Why Is My Child So Picky About The Clothes He/She Wears?

We’ve all put on a wool sweater or scarf that feels really itchy and irritating on our skin. You feel in constant discomfort all day long when you move the slightest bit, its distracting for you all day, and you promise yourself you’ll never wear it again. Kids with tactile hypersensitivities experience this on a daily basis with many types of clothing, causing them to become picky about what they put on their bodies.

A typical tactile system will feel a light touch stimulus, such as a t-shirt on your body, and will quickly adapt to the feeling, so that the nervous system and tactile system no longer notice it is touching the skin. This allows us to wear clothes all day, and not notice or feel irritated by the constant touch on our bodies. The tactile systems of children with hypersensitivities never adapt to the light touch feeling, and are, therefore, constantly aware of it, constantly irritated by it, and constantly distracted by it. Some children may be so sensitive to touch that they perceive the touch of clothing as painful. Children with tactile sensitivities may begin to be rigid about the types of clothing they will put on their bodies, tending to prefer anything that is very soft, and/or seamless, so that it is more tolerable for them and allows them to function better throughout the day.

Suggestions to try to expand your child’s repertoire of clothing include:

  1. Wash your child’s clothing several times to achieve a “worn in” affect. Use LOTS of fabric softener.boy sensitive to clothes
  2. Purchase the softest fabrics you can find, particularly cotton, fleece, and flannel. There are also websites that specialize in extra soft clothing, such as http://www.softclothing.net.
  3. Try wearing socks inside out, or purchase seemless clothing (such as socks, shirts, and undergarments), some suggested sites are http://www.smartknitkids.com/.
  4. Take your child shopping and allow him/her to choose what you purchase. Make a fun day of it!
  5. Allow your child to choose and lay out his/her own clothing the night before school
  6. Remove all tags, embroidered emblems, cuffs and waistbands, or other potential irritants
  7. During and after the shower or bath, try doing firm rub downs to the arms, legs, back, neck, hands and feet, avoiding the stomach and face as these are very sensitive areas. Start with soap or lotion, and firm, deep pressure. When this is tolerated, move to soft washcloths, then rougher washcloths and towels, and to sponges and loofahs as your child’s tolerance increases and his/her sensitivity decreases. Doing this consistently and as often as you can, ideally several times a day, will have the greatest results.
  8. Massage with lotion after bath time. The deep pressure is calming and may help to decrease tactile sensitivities.
  9. Explore different snug fitting clothing to be worn alone or under regular clothing, such as tights, or leggings; lycra / spandex undershirt that fits very snugly; or a “compression shirt” or other compression garments, such as a SPIO. Snug fitting garments will give some calming deep pressure input, and it will also keep the “itchy” clothing off the skin directly.
  10. Messy play may help decrease tactile sensitivities- Such as shaving cream; finger paint; dry rice/bean bins; cooking with your hands, such as kneading or mixing.

If your child has tactile sensitivities which are causing disruptions and challenges to his/her daily functioning or the functioning of your family, consult an occupational therapist. Seek out an occupational therapy evaluation for expert assistance in working to overcoming this challenge.

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4 replies
  1. Jen Kehl
    Jen Kehl says:

    I love this blog and am so happy that it exists. My son was officially “diagnosed” at 2 with SPD and is now almost 7. We have overcome so many hurdles, mostly thanks to you guys 🙂 Clothing can still be an issue, but it is so uncommon now, I mostly just let him choose. But we have learned so much on our journey. As the parent of a child with so many issues, not just SPD I created a blog myself for other parents, and family members. it’s http://breaktheparentingmold.com/ and would love any and all feedback! Thanks 🙂 Jen

  2. vicki
    vicki says:

    my daughter is 3 and wont wear pjs. She also will only wear 3 diffrent pants which are skinny jeans and 3 diffrent shirts. The only way she will have to wear what I give her is when i put it in her day care bag. She used to wear anything and change 5 times a day. It becomes very frustrating. I have to soak her clothes when we get out of the shower just so she wont put them back on. Help!!!!!!!

  3. Angela Hakimi
    Angela Hakimi says:

    My daughter has shown tactile sensativities since birth and while at first I thought it was a ‘girl thing’ (with her forever changing her clothes & being ‘particular’) the situation however escalated by age 3.5 to her only tolerating two potato sack style dresses and never having worn socks or underwear. ANY type of spontaneous excursion or planned event became a nightmare- as getting dressed for ANYTHING was a beyond believable event- with staying home being simply easier.
    I tried EVERY type of clothing, material & even clothing recommended for special needs children- nothing worked.
    She seemed uncomfortable in her body and the ONLY thing that seemed to comfort her was my EXTREME patience.
    She cried insessantly, was quick to anger and became obsessive about getting dry after bathing & pottying. Lotions made her feel ‘wet’ and were not acceptable.
    It was becoming more & more difficult to live a ‘normal’ life and was only tolerable due to my being a stay at hime mom, w/ a flexible schedule.
    After it being suggested twice, I finally made the leap towards a NON GLUTEN diet for her and after just ONE WEEK, she has changed her clothes & is wearing more of her clothes than she has in TWO YEARS. She’s happy, patient and a joy to be around!
    I feel like I have been living the most bizarre life these past two years & now witnessing the most incredible miracle- just by changing her diet!
    My poor daughter has been a prisoner in her body all this time, I’m so sorry!

  4. Josie
    Josie says:

    Hi! I am just reading this very helpful blog. My 7 year old daughter has always had lots of sensitivities to clothes. Sometimes she seems to not have any problem and then suddenly she switches to high sensitivity. Currently dressing is always a battle even if i give her choices. I am unsure if she is exploring different styles or if she really is having sensitivity issues. She says the sleeves are two fluffy and either the shirt is too tight or loose. She has not been diagnosed. What do you suggest??


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