All children have sensory needs. Our four year old daughter has clothing sensitivities which we (try to) handle with an understanding and patient approach. From our experience in dealing with a child who is picky about clothes here are our Tips for Kids with Clothing Sensitivities.
To celebrate the launch of Project Sensory, Lemon Lime Adventures has organized a series on Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors. For five weeks, a different parent every day will write about a sensory experience that their child either seeks or struggles with as we debunk what is behavioral and what is sensory related.
Some of my favorite posts so far have been How Can I Help My Hyperactive Child? from Wildflower Ramblings and Why Does the Vacuum Scare My Child? by Enchanted Homeschooling Mom because both hyperactivity and fear of loud noises are other sensory issues we deal with daily as well! Did you know there are eight sensory systems? I've already learned so much from this series and I know you will too!
My first clue into the truth behind what might be happening with our daughter's clothing sensitivities was during a conversation with my husband. He admitted that he didn't wear jeans as a child because they made his knees feel wet. What is pretty hilarious now, as an adult, was distressing for him as a child. The sensation of denim made it difficult for him to concentrate on anything else. Don't we want her to be able to learn, play, and grow to her fullest right now? Does it actually matter what she is wearing while she does so? The following is what we've begun to do and what I now recommend (as an early childhood educator and a mom) if your child has sensory clothing sensitivities.
- Know Your Child's Preferences
Clothing sensitivities can be very individual. We sometimes hear of common patterns but what bothers one person might not bother another. When E refused to wear three identical pairs of fleece pants that I bought her last winter she asked if I was mad.
"I'm not mad," I replied. "But if you aren't going to wear something you have to be able to tell me why."
Our daughter is verbal so we always ask her to try to explain what is bothering her about the clothing. Sometimes the inside of the new pants are "too soft" or the applique of her shirt can be felt from the inside. If your child is non-verbal you can watch for clues for clothing sensitivities such as pulling at socks or biting long sleeves.
- Within Reason, Let Your Child Take the Lead
I let go of a lot of stress for both myself and my child when I decided to stop fighting her to wear clothing that bothered her. Within reason, I urge you to do the same!
Consider when you can give in and when you absolutely can't budge. Even if your child is choosing clothing that is too cold or hot for the current weather, I suggest bringing along the back up clothes they may choose to wear when you are out but don't engage in a power struggle. Yes, I don't believe in letting them "learn the hard way," because they are children that can't comprehend the consequences of their actions that far in advance. I personally can't stand wearing a hot, restricting coat even when it is frigid so I crank the heat in the car and wear layers! As adults we have preferences that we can adapt to our environment but children often have so little control. What they wear is one thing they can (again, within reason) choose if we allow them the responsibility and guidance to do so.
Exceptions which I wouldn't be able to compromise on would be long bus stop waits or playing in the snow. I always insist that our kids wear sneakers if they want to run outside for safety reasons. Be sure to communicate with teachers if your child attends school to see what is expected attire at recess.
- Explain to Potential Gift Givers
When your child receives clothing that they won't wear as a gift everyone involved is frustrated. Tell well meaning gift givers in advance that clothing is a difficult item to buy for your child. If they insist on picking out clothing, ask for receipts to be included for easy returns.
- Adapt Clothing
Once you know exactly what about the clothing is bothersome to your child, think about how you can adapt what you already own to suit their needs. We have cut feet off of pajamas because E didn't like the anti-skid traction on the bottom (and the pajamas still look super cute on her)! You might remove tags, ask your child to wear socks inside out (to avoid seams), or cut off unnecessary buttons or strings.
- Experiment with Laundry
We wash our clothing (and bedding) in detergent with no scent (look for the words all, free, and clear). Some parents of children with clothing sensitivities swear by fabric softener but in our house we don't use it. This seems backward, right? Well, softeners can wear down clothing faster, cause pilling, and add unnecessary (and irritating) chemicals and scents to your clothes.
- Brainstorm Solutions
Talk to other parents and your child about other possible solutions. Can you wear layers in cooler weather instead of a puffy jacket? Would stockings eliminate the "too tall or too short" socks delimma? Might a tight fitting lycra undergarment as a layer of protection from sensory irritating clothes help your child? Feel free to post in the comments what has (and hasn't!) worked for you!
- Pick Out Clothes Before Bed
E sleeps a lot better when we pick out clothes for the next day the night before at bedtime. It also makes our mornings much smoother. When we are tired and rushed to get out the door we argue more about clothing decisions. If we've agreed ahead of time on an outfit we have less stress for both of us in the morning.
- Try Heavy Work
Try heavy work before getting dressed to calm, soothe, and prep your child.
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