From our earliest years we are taught about the 5 senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. On the surface level, these senses are pretty easy to understand, but did you know that there are actually a few additional senses that help us to move, keep our balance, and know when to go to the bathroom? Let’s call these the 3 Secret Senses!
Secret Sense 1: Vestibular
This sense is triggered by those little tiny (but super powerful) ear hairs that help us stay balanced and know whether we are lying down sideways, hanging upside down, or standing upright. As our body moves against gravity in all different ways, the movement of those little ear hairs send signals to the brain to let it know how our bodies are reacting to the motion it’s experiencing.
How does the vestibular sense help our littles? The vestibular sense is responsible for them sitting still on a chair, maintaining standing balance on their way to the bathroom on a turbulent airplane, riding a bike without training wheels, playing hopscotch and make it all the way to 10 without stopping, and SO much more.
What can we do to help develop the vestibular sense? Well, although it seems ironic, lots of movement like spinning and hanging upside-down helps to develop the sense that keeps us balanced! We often see kids hanging upside down off the couch or twisting up in a swing to spin round and round or spin in circles until they are so dizzy they can barely walk, and while we think they are a little crazy, they are developing!. Amazingly, the brain and body know the movement they need to receive all that wonderful input to learn how to understand the complexities of gravity.
The best way to help your child develop her vestibular sense is to allow and encourage lots and lots of movement like rolling across the grass, swinging, spinning in circles, riding merry-go-rounds, crossing monkey bars, somersaults, and any other type of movement they love!
Secret Sense 2: Proprioception
This sense helps us with body and personal space awareness. Our proprioceptive sense allows us to know where our hands are in relation to our shoulders, that we are wiggling our toes inside our shoes even if we can’t see them moving, and how close or far away from other people and objects we should be.
Many toddlers and children struggle with this sense- they trip and fall for no apparent reason, touch friends more than deemed appropriate, can’t sit still, glide their hands along the wall as they walk through a hallway, have poor coordination, frequently seek opportunities to “crash” or “fall” into objects, and have difficulty getting in and out of different positions.
Each of our joints contain proprioceptors that receive information and send signals to the brain about where that body part is. To help your child activate these receptors try weight bearing activities such as yoga poses like plank, downward dog, and cobra or wheelbarrow walking, jumping jacks, crawling on hands and knees, swinging on a trapeze, climbing trees, carrying a full backpack, or pulling a loaded wagon. These are all great activities that apply pressure to many joints in the body and send strong signals to the brain!
It is typical for toddlers and young children to have an immature proprioception sense. Although this sense may not develop as quickly as others, the more movement and weight bearing activities we can provide, the better, and soon enough they should be right on track! In our Babies on the Move course, we provide simple activities to develop both the vestibular and proprioceptive senses to help build a strong sensory processing foundation throughout baby’s first year.
Secret Sense 3: Interoception
This is the sense that connects us to the internal workings of our organs. The interoception sense tells us when we need to use the bathroom, if we’re hungry, if our heart is beating fast, if we’re feeling feverish (hot or cold) or what type of stomach ache we might have.
This sense can take quite a few years to mature. The average age for potty training happens around two and a half, and our children don’t usually process and feel temperature changes the way we do. If our children are not feeling well, they usually act differently without being able to explain what’s bothering them (even if they have the language skills to do so). “My tummy hurts” can mean many different things. Young children usually have difficulty differentiating between motion sickness, acid reflux, a stomach virus, constipation, or even hunger.
Kids who struggle with this sense may have difficulty processing emotions leading to more frequent temper tantrums. Have you heard of the term hangry? While we can experience this as adults, we’re usually more self aware to grab a bite to eat to get ourselves in check. Additionally, we never have accidents because we’re too busy playing, we know to stop what we are doing and use the restroom. If our stomach hurts, we are usually able to pinpoint what the issue may be.
While most children will develop this sense over time naturally, some kids need a bit of extra help, here are some things you can try with your child to help them along.
- Try activities similar to those targeting proprioception such as, crawling, pulling a wagon, pushing a full diaper box, etc.
Get moving – aerobic activities to get the blood pumping and heart racing can help your little one understand how their body works.
- Practice breathing exercises – sometimes mindfulness practice is exactly what your child needs to learn how to identify these complicated feelings.
- Implement a schedule. Set times for meals, bathroom breaks, and exercise to help train the body and mind to become more regulated, leading to a calmer state throughout the day.
There was a lot to take in from this blog post, you were introduced to three new senses you never realized existed! We hope that this helps in understanding more about your little one’s body and mind development, and as always, do not hesitate to head over to our free community to ask any questions that we may not have answered here!