Child Sense: From Birth to Age 5, How to Use the 5 Senses to Make Sleeping, Eating, Dressing, and Other Everyday Activities Easier While Strengthening Your Bond With Child
By Priscilla J. Dunstan
In this chapter, you are going to learn how to identify your child's dominant sense mode. The information I will be sharing with you is based both on the observations I have made through my research and on my one-on-one work with children and their parents, first in Sydney and now in Los Angeles. During any given week at my clinic and research center in Sydney, where I met with families who had sought me out for help in managing the day-to-day behavioral problems they faced with their children, I saw between twenty-five and fifty different kids, ranging in age from one or two months to five years old, right before they enter first grade. One mom showed up in my office a mere four days after giving birth! Most of my clients come to me via word of mouth or have been referred to me by their pediatricians or psychologists.
Since moving to Los Angeles and establishing an office in the United States, I have continued to work one-on-one with families, including staying in touch with and advising my Australian families from afar. All of this is to say that I've witnessed again and again, in families around the world, how a knowledge of your child's sense orientation can transform daily life, liberating you from many of the problems that you may have assumed were inevitable. They're not!
I know from experience that once you determine the dominant sense of your child, you will reach a much more accurate understanding of why your child acts the way he does. You will also have much keener insight into how your child's developmental tasks are being impacted by his dominant sense type. I will offer you insight on why and how your child may be struggling with separation anxiety or what's behind his tantrums. Through examples from my research and practice, I will shed light on how children's dominant sense affects them as babies when they learn to self-soothe and as toddlers when they begin to engage with their peers, moving from parallel play to more interactive play. You will learn specific tips on how to help quiet your child or how to encourage her to sleep in her own bed through the night.
But more important, I am going to offer you ways to better understand your child-and yourself-so that you can come up with your own solutions, sometimes immediately, sometimes through a bit of trial and error. I always remind my clients that it's parents who know their children best. So my advice can only be a starting point. It's important to keep in mind that coming up with the solutions that fit you and your child is a process and can take time, patience, and a bit of flexibility.
Before you get to the checklist that will enable you to figure out your child's dominant sense, I want to share with you a bit more about how I use information about the four sensory modes in my work with families, so that you will see just how useful this knowledge will be to you.
Why It's Important to Know Your Child's Sense
Every one of us comes into the world with one sensory mode that is dominant, and that mode will continue to be dominant for the rest of our life. In other words, if we start out as visual, we remain visual, even if we eventually develop strength or aptitude in our other senses.
The more families I worked with, the more I understood how pervasive the influence of the dominant sensory mode is on a child's way of thinking, feeling, and reacting to situations. As soon as you are able to identify your child's dominant sense, you will see evidence of it everywhere-in how she wakes up in the morning, how she acts when she's tired, how she behaves when she's hungry, how she expresses and handles negative emotions, how she transitions to school or a play date, what learning strategies are most effective with her, and so on. Being aware of your child s dominant sense mode will transform your interactions with her. With your child's dominant sense mode as a point of reference, you will be able to offer her the kind of guidance that will give her the opportunity to succeed in all ways, on her own terms.
Let me share a couple of stories from one of die mothers I worked with in Los Angeles. Liz is a fortysomething mom of two daughters. Her seven-year-old daughter Marie is taste/smell and her four-year-old daughter Jess is auditory. Liz told me:
Over die last two days, Jess has been home sick with some kind of slight stomach upset, but on the second day she begged to come out with me to do an errand. At first I just told her, "You're sick, you can't come-you might throw up in the car." She kepi pleading with me, and I would have given in but I was worried that she wasn't out of the woods yet and an outing would make her worse. So then I thought about what she had said to me when she made a case for staying home in the first place, which was that when she doesn't feel well all the noises in her day care hurt her head. So I said, "If you come out, all the traffic sounds and the honking horns that you hear in the car will make noises that are crunchy and loud. Remember how all those noises hurt your ears when you don't feel good?" And that was the end of the conversation. Jess just said, "Okay, Mom, I'll stay home." I couldn't believe how easy it was, but it made me realize how sensitive she is when she is under the weather. She really did need to be at home.
I used the same understanding of sense dominance when I tried to convince my older daughter, Marie, to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast instead of the Pop-Tart she wanted. Being a typical taste/smell child, she has a very limited palate. Already on the edge of defiance, Marie said, "Well, if you don't let me have a Pop-Tart, then I am not going to eat any tiling." I could have made it a hard-and-fast rule that she couldn't have the Pop-Tart-and granted, there are times when we have to do that-but I wanted her to want to have the peanut butter and jelly, which I knew she liked anyway. So I said, with as little affect as possible, "Marie, this is what I am worried about: If you eat dial sugary Pop-Tart, it will give you a lot of energy right away, but in two hours all that energy will fade away and you'll be telling your teacher you don't feel well. You'll be grumpy and unable to focus on your work, and you'll just want to put your head on the desk and go to sleep. That's what happened when you had too much cake at the birthday party last week, remember? Then your teacher will be disappointed in you and your friend Ella won't have anyone to play with at recess and she'll miss you."
Knowing that she's taste/smell, I was trying to appeal to her sensitivity to how others feel about her, especially her teacher, whom she really adores, and her best friend. And it worked. She agreed to have the peanut butter and jelly. To make her feel good about giving in, I thanked her and told her that over the weekend we'd go to the store and try to find a new cereal or other breakfast foods she liked so she'd have more to choose from in the morning. She was excited about getting to pick out her own food, and I felt she had learned an important lesson: that she is in charge of taking care of her own body, which I know will help her in the long run become a healthy eater.
As Liz did with her two daughters, parents can use their understanding of their child's dominant sense to guide their children to make better choices, whether these choices have to do with eating, going to sleep in their own beds, dressing more appropriately for the weather, or anything else that involves assuming more responsibility for themselves.