My child is sensitive to their clothing, what can I do?

Does my Child Have Sensory Issues with Clothing?

The thing is that sensory processing issues for children can be highly complex and sometimes puzzling to those who do not have these difficulties. We see children that refuse to wear socks or shoes. Or we see children who will not put on pants in the dead of winter. Other kids can’t tolerate the seams of shorts or the fasteners of bras.

How do you support your kids with sensory sensitivities? 

What does clothing sensitivity look like?

Clothing sensitivity is often due to a child having tactile defensiveness. Tactile meaning the sense of touch; defensiveness meaning to react negatively toward the stimulus.  

These reactions are aversive and appear out of proportion to how most people would respond to wearing clothing. Oftentimes, a child reacts in a way that makes the clothing appear to feel painful. 

Sensory issues with clothing become a concern when they start to interfere with a child’s ability to function in daily life. 

This involves more than the child who always wants to wear the same shirt because it has their favorite logo on it or it is their favorite color as this is more about style preference.

It’s dealing more with a child who has real issues donning clothing and refuses to wear an article of clothing based on the way it feels causing the child to cry and scream and not be able to proceed with the task of dressing. 

Things to Consider

  1. Sensory experiences are unique. Just because something feels soft to you, does not mean that your child has the same experience.  It could actually be the opposite for your child.

  2. Look for patterns.  Take notes: What will your child wear?  Does time of day or who is helping the child impact this? Does your child seem to feel temperature differently than you?  All of this information will help to figure out the best approach to address the dressing difficulty.

  3. If possible, ask your child why certain clothing is uncomfortable for them.  Depending on their response, some of the following may help:

    • Choose tag less clothes / remove tags.

    • Cover elastic bands, no embroidery or lumpy fabric.

    • Wash clothing multiple times to soften them before asking your child to wear it.  To speed this process up, buy clothing second hand or add some tennis balls to the dryer

  4. Let your child have some control in the dressing process: give them a choice of what clothes they can wear. If they choose a t-shirt in winter, bring a jumper with you just in case. 

  5. Choose the right fit: Take note of whether your child prefers tight or loose fitting clothing.

  6. If you find something they will wear, embrace it.  Buy it in multiple colors.  Consider buying a size larger for when they outgrow the current item.  Look for the brand online if the supplies in the store are limited.

  7. Don’t forget about the undergarments! Socks that bunch up or have thick seams around the toes, or underwear with exposed elastic around the legs can become uncomfortable.

  8. Use scent and chemical free laundry detergent

  9. Try to help desensitize or distract your child prior to and during the clothing change.  Rough and tumble play and squeezes are an option to try. 

  10. Consider a reward chart for each clothing item changed.  Use whatever is motivating the child in that moment.  What worked yesterday may not work today.

The most important thing: Try to understand.

Sounds like a small detail, but don’t overlook this step because this is what helps us keep our sanity. When you find yourself getting frustrated or exhausted by your kid’s sensory issues with clothing, try to imagine how uncomfortable it must be for them.

The added benefit to this is that over time, your kid will notice your understanding and start to communicate better because they know you get it and are there for them. It’s pretty cool when that happens.

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