12 Ways to Help your Child who is Sensitive to Textures (tags, socks, sand)

Children with tactile defensiveness or hypersensitivity will avoid, become fearful of, or bothered by  various, every-day touch experiences that typically would not cause alarm or issues for others. Their avoidance of tactile experiences and lack of engagement in tactile play ultimately limits their learning experiences and development of gross and fine motor skills.

Tactile defensiveness and hypersensitivity happens because the nervous system is not interpreting touch sensations and stimulation accurately, resulting in a child responding with fear, avoidance, withdrawal, or acting out with a “fight-or-flight” response. Your child is not acting this way to intentionally make life difficult for your family. Don’t get upset, blame your child, or punish your child, but advocate for your child’s difficulties, and help them get the treatment and accommodations they need!

Following are 12 ideas to help your child who is sensitive to textures:

1. Seamless socks (www.smartknitkids.com )Boy putting on Sock

2. Cut tags out of clothing

3. Go shopping with your child and allow them to choose clothes and shoes that they like

4. Make your own Play Doh:


1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup salt

1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar

1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1 cup boiling water.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cream of tartar together. Add cooking oil and boiling water to mixture. Stir quickly and mix well. Cook over low heat until dough forms a ball. When cool, mix with your hands. Store in airtight container.

5. Administer deep pressure when a child is irritated by texture… Practice deep pressure often. “Deep pressure” refers to a type of touch that may help to desensitize your child’s tactile experience. This could include massage, a “bear hug” or wrapping your child snugly in a blanket.

6. Wearing spandex or lycra clothes under regular clothing has a calming effect because deep pressure is distributed over the body/limbs.

7. Engage in play with undesirable textures for short periods of time and in a non threatening way. Try to slowly increase the time that it is tolerated. For example, shaving cream, glue, sand, dry rice, etc.

8. Keep crunchy foods on hand for your sensory-sensitive child, as these foods facilitate an important “sixth sense” called proprioception, which allows a person to accurately perceive body awareness, movement and body position. Crunchy foods may help your child to develop better proprioception.

9. Separate textures during meals. It may help to avoid mixing foods together that have conflicting textures, such as mashed potatoes and gravy.

10. Fun activities to try:

  • Play Doh, Moon Sand
  • Finding objects buried and hidden in dry beans or rice (uncooked)
  • Fingerpainting with pudding or fingerpaints
  • Towel rub down after a warm bath (firm, quick strokes)
  • Messy play with paints, foams, etc. in the tub where they can immediately wash off if bothered by it
  • Lotion massage to extremities

11. An Occupational Therapist (OT) may guide you in administering the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol, which has the purpose of decreasing tactile sensitivities.

12. A child with tactile defensiveness and sensitivity needs to be in Occupational Therapy. Tactile hypersensitivity and defensiveness will not go away on its own! Tactile sensitivity is often part of a larger problem, called Sensory Processing Disorder. An occupational therapist can help your child decrease sensory sensitivities and improve overall sensory processing for improved daily functioning in all areas. It is an OT’s goal to introduce tactile experiences slowly and gradually as the child is ready to experience them, so this defensive/aversive reaction is avoided! In order to achieve proper developmental milestones and develop social skills, these children need to have the underlying sensory defensiveness addressed.

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9 replies
  1. Anjell
    Anjell says:

    i have a daughter who hates wearing pants she says there too tight and it just feels weird but its only with jeans can she have this tactile defensiveness or will she just grow out of it?

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    My nephew has Asperger’s and never would wear jeans while growing up. However now he does wear jeans at age 24. He also has complained of pain on his scalp after wearing a balaclava under a helmet while snowboarding. He wanted to try skiing one day but had to quit after he was unable to exert the necessary force by the shins against the front of the ski boots. If you don’t do this you can’t control your skis. He said the sensation was painful. I’m wondering whether or not these tactile difficulties can be lessened over time.

    • LibbyGalin
      LibbyGalin says:

      Hi Mary,

      Here are some thoughts from our OT:
      Although I am not too familiar with this diagnosis, I have had experience with working with children who present with similar behaviors. Your children are having a physiological reaction to their excitement, as most people do! Their reactions, mixed with their sensory processing disorder, presents with an exaggerated response to everyday stimuli. Where you and I could process excitement and react with a functional response, say a laugh, your children have difficulty in appropriately processing this information. When he does display these behaviors, catch him in the moment. Place yourself in his direct point of vision and model deep breathing. You can tell him to “smell the soup and blow it out because it is too hot!” as a means to help regulate his breathing. Another suggestion is to blow out candles: hold up three fingers and have him “blow out” each finger like a birthday candle with a deep breath. Engage him in conversation as well, focusing his attention on you and not his physiological reactions. In doing so, you are redirecting him back to you and, hopefully, decreasing his physiological responses. Also, try to model weight bearing through his arms, clasping hands together or pushing up his body weight while seated on the floor on his bottom. Does he calm with bug bear hugs or shy away from them? If he does not usually seek that deep pressure through touch, I would avoid trying to touch him until after he is calmed, as that increased tactile input may trigger more physiological reactions.

  3. Carol
    Carol says:

    Hi since my LG was 4 she started having issues with clothes. It started with socks, then labels now since summer she will only wear 3 tracksuit bottoms and long tshirts and one coat. Shoes r a daily battle since she grew out of her last pair of runners. I have brought her shopping where she has said they r ok but once home it all starts again….finding it so difficult to cope/stay calm?any help appreciated x

      • Angela
        Angela says:

        Oh my goodness! You are describing my daughter! She’s 5 -‘d we have struggled since she was 2! It’s just getting worse! I don’t know how to help her! Every piece of clothing hurts! Getting her dressed everyday for school is a battle! Does anyone have any help they can offer???

    • Leslie
      Leslie says:

      I can relate. My son is 9 but it started when he was 5. This clothing thing. We have what I called “approved” clothes. Meaning clothes he was actually wear: 2 pair of shorts. 4 pairs of underwear. 4 shirts and 3 pairs of socks.It’s not winter yet so I’m not tackleing pants yet. But last year we had 1 pair of pants that he would wear. We tried the “Brushing Therapy” with an Occupational Therapist last year. We knew there would not be significant change but were hoping for some help. There was no change. (I’m not blaming anyone, not everything works for all children.) He’s growing and it’s becoming harder and harder to find clothes in his size that he will wear. Jean are out, he hates them. Shirts with collars….I don’t even try. And it’s a struggle because he goes to a private school with a dress code. And from one day to the next I’m not sure what to expect sometimes. One day a shirt will be good and the next time he will say it “doesn’t feel right.” He lives in his crocs even in the winter. All this to say that I feel your pain. I’ve spent so much money on clothes that were ok in the store but once at home they were “wrong.” I have a large pile of shoes that he just “had to have” that have never been worn. I’ve donated so many things that I can’t return because I’ve washed them a few times to soften them up.

  4. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    I had some issues to sensitivity really bad when I was younger. I still don’t like ppl touching me a certain way, clothing tags, socks with seams.. And tickling.. When I was younger I had a better reaction and now I can’t handle it.

    I thought I was weird because when someone would rip paper the sound really creeped me out to the point when I was very uneased and had to scratch the paper with my nails to relieve myself.

    Now, I don’t have as bad of reactions as before but I do still have some issues. No one help me though and I was ashamed to admit it.


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