Help your child to put their experiences in to words, including what they are experiencing within that they are showing through their behaviour. For example, “ I can see that you are having a hard time right now, and you might need a rest.”

2. Suggest a quiet break. For example, “Why don’t we take a little break and listen to some music in your bedroom and then come back to this.”

3. Help your child regulate with some mindfulness and co-regulation.

Finding the right balance:

Just the right amount of activities, or stimulation, varies for each child and their temperament. Some children are able to manage the schooling day, followed by further stimulating activities while others need more downtime. Let your child and their response to activities guide you in how to approach your families activity schedule. As a general rule though, young children need some quite play time each day aside from sleeping. While school-aged children may benefit from one or two additional activities that they are interested in and that can provide ways to develop skills and make new friends.

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