Do you have a child who rips off his socks, turns them inside out, and rips them off again? A child who reacts to any hint of a label, and cannot wear jeans? Some kids have sensory sensitivities. Things in the environment bother them. A lot.
There are a number of excellent books explaining sensory challenges and pointing parents toward solutions (for example The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensational Kids). If you have a sensory-sensitive child, you might want to pick up one of these books. In the meantime, here are two strategies to make clothing battles a thing of the past.
The first strategy is for you: Get rid of the blue jeans. As much as you might love the way he looks in jeans, button-down shirts, etc., some makes/fabrics/styles are simply more difficult for kids with sensory sensitivities. Go through your child’s drawers and clear out the items you know are really tough. The clothing made of stiff fabric, with lumpy seams or tight necklines. Think soft, non-constricting, tag-less (what a great invention). If your child likes a certain style of sweatpants, get 3 or 4 pairs. Ditto for socks, shirts, and underwear. Put all the clothing your child is never going to wear into a bag and bring it to Goodwill. Get this clothing out of the house – its continued presence is only going to frustrate you (and your child).
Once you’ve pared down to (or stocked up on) the things that should work for your child, teach him to habituate. Here’s how:
Talk to your child about jumping into a swimming pool. Have him imagine what the water feels like – Brrrrrrr! It’s cold. Ask your child what he would do next. Most kids say they would start moving around. Yes, you start swimming or playing, diving deep beneath the surface or paddling around. And after a while, what happens? It warms up. Ahhh. But is it the pool that’s warmed up? Has the water temperature actually changed? No, any self-respecting 6-year can tell you, You get used to it! Exactly.*
Our bodies are designed to get used to things, even uncomfortable things like cold water. We just need to hang in there and pretty soon we don’t notice them any more. It happens even faster if we’re doing something fun, liking racing to the end of the pool or diving for treasure. But you have to stay in the water.
It’s like that with socks, and underwear, and pants. You can put them on (that’s like jumping into the pool) and keep them on (that’s like staying in, even though – ICK – it doesn’t feel right) and then get busy with something (playing with the dog or eating breakfast or watching TV) and pretty soon…you’ve gotten used to it and your body doesn’t notice the seam/cuff/fabric any more.
This pool analogy makes keeping the item of clothing on more palatable to kids. Most have had the experience of getting used to cold water. They know the basics – you have to stay in; you have to start moving around, it helps to turn your attention to something else. Talk to your child about this, then sweeten the pot by offering a reward: each day your child puts on his [whatever item of clothing causes trouble] and keeps it on, he earns a point. Once he has 10 points, he can trade them in for one-on-one time with his dad, a family-wide Monopoly night, or something meaningful/rewarding to him.
The idea is to take into account the reality of your child’s sensitivity while teaching him a useable skill.
*Many thanks to Tamar Chansky, PhD, in whose wonderful book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, I first discovered this metaphor.