Each of us and every kid has a unique sensory system. We each have sensations that we like, don’t notice, and avoid. Some kids have more of those preferences than others. This all depends on their own individual brain, which is why it varies so much from person to person. Sensory issues with clothing become a concern when they start to interfere with a child’s ability to function in daily life.
But lots of kids, like my son, have a sensory sensitivity to certain types of textures and no diagnosis. Sensory issues with clothing are specifically related to our sense of touch or the tactile system. (Read more about the tactile sense) For Isaac, his brain is getting so many signals that the pants are on his legs, that it’s hard for him to focus on anything else. He perceives this as uncomfortable and begins to cry at the thought of wearing those pants.
Most kids that have sensory issues with clothing will often react this way. In fact, it could even be full-out tantrums and total fits over a pair of socks.
As parents, it’s frustrating and exhausting. It can also be hard to understand why they can’t just put the pants on. We may even force them to. But, our kids are literally yelling out because those pants might be downright painful. They aren’t being bad when they refuse to wear jeans, socks, or whatever, it’s simply how their brain works, and they don’t quite know how to put that into words.
Also, many kids that have sensory issues with clothing also don’t like to get messy or are particular about what they will touch and perhaps even eat. That’s because all of those activities are related to the tactile sense. If you see your child having a general sensitivity, head to everything about sensory sensitivity to learn more.
What Should You Do About Sensory Issues with Clothing?
Let’s talk about the basics because this is where we should all start when we’re facing a child’s sensory issue with clothing. And honestly, just having this simple plan will give you a lot of peace and knock the frustration level down a few pegs because you’ll have a plan that you can start right now.
1. 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.
2. Don’t Force – Oh so tempting, but forcing a pair of socks, pants, or fancy lacy dress can have a pretty detrimental effect on their sensory system, making matters only worse. Not to mention that they are going to fight you more in the future because they’ll think you don’t get it and aren’t there to help.
3. Allow for extra time – This is a hard one for me, I always push everything to the last minute, but when you know your child has sensory issues with clothing, this can be a total game changer. One thing I didn’t mention earlier is that kid’s sensory systems are always in fluctuation, which means that what bothers them one day might not the next. For some kids, it can be hard to predict when they’re going to have a total meltdown over the jeans. Having that extra time to work through it might be exactly what you need.
4. Offer Choices – As soon as kids feel like they have some control over what their body experiences, they are more willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone. If possible, give them two pairs of pants to choose from, ideally of different textures or fit. If they aren’t sure, you can talk about the differences, “You can choose the black pants with no buttons, or these jeans with a zipper and snap. Which would you like to wear today?”
5. Think sensory friendly clothing – While every child is unique, by in large, most sensory issues with clothing are because of seams in socks or pants, or a strong preference for comfortable clothing like sweatpants. Although some kids prefer tight-fitting clothing, as well. Notice what your child seems to complain about or gravitate towards.
For Issac, he particularly dislikes jeans and any pants that have buttons or the hidden adjustable waistband. I know exactly what bothers him, so in his case, having elastic waist comfortable pants would be helpful. It may be different for your child.
Here are a few examples of sensory friendly clothing:
Tag less shirts
6. Use a time limit – Isaac also hates, probably more than jeans, button-down shirts. I ask him to wear these to church sometimes, which is really challenging for him. He’ll often concede if he knows he can take it off as soon as we get back home. If you have a special outfit you want your child to wear, then telling them when they get to take it off will help.