If you have a child with sensory processing disorder or just one who is picky about what goes on his or her body, then you know that the #struggleisreal. Getting dressed can be a battle for children who are highly sensitive or who have neurological differences, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve fought with our own kids long enough and have found better ways to get ready in the morning. Some of that has to do with finding sensory friendly clothing, but we’ve got a few other tricks up our sleeves. Here are 11 ideas to reduce the stress while getting dressed.
What’s the real issue?
Each and every one of us (children included) have a unique sensory system. We all have sensations that we enjoy, don’t notice, or avoid. Some of us have more or stronger preferences for those sensations than others, and will either seek out or avoid those sensations depending on how our brains are wired. These preferences vary greatly from person to person and only become a concern when they start to interfere with your ability to function in daily life.
In the case of clothing, many kids experience extreme discomfort with certain types of textures and may begin crying or acting out at even the mention of wearing a certain article of clothing. For example, your child may only want to wear shorts because pants don’t feel right on his legs. Or, your child may refuse to wear a camisole because it doesn’t feel good on her skin. Or, even more common, your child refuses to wear every single pair of socks in the drawer because they hate the line that crosses the top of their toes.
Now, in some cases, your child may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), ADHD or Autism; so be sure to keep an eye out for other signs and symptoms. But, in many cases, your child may simply have a sensory sensitivity to certain types of textures without a diagnosis. These textures are perceived as uncomfortable, the brain reacts and your child erupts; which then becomes an all-out war between you and your tiny human to get dressed.
As parents, it’s frustrating and exhausting. Why can’t our kid just put on a pair of pants? It’s cold outside! We may even force the issue, because “Goshdarnit, my parents never let me get away with this nonsense, so why should he get away with it?” However, if you try to imagine that the pair of pants is actually uncomfortable (even painful) when your kid is literally yelling out, you may begin to understand the problem and work towards a solution. These kids aren’t being bad when they refuse to wear jeans, socks, or that one pair of shoes, it’s simply how their brain works, and they’re not quite mature enough to put that into words.
So, what do we do?
Regardless of what the packaging says, some kids (and adults) are extra sensitive to certain fabrics, textures or materials. Therefore, when your child says that what they are wearing isn’t comfortable, you’ve got to decide if it’s worth the fight. We’ve found it best to recognize that there’s a problem and look for a solution rather than to force our kids into wearing uncomfortable threads.
The easiest thing you can do for yourself and your child is to remove anything that is causing issues: tags, shoe laces, itchy clothing, etc. If they won’t wear it, donate, sell or pass those pieces along to someone else who can use them.
Instead, look for for breathable fabrics, soft knits, tagless labels, seamless socks and slip-on shoes that won’t cause an argument.
But only after you’ve determined your child’s clothing preference. Kids should be allowed to choose what clothes they wear as often as possible, within reason.
Make sure that your child understands the difference between socially appropriate and inappropriate clothing; as well as the natural consequences for wearing the wrong clothes or shoes.
For example, our little girl must wear a uniform for school. Therefore, she must wear a polo shirt and navy bottoms. If she wears a skirt or pants, she must also tuck in her shirt and wear a belt (if the bottoms have belt loops). She quickly realized that she did not like how her shirt felt tucked into her skirts, so she opted for jumpers and under shorts.
Therefore, we’ve cut out tags on any school-issued polo shirts and only bought tag-free polo shirts and jumpers that won’t irritate her skin. One of her favorite jumpers is the Ponte Jumper by Primary.com (along with the peter pan polo) because it’s so comfortable.
Primary offers super soft, tag-free, design-free clothing that any mom would love to put on their kids. BUT, they are specifically our number one choice when it comes to offering sensory friendly clothing options that our kids will actually want to wear on a daily basis. Because at the end of the day, doesn’t every parent want their child to have a great day.
Interestingly enough, when not in uniform, this child has a much broader tolerance for fabrics as long as her threads have some sort of rainbow or unicorn on them. And that’s okay. When kids are allowed the freedom to choose what they wear (even if that means they wear the same wonder woman costume all week or can’t leave home without their favorite camo hat), they’re much more likely to develop a sensory tolerance.
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3Be Flexible About the Weather
On a similar note, try to be flexible about how your child dresses for the weather. We’ve all known adults who wear shorts all year long no matter what the temperature, or that one woman in your office that wears a heavy sweater even on the warmest of days. Kids are no different.
Unless your child is in danger, allow them to learn from the choices they make. Natural consequences often do what our best parenting tactics cannot.
So, for the kid who insists on wearing long sleeves and pants year round because he doesn’t like the feeling of air on his arm and legs, he must also learn to tolerate being hot. And for the kid who refuses to wear leggings under her dress or a coat on cold days, she’ll have to learn the hard way that the school may not allow her to go on the playground.
Or you can carry (or pack) back-up clothing. Put a coat or a short sleeve shirt in your kid’s backpack for when reality hits them because it will. Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to stop parenting.
4Start With The Right Undergarments
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before you can replace all those pieces that don’t work, be sure that you start from the bottom up. Literally.
Make sure that underwear, undershirts, kick shorts and socks are as comfortable as possible. An entire day can be ruined by a line in your child’s socks (no seriously). Smart Knit Kids makes seamless socks and underwear that are designed to minimize irritation for sensitive children.
If seams or elastic are a problem, switch to seamless/elastic-free undies and undershirts.
These seamless, tagless undies have a stretchable waist and leg openings that are comfortable for sensitive kiddos. No elastic to bind or be a source of irritation, and super soft.
If “the line” is the source of your morning argument, you can either turn those socks inside out or you can pony up a few extra dollars for seamless socks. We’ve done both and find that these seamless socks really are worth it.
Completely free of seams, the no-heel design provides comfort and relief to children who struggle with “bumps & lumps” in their socks. For those of us who have been battling with uncomfortable socks for years, these bad boys are a game changer!
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5Sandals, Laces, and Zippers? Oh My!
Once you’ve overcome the sock debacle, your next battle is shoes. And this is yet another area that can be parented with natural consequences, especially if you have one of those kids who only wants to wear sandals or flip-flops (meanwhile, our kiddo hates the way the thong feels between her toes).
We love flip flops as much as the next person, but wearing sandals can limit certain activities. For example, indoor playgrounds require socks and outdoor playgrounds often have wood chips, which can cause splinters. It’s unsafe to run or climb in sandals and most schools require closed-toe shoes.
We all know how important and necessary it is for kids to have physical activity, so you can simply require your kids to wear closed-toe shoes (unless you’re at the beach).
An obvious and easy choice is slip-on or velcro shoes. Many children struggle to tie their shoes, so these are great options even if you don’t have sensory sensitivities. But what about those kids who find even these shoes uncomfortable?
We actually found ourselves in a situation in which our child would only wear one pair of shoe last year, even when presented with other similar options. So, as any good parent would do, we purchased the next two sizes. Interestingly enough, that same type of shoe in a larger size no longer felt good this year. Go figure. So we went back to the drawing board in hopes of finding a shoe our kid would wear.
After minimal success with no-tie shoe laces, velcro and slip-ons (and a desire to only wear rain boots), we decided to think outside the box. Is there another option? YES!
BILLY Footwear offers a universal design that accommodates a lot of special needs by incorporating zippers that go along the side of the shoes and around the toe, allowing the upper of each shoe to open and fold over completely. The wearer simply places his or her foot onto the shoe footbed and tugs on the zipper-pull to close and secure the top of the shoe into place. No more Velcro. No more stuffing your feet into shoes. Just easy and comfortable.
While initially designed out of Billy’s own need to find a footwear solution to meet his own needs (paralyzed from the chest down and losing the ability to move much of his body, including his fingers), these shoes are really perfect for sensory sensitive kids. In fact, our own kid became an instant fan of the Pink Canvas High Tops because she no longer had to stuff her feet into shoes which caused her socks to bunch up, and she could visually see wiggle room for her toes. Unfortunately, she can’t wear these to school because they don’t meet uniform standards, so she wears Navy Low Tops (pictured with socks above) instead.
It may seem silly to wear a shoe that zips up, but it’s solving a very serious problem for a lot of people, our child included.
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6Get a Good Night’s Rest
Up to this point, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing how to get your child dressed during the day; however, we’ve found that many of our issues could be partially resolved by making that our kids get a good night’s rest. Tired, cranky kids tend to be even more sensory sensitive than when they are well rested.
What does this mean? It means maintaining a reasonable after-school routine which includes eating a good dinner, bath and early bedtimes. It means choosing pajamas and blankets that promote a restful night. It means you may have to adjust the temperature or turn on a fan to keep your kiddo comfortable all night long. Avoid late nights or putting your child into situations that will cause over-stimulation unless you can also provide at least a day to recover. Know your child’s limitations and adjust accordingly.
You may also want to consider a weighted blanket.
Typically, weighted blankets are blankets that weigh 5% to 10% of the user’s body weight and are constructed with quilted squares to even out that weight (up to 20 pounds). They can be used for kids, toddlers, and adults, and can be used to cover the entire body or just portions of the body to activate a sensory response that can have the same calming effect as a firm hug.
We’ve found that weighted blankets for kids are a first line of defense when children are having a meltdown or trying to go to sleep. After a long day of school, laying down with a weighted blanket is sometimes all it takes to reset. That same sensation may be necessary at night for your child to get the rest they need to start fresh in the morning.
Mosaic Weighted Blankets create weighted blankets to fit your individuality. You can choose the size, weight, and pattern to fit your style.
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7Allow Extra Time
If you’re anything like us, you prefer to have time to fully wake up before you head out the door. Kids are no different. Yet, so many of us wait until the last possible minute to wake up our kids and get them ready for school thinking that we’re somehow doing them a favor by giving them more time to sleep. However, that “extra” sleep time tends to result in rushing to get ready, which causes a meltdown, which causes you to be late. No one needs or wants all that drama!
Consider waking your child up 30 to 60 minutes before they need to get ready (this will take a little experimenting based on your child). Then allow another 15-30 minutes to actually get ready. Sounds crazy, we know; but those extra minutes will allow your child to become human and give both of you time to adjust if whatever outfit they planned to wear doesn’t work for some reason.
Sensory systems are always in fluctuation, meaning that what bothers your child one day might not the next. It’s nearly impossible to predict when they’re going to have a total meltdown over their favorite jumper or pair of jeans, so allow that extra time in your morning to work through any issues that might occur and you’ll all leave for the day in a better place.
8Use a Time Limit
Now, there are times in which your child will have to wear something they find uncomfortable and they don’t have a choice to wear an alternative. In those cases, establish a time to be worn limit.
For example, you child’s class is going a field trip and the teacher has asked all students to wear a specific shirt that doesn’t meet your child’s sensory needs. Or you ask that your child wears dress pants to church when they’d prefer to wear pull on sweat pants every day.
In either scenario, use a time limit. Tell your child that they will only have to wear the undesired piece of clothing for a certain amount of time and that they can take it off as soon as they have completed the activity that requires uncomfortable threads.
9Warm Up Those Muscles
Better yet, start off your day by warming up those muscles in the form of exercise.
If your child has been formally diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, then your Occupational Therapist may have already introduced you to the idea of “heavy work.” But for the rest of us with sensory sensitive kids, “heavy work” is defined as any activity that puts deep pressure on the joints of the upper body, such as pushing a laundry basket or crawling through a tunnel.
By doing a little heavy work before getting dressed, you reduce your child’s sensitivity. And because heavy work can be disguised as playtime, your child will rarely fight you to do the activity. Don’t believe us, give one of these activities a try, then have your child get dressed. We swear by this approach as it was a total game changer in our household.
Heavy Work Activities
- Animal walk around the house using only your hands: crab walk, lizard crawl, etc.
- Pillow fight with a sibling
- Play catch with bean bags or a large ball
- Climb a chair or couch
- Carry a pile of books
- Play statue (adult stands as straight as possible and child tries to push adult)
- Play tug of war using a rope, blanket, or scarf
- Resistance cycling (parent and child face each other, put feet together and pedal)
- Push a door (parent puts resistance on a door while child tries to push the door closed)
- Hand pushing game (parent and child place hands together and push back and forth)
- Army crawl (no knees allowed)
- Squats or lunges
- Jumping jacks or just jump up and down
- Squish, knead, and play with play dough or silly putty
- Pull laundry out of the washer and/or dryer
- Carry a laundry basket full of clothes
- Load or unload the dishwasher
- Carry large bottles, boxes, etc. and/or sort recycling
- Staple paper together
- Use a paper punch or hole punch to make confetti out of paper
- Rip paper or cardboard
- Vacuum, sweep or mop the floors
- Push, move or drag furniture
- Make the bed
- Remove couch cushions and put them back
- Carry a small pet
- Push chairs in at the table
- Push or pull boxes or laundry basket filled with toys, books, or small child
- Empty the garbage
10Provide Outlet to De-stress
In addition to sensory sensitivities, you may find that your child is also chewing on everything they can get their teeth on, including their nails. While your child may also have problems with oral sensory processing, they could simply be experiencing stress or anxiety as a result of trying to overcome the everyday challenges that general sensory sensitivities bring.
For example, your child leaves the house wearing sweater tights that didn’t feel right when she put them on and continue to feel bad all day long. She’s fully aware of what’s appropriate and inappropriate at school, so she’s not going to have an emotional outburst about her discomfort in front of her teacher (like she might do at home), so she bites her nails instead.
We can’t always meet the sensory needs of our kids. Sometimes it’s just not possible. But, we can offer ways to reduce their stress and redirect their biting.
Oral sensory solutions such as chewelry, vibration tools, chewy straws and other oral motor toys provide a safe alternative to chewing on pencils, shirts, and fingers while helping to calm, focus, and self-regulate kids and adults. Chewing can be very calming, in much the same way that nail biters bite their fingernails when they are nervous. It can also be very focusing, similar to how some people chew gum to concentrate. Therefore, chewing as a calming mechanism is especially common for individuals who have sensory needs.
While chewelry can sometimes become a distraction for kids in the classroom (mostly the kids who don’t need them and just want to play with them), we’ve found that chewelry can redirect some of that stress. Just be sure that your teacher approves before letting your child wear one.
ARK Therapeutic makes stylish and discreet chewable jewelry for kids and adults who need to chew. Made in the USA and medical grade, these “
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11Adjust Your Child’s Diet
Lastly, if you’ve tried everything else and you’re still having problems, it may be time to adjust their diet or introduce vitamin and mineral supplements to reduce sensitivity.
Highly sensitive children often have self-limited diets; mostly because if a child has sensory issues with clothing, they likely have some sensory issues in some other aspect of their life (including food) as well, which means they may need nutritional support. Consult with your child’s pediatrician about the vitamin combination that will work best for your child.
Sensory sensitivities can be shoelaces drain on your time and energy level, but we really do believe that if you consistently apply these approaches, it will get better. You’ve got this!
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