What to Do When Your Kid Is Sensitive to Seams and Tags in Clothing
Food & Health  

Little kids are notoriously difficult to dress. Any parent who’s experienced a closet standoff with a naked child six minutes before they’re supposed to be at the bus stop can confirm. It could be that the kid is extremely picky or acting out of defiance, but what if it’s more than that? What if the issue is seriously impacting your family?


In one online forum, a mother complains her five-year-old throws a tantrum any time he has to wear footwear. Another parent is struggling with a child who refuses to wear socks because they “hurt.” I’ve read stories about kids who explode into tears if there’s the tiniest bit of a tag left on a pair of pants or will only wear one very specific outfit day after day. Some children cannot function if a shirt is too tight, or too loose, or if there’s a button on it, or if the sleeves are cuffed. For moms and dads who’ve tried everything, from timers to time outs, it can be maddening.
A mother named Joyce Slaton described in heartbreaking detail on The Longest Shortest Time parenting podcast what it was like when she tried to put a shirt on her then-toddler Violet while they were at the library. “It was like she was being electrocuted,” she says. “She was convulsing at the end of my arm.” The battle continued until the kid simply decided to stop wearing clothes all together. She went naked for an entire month, and during that time, they never left the house.
More Than Stubbornness
If a child says her clothing “hurts” or “stings” or “burns,” it might not be hyperbole. Instead, she could have sensory processing disorder (SPD). Neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, who was a pioneer in the field of sensory processing, explained that SPD is like a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents parts of the brain from receiving what it needs to interpret sensory information correctly. Kids with the disorder can’t “just deal with it.” Researchers have been making the case that SPD is a distinct disorder independent of autism or ADHD, though it has still not yet been recognized as one. (It’s worth noting that SPD manifests in different ways—for instance, while one person might find certain clothing and other “tactile sensory input” to be unbearable, another might have no reaction to stimulation, even extreme hot or cold.) One study showed it can affect at least 1 in 20 kids.
For parents, it’s important to understand that this isn’t about rebellion, says Susan G. Groner, author of Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World. “For children with sensory issues, anything tactile can feel extremely uncomfortable,” she tells me. “If you don’t have this, it’s hard to understand.” Patience and empathy, she says, are key.



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