When it comes to choosing the right toys for kids, you can’t go wrong with stuffed toys. They have been the beloved companions of children for generations. But when you think of stuffed animals, the image that probably comes to your mind is the light and squishy teddy bear filled with fluff that you used to snuggle up to as a child. For children with sensory processing issues, these don’t offer the same benefits as the sensory weighted toys. Let me explain why.
Why do Weighted Stuffed Animals Work?
Children with delicate or overloaded sensory systems can sometimes feel detached, fidgety or anxious and perhaps, unable to self-calm or relax. These handy toys can help relieve these symptoms and provide much needed sensory input. The benefits of weighted plush toys, particularly for restless children, is attributed to their ability to provide deep touch pressure therapy (DTP).
The additional weight the toy provides triggers a neurological response that activates the child’s parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to ease the body into “rest mode”, relaxing tense muscles, slowing down the heart, and prompting an array of chemical reactions in the body that bring about a sense of calm and comfort for your little one. Children who are sensitive to other people’s touch and children who settle down after a reassuring cuddle can both benefit from the companion of a weighted toy.
Ways Weighted Toys Can be Used
To Ease Restlessness
Parents of children who suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) know how frustrating it can be when it comes to helping them calm down and fall asleep. Restlessness is a common symptom in both children and adults with ADHD. Research has shown that weighted toys help decrease the amount of time taken for ADHD sufferers to fall asleep at night.
Offering a weighted toy for a child to hug at bedtime or naptime is a great way to help alleviate some of the stress generally centred around sleep time. This also helps improve the overall quality of the child’s sleep when they do drift off into a peaceful slumber.
To Keep Children Calm
When a child is playing or holding a toy such as this, they are enjoying the benefits of deep touch pressure therapy through their tactile senses. This causes the brain to release dopamine, helping to regulate your child’s mood. Dopamine provides a sense of calm while also providing feelings of motivation, reward, and happiness.
To Improve Focus
Aside from reducing anxiety in children dopamine can also, when coupled with the release of serotonin, increase attention span and improve overall cognitive function. This is beneficial for children who have trouble focusing both at home and at school. A weighted soft toy is efficient at helping children to stay alert while reducing the negative effects of overwhelming stimuli within the child’s environment.
To Manage Autism Symptoms
While there is no cure for autism, there is a variety of treatments and therapies that helps manage the symptoms. Studies have reported touch therapy to have immediate and long-term effects on the body’s biochemistry, including lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol and elevated levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. This is crucial for mood regulation, movement, impulse control and more.
Additional Benefits of Weighted Toys
A variety of weighted plush toys are available on the market today and many of them are portable and can be taken anywhere. Animal designs, for example, are usually the right size for children to carry during a short drive to the store or during class. In addition to the deep pressure touch therapy benefit, there is also the extra sensory input of the lusciously soft fabric as well as the fact that they don’t look “clinical” – they just look like regular looking soft toys.
Easy to Clean
These toys are often easy to clean and machine washable. Some designs even have a removable and secure weighted insert that is also washable.
One of the extra benefits the convenient weighted toys offer is that of improving a child’s strength. The extra weight of the toy when both played and carried helps strengthen a child’s shoulders, arms and hands. In addition to the obvious benefit to the child’s gross motor skills when handling the toy, this build-up of strength is also essential for the development of fine motor skills required for other things such as improving their writing.
Create the Hug Feeling
When children are hurt, one of their first reactions is to run toward their parents to get a hug. The comfort, peaceful feelings they get from hugs and gentle pressure is really just weighted touch therapy at work. Research has shown that hugs have the power to improve serotonin and dopamine levels, the feel-good chemicals in the brain. With a weighted toy, the child can get a hug whenever and wherever they need one.