CHAPTER 8: How Color Psychology Can Improve Children’s Behaviors With Sensory Needs

Color Psychology row of colored pencils

Do you ever walk into a room and not like the feeling of it? You’re not really sure why, but something about it just doesn’t feel right. It makes you uncomfortable.

Color makes a huge impact on the way we feel, on our daily mood and it affects the way we behave as a result.

Now imagine the impact it has on a child with sensory needs. It is magnified!

Children with sensory needs can be overstimulated, understimulated, seeking or avoidant. So colors play a tremendous roll on how they will feel in a home, in their room, or play area.

As I mentioned in my very first blog post, my son Asher, who was 4 years old at the time, asked me to change his room. He had a language processing issue at the time and couldn’t tell me why he wanted to change his space, all he said was that he didn’t like it. He said: “I want everything white”. So this gave me a clue. His room was painted a light blue on half the wall, and the upper half was navy blue with white stars. I didn’t know this at the time, but that color combination really triggered him! He couldn’t sleep in the room, let alone feel comfortable just being in it.

Everyone has a color block – meaning that we may have aversions to one more colors. It depends on each person.

There’s a color tool that can be used to help you figure out which color block you may have. It’s very interesting!

As interior designers, we often pick a color to convey a mood. Or we pick a color that follows a trend. But when it comes to sensory interior design, it goes a little deeper. With sensory kiddos who are sometimes oversensitive to visual stimuli, color plays a really important role in how they may feel and react to it. It’s more about conveying a behavior in the room, rather than the mood. We need to focus on the impact it makes on the child’s behavior. It’s not about the trend, or a cool wallpaper you want to put on the wall. It’s about the child and their specific sensory needs.

You can’t see a mood, but you can see behavior. And color can really affect that.

When designing a sensory friendly room, you need to ask yourself what behavior you would like to see in that room. Is it a bedroom, a play room?

A sensory friendly room doesn’t only mean light colors and no clutter with everything white around it. It all depends on the child and what their senses respond to. And it also depends on what behavior you’d like to see in that room. Do you want them to feel calm in the room? Or to stimulate them so they can play around and get their energy out? After that, you can choose the colors that would support that behavior.

Every color has a positive and negative context. When you put a color in the negative context, you will see negative behaviors, and vice versa. There have been so many studies done on it- it’s absolutely fascinating. The power of color.

For example: light pink has the negative expression of being needy, weak or helpless. If there’s too much pink, men might feel emasculated.

In the 1980s, a football coach in a college decided to paint the visitors’ locker rooms pink, as a tactic to psychologically undermine the opposing team and to stop them from playing well by make them feel that they were weaker. It worked.

However, when pink has a positive expression, it is interpreted as nurturing, caring and empathetic. It is often used in nurseries.

So color has a lot of power. And it depends where and how we use it.

My son’s room is now a Benjamin Moore Cloud Cover color. There is nothing else on the walls, since he’s over sensitive to visual stimuli.

But over time, as his visual sense had calmed down, I was able to introduce certain patterns on a wallpaper that he agreed to, but I limited it to only one wall. It is a light blue wave pattern and it’s placed only behind his bed. This way he can’t see it when he’s lying in bed.

Transitions. Slow transitions. The point is to get your child to become flexible and not remain rigid and stuck in their ways. Because ultimately we want them to outgrow or lessen these needs, and be able to mesh into the real world. But you have to go at their pace. You kids will lead you.

Also, I chose a peel and stick wallpaper for that exact reason. Because when your child outgrows it, all you have to do is strip the wall and that’s it! No hard feelings and no damage to the wall. You have to think ahead and be prepared.

If your child is understimulated, you’ll notice they are messy, they love clutter, and they will look to create clutter even when their room has been cleaned and organized. That’s because clutter is soothing to their eyes. In this case, we need to create a visually stimulating environment for them to satisfy their senses, by adding brightly colored walls, a colorful or patterned carpet or bright window treatments. If those options aren’t attainable, then add visuals on the wall, like any colorful wall art. When you decorate your child’s room, make sure that they are part of the decision making process so that they can respond positively to it.

We want to set up our child for success, help their self-esteem and celebrate their uniqueness. So let them help! Your children know what they like, you just need to listen and guide them.

How do we figure out what sensory needs our child has? It’s best to start jotting it down in a journal, so you can analyze it later and figure out what triggers your child and vice versa. But you know what? As a parent, you know your child best, and you probably already know.

How do we know what colors best suit our child? It depends on how stimulated they are by colors and how much of the color you’re putting in the room. If your child loves purple for example, don’t make the theme ‘purple everything’. Perhaps paint the wall a light lavender, but then don’t add purple pillows and a purple blanket. When there’s too much of one color, it creates a negative behavior.

So there you have it. The world of color psychology. There is so much information about it, it’s easy to get lost in it. Maybe now that you’re aware of colors and how they impact our lives, you’ll become more aware of colors around you.

Pay attention to what colors you like to wear. What colors you stay away from. Which colors you choose often, and which you feel a negative energy from. Don’t try to figure out which colors are in style, but rather, which colors make you feel best. And by doing the same with your sensory child, you’ll see that they will really appreciate the effort you’re putting into improving their lives. And it’ll make a big difference in their room, and in your home- should you choose to make that change.

So, go wild! Explore with colors and have fun! My kid always chooses a royal blue.

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