Occupational therapists (OTs) have long used these blankets to help kids with sensory issues and anxiety, including kids with ADHD. But the blankets aren’t just an OT tool anymore. They’ve moved into the mainstream and become hugely popular. That doesn’t make them any less effective as a way for kids to self-soothe, however.
Weighted blankets shouldn’t be used with infants and toddlers. They can pose safety risks for very young children.
Learn more about weighted blankets, and how they might help your child with ADHD.
What Are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are designed to relieve stress and create a sense of calm. They do that by providing pressure on the body.
These blankets are filled with glass beads or plastic pellets for added weight. Some also have extra layers of fabric to increase their heaviness. They come in different weights and sizes, and can be used by kids, teens and adults.
You can buy weighted blankets in a wide range of places, from department stores to chain drugstores to online specialty stores. You can also buy handmade ones, or make them yourself.
How Weighted Blankets Work
Weighted blankets work in a way that’s similar to an OT technique called deep touch pressure therapy (DTP). Pressure on the body can increase the release of serotonin in the brain. This neurotransmitter is sometimes called the “happy” chemical because it creates a sense of calm and well-being.
Many of the challenges of ADHD can sometimes make it hard for kids to feel a sense of calm. These difficulties include:
Settling down after outbursts or overexcitement
Dealing with stress
Winding down at night
Many kids with ADHD also have sensory issues. They may seek physical stimulation as a way to calm down. (These same kids may also be overly sensitive and avoid certain sensory input.)
There are other conditions that can cause these challenges. Some, like autism and anxiety, commonly co-occur with ADHD. With all of these issues, weighted blankets can boost serotonin levels and help kids self-regulate and feel more relaxed.
What to Know Before Buying a Weighted Blanket
If you’re thinking of buying a weighted blanket for your child, here are things to be aware of:
They can be a danger to very young kids. If the pellets or beads fall out of the blanket, they can be a choking hazard around infants and young children who might put them in their mouths. Inspect the seams to make sure they’re secure and that no pellets or beads can fall out. (Also, the blanket should not cover a child’s head.)
They can be costly. There’s a wide range of prices, based on weight, size and quality. For example, a lighter-weight twin blanket (8 pounds) might start at around $65. A heavier blanket (15 pounds) could cost up to $150. Larger sizes and weights cost even more.
The “right” weight is a matter of preference. The heaviness that feels good to your child might not be right for another child of the same age and size. Kids have different preferences, and they’re not always tied to size. Many kids prefer blankets that are heavier than you’d expect, given their own weight.
Observing your child might give you some clues. If you see that your child piles on extra blankets at night, look at how many there are and how heavy they feel. If your child asks for super-tight hugs or prefers heavy clothing or dressing in layers, that might also give you an idea.
Safety note: No matter what feels best, the blanket must be light enough for your child to easily move to avoid suffocating.
Fabric can be a big factor. The materials inside aren’t the only thing that can impact how heavy a blanket feels. The outer layer of fabric can, too. Cotton is lightweight, for instance, while linen is medium weight.
Kids can have strong preferences in fabric. That’s especially true if they have sensory issues. In addition to weight, they may also react to the texture of fabric. For instance, sensory seekers might love the fuzziness of chenille. But kids who are sensitive to touch may find it unbearable.
Plus, you might have a preference in terms of how easily the fabric can be washed. Check the washing instructions on the blanket before you buy.
Weighted blankets aren’t right for everyone. Even if your child likes physical pressure and needs tools to help calm down, it doesn’t mean these blankets are the answer. Some kids don’t like the feeling of heaviness on them as they sleep. Others may get overheated or feel claustrophobic under the weight. A weighted blanket only works if it feels good and is relaxing.
Making Your Own Weighted Blanket
Some parents enjoy making their child a weighted blanket instead of buying one. It can save money and also allows you to customize the blanket to meet all of your child’s needs. Plus, it’s a project to do with your child. It can help your child focus on an activity and also be engaged in finding solutions to challenges.
Weighted blankets are just one tool for helping your child with ADHD self-regulate. Find out how mindfulness can improve self-control. Download and print out self-awareness worksheets for your child to fill out. And learn more about how to treat ADHD.