Your Child’s Negative Reactions to Different Types of Clothing

Tactile Defensiveness

Every person has a unique sensory system, and as each person grows and matures, their sensory system can change. EVERYONE has sensory preferences. As adults, we have sensory preferences; things we avoid and things we seek but we have developed cognitive skills that allow us to filter out irrelevant sensory stimuli and sensations that would be inappropriate to constantly be bothered by.

If you think about all the senses, you have your 5 basic senses (taste, smell, touch, vision, hearing) and then 3 others that play a major role that some people don’t think about. Your proprioceptive system (push, pull, hang etc), vestibular system (swing, spin, roller coaster etc.) and interoceptive system (body’s internal state of hunger etc). These 8 sensory systems work together to have a regulated individual who can function appropriately for their age.

So, if we focus on the tactile system for a minute; let’s do a couple exercises. First, I want you to think about a piece of clothing you have or have had that you didn’t like. You know that scratchy sweater or those pants that were baggy around the ankles, what if all your clothes brought out those feelings of annoyance? Now, as you sit there, I want you to notice a baggy part of your shirt or pants; now close your eyes and focus only on that part of your clothes for 3 minutes. Imagine if that feeling was all you could think about. That’s what we’re going to address with these activities below!


Home Program

When Putting Clothes On
• Try tag-less clothes and seamless socks
• Allow favorite shirt to be on under non-preferred shirts.
• Leggings and tight Under Amour clothes are usually favorites for kids.
• Use a visual timer (look up visual timer apps- the one with a duck icon is good) of how long to wear non-preferred clothes. Or say “after this activity you can change your clothes”.

Planning Ahead
• Dress rehearsal of clothing for special occasions/holidays. Give a time as to when they can change out of these clothes.
• Allow a casual day or even a casual time where she can wear what she wants.
• Make clothes extra soft by washing them with towels a few times before wearing them
• The night before or in the morning, offer a couple clothing choices versus having too many choices that can be overwhelming.

Throughout the Day
• Prior to and while wearing un-preferred clothes, have her participate in any heavy work activity (push the laundry basket, help with the vacuum, wheelbarrow walk, jumping jacks, wall push-ups, walk like various animals, hopscotch, pull, push, hang, climb, anything that makes her exert energy)
• Be active! Run, jump, swing, swim, kick a ball, throw a ball, spin.
• Regulate the tactile system with messy play (Orbeez, sand, kinetic sand, finger paint, putty etc).
• Use a reward system or sticker chart – start with short time frames for rewards and slowly increase time frame for reward
• Use a calm down box for when she gets frustrated by clothing (stress ball, sensory brush, pinwheel to blow, snack).
• If she bites on her collar, remind her to try a chewy snack instead.

Wrap-up the Day
• Lotion massage can help desensitize her skin (can be done anytime during the day)
• Loofah during baths
• Weighted blanket or heavy blanket/quilt when watching TV, reading and doing homework. A weighted or heavy blanket can also be calming to have at your feet while you sleep.
• Wilbarger brushing protocol (search sensory brushes on Amazon) – I’ll give you instructions if you want to try this. Don’t use on stomach or face.


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