Help Your Child Explore Smell

By Laura Funk, Occupational Therapist

A child who has a heightened sense of smell may react negatively to any new smell or the intensity of a smell. A child with a diminished sense of smell may require very strong odors to register their presence.

The following activities are helpful to those children experiencing Sensory Processing Disorder related to smell or olfactory function. The goal is to help the child adjust to their environment through exposure to variety of appropriate sensory activities in a calm, playful manner to help to alleviate some of these problems.   As always, you should discuss this with your healthcare professional and choose activities that are most appropriate for your child’s specific needs.

Sensory Activities to Help Your Child Explore Smell

  • Aromatherapy for olfactory sensitivity is often something your child may find helpful for experimentation. Dependent on whether your child has an intensity aversion or needs greater intensity, you can choose the scent accordingly. A diffuser with essential oils such as peppermint or lavender can expose them to new scents as well as mask scents that are unpleasant to them.
  • Scratch and sniff stickers are very popular, but you can consider creating your own Scratch-and-Sniff painting activity with different flavors of Jell-O based on your child’s preferences.   Using individual cups, mix 1 Tablespoon each of white glue and water and add 1 teaspoon of each different Jell-O powder to each cup. Using heavy paper on a covered table, provide some paintbrushes or allow them to use their fingers to paint on the paper.  When dry, your child can rub the paint with their fingertip to reactivate the smell.
  • Your child may react negatively or positively to some smells and understanding their preference may impact their mood. Experiment with fragrant soaps, lotions, candles, or essential oils to understand what helps to calm them and what to avoid that could cause the opposite reaction.
  • Encourage your child to help with cooking or baking, smelling the ingredients as you add them.
  • Your child may enjoy drawing with their favorite scented markers to begin, and then introducing new scents slowly.
  • Blowing bubbles using a scent infused mixture of water and an essential oil can enable them to experience the smell while watching the bubbles grow.

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