Coaxing your children out of their pajamas and into clothing every morning can be tricky but when you invite sensory issues to the party, it can become a nightmare for everyone. Even children who don’t have sensory difficulties are picky about the clothing they wear but there are several things you need to consider when your child is tactile defensive.
Most of us know how important winter clothing is but children with sensory issues don’t think about that. They only think about the distress the clothing is causing them. They don’t care if it’s cold outside because that’s nothing compared to the frustration and discomfort an itchy tag brings them.
Imagine wearing your socks sideways and how irritating that would feel. It would drive you crazy right? How would you feel that day? You might find it hard to focus on things because the sock was irritating you and by the end of the day you would want nothing more than to remove those socks—and probably throw them in the garbage. What if besides irritation that sock brought you physical pain as well?
Obviously a sideways sock is something that would annoy most people, but this is how children with sensory disorders feel about things that the rest of us find normal. As parents to children with sensory issues, it’s our job to help them as much as we can. The tips and advice below could help you reduce the frustration for your tactile defensive child.
Winter Clothing Tips for Tactile Defensive Children
Get rid of tags — for many with sensory issues tags and seems are the difference between a good day and a bad one. Removing tags from everything can eliminate the problem before it ever becomes one. Don’t forget to remove them from things like mittens and hats. Label and keep any tags you need for washing instructions.
Store clothing you don’t need – if your child knows there are other options available, they will fight for them. Put summer clothing away during the winter so they only have warmer options available to them.
Don’t shop alone — we all love a good deal but trying to talk your child into a pair of pants because they’re on sale is not a good idea in the long run. If they don’t like the way something fits at the store, they won’t like the way it fits at home and it will become an early morning fight later on.
Look for loose collars — many children don’t like the choking feeling that a tight collar brings. Buying clothing with loose collars can help and avoid things like turtle necks and other high collars.
Lay clothes out the night before — mornings are hectic without the added stress of fighting over clothing. Take time out the night before to pick out an outfit with your child. Doing this when you have plenty of time can remove stress and make it less chaotic.
Avoid power struggles — arguing with your child or forcing them to wear clothing they are uncomfortable in is not going to help anyone. Try not to engage in power struggles with your child and give them the freedom to choose what they want to wear within reason. Hang a chart or poster in their room that shows a list or pictures of each item of clothing that needs to be worn. As long as they are wearing one of each, let them decide what they want to wear. Giving them this freedom can significantly reduce the amount of arguments and make things much smoother in the morning. When there is an issue you’ll know it’s the clothing and not just a play for power.
Practice before winter — this works well with smaller children who might not be used to wearing warmer clothing. Instead of suddenly having to wear unfamiliar clothing for long periods it gives them a chance to get used to the feeling.
Make compromises — sometimes you have to give in just a little. Make small compromises with your children. Instead of wearing a big bulky coat maybe they would prefer a sweatshirt? You feel better because they are wearing something warm and they feel better because a sweatshirt is less irritating than a jacket.
Pay attention to detail — what bothers your child the most? Keep a mental journal of the things that really seem to irritate them and avoid them as often as you can. When you find something they can tolerate capitalize on it. Don’t tell them what they like, pay attention to their feelings.
Look for softer clothing — nobody likes rough, scratchy clothing, and it’s ten times worse for people with tactile issues. Tight, stiff or scratchy clothing should be avoided all together.
Keep options available — have back-up clothing available wherever your child goes. Ask the teacher to keep an extra sweatshirt on hand for days when they absolutely won’t dress warmly before leaving. This way they always have warm clothing within reach if they get cold.
Allow natural consequences — sometimes we have to allow our children to experience the natural consequences of their actions. They don’t want to wear warm clothing, but if they’re allowed to feel cold, they may eventually decide warmer clothing is the least of two evils. Forcing them to do something they don’t like without allowing them to understand the consequences won’t teach them, but allowing them to learn the consequences in a controlled environment will help them learn and develop.
Avoid struggles for control — in some cases your child might be fighting more for control than any real issue with the clothing. Allow them to participate in choosing what they wear, buying their clothing and dressing themselves in the morning. Instead of telling them they cannot wear something, teach them why they have to dress a certain way. When you give them control of the situation, they may surprise you.
Ask questions — when your child says they do not like something, ask them to be more specific. What is it they don’t like about the item of clothing? How does it make them feel? Learning more about the way your child feels can help you avoid uncomfortable things in the future.
It’s important that our children stay warm during the cold winter months, but your child won’t freeze before putting on something warm. Sometimes it’s just not worth the fight and the only thing you can do is make warm clothing available to them for when they decide they are ready to wear it.
Forcing them to wear something that‘s uncomfortable for them will only result in stress and frustration. Explain the situation to teachers and people who need to know and try your best to offer clothing choices that won’t irritate your child. Try to remember how it must feel for them and remain sensitive to their needs while teaching them how to manage those feelings.
You cannot change the way they feel but you can work with your child to make it more tolerable for them.