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Help me by more empathetic to my 5 yo sensory issues

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
My DD (5) has developed a recent issue with tactile/sensory, specifically around her clothes. Tags, too tight, too loose, itchy, too long, too short, etc. It is driving me crazy!!! In the beginning, I was really more responsive to it. Helping her find clothes that would make her more comfortable, cutting tags out of clothes, etc. Then it started to wear on me -- I would help with one or two outfits and if they didn't work, she would have to find something herself. I bought 3 different new types of underwear. Today, I've had enough. I'm about to say, I choose her clothes and she has to wear them. In theory, I oppose this. But I can't think of an alternative. She can't spend her day in turmoil over her clothes (tags, tightness, "doesn't feel right"). The reality is, once the issue is usually solved or another subject comes up (let's go for a ride in the truck), she forgets about all this. The last three days she has spent at least a hour straight fussing about her clothes. What can I do?
post #2 of 20
Have you tried brushing?
post #3 of 20
is she in some kind of sensory therapy like brushing that pp is talking about.

i understand your frustration BUT your dd cant help who she is. my mil at 82 is still like your dd and has to 'doctor' her clothes before she can put them on.

i have a child somewhat like yours who is sensitive to certain materials and i can look at something and just tell which ones she would find itchy or not. instead of underwear we have the socks issue. she doesnt need therapy as its not everything, but i do make sure i take her sensitivities into account when i buy her clothes. oh and btw i cant remember the last time i bought her clothes without her having some say in it. mainly coz if she doesnt like something i buy she will NEVER wear it (has more to do with style rather than sensory issue). having an opinion about clothes is ok by me.

from your post it sounds like you are pretty overwhelmed yourself. you seem to have a lot on your plate. it IS one of the hardest jobs in teh world to be a parent. how can you give anyone empathy when to me it seems like you sorely need empathy yourself.

what is your self care like. who is there to listen to you without judgement of how hard life is or the issue is. truly what i want to tell you is - you are making a big deal out of this issue. BUT that is my opinion. right now. that is not how you feel. for you it is a big deal and that is the truth.

finding some support and or break is HUGE for us. it keeps us in balance and we dont freak out or get frustrated at everything. we can judge the problem for what it is - big or small.

my dd is 6 and let me tell you every single time her behaviour has gotten to me - its been more about me than her. and i noticed it coz somedays that behaviour woudl be like water off the duck's back, at other times my response would be so out of proportion to the behaviour.

5 is a huge age for kids. its leaving the baby world and setting off as a child. more is expected out of them. they struggle, struggle, struggle.

oh and another reality check. in our class today a mom of a 29 year old said, 'i help with this problem and sure enough very soon there is another issue.' i think she just helped her dd move and then her dd needed help with her phone bill.

to me it seems like you need the empathy more than she does.

you are not pregnant are you?
post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 
pbjmom -- what is brushing? I don't know about this.

Meemee -- I'm not sure where your post is centered. I am asking for "tricks", you know, good old fashioned parenting tricks that help parents and their children when they are dealing with a certain issue or phase. For example, when my daughter was about 14 months old she hated getting her diaper changed and I would say tongue-twisters to her in order to distract her and to also release my own frustration with the activity.

I'm not sure where you got from my post that I need empathy, that I have a lot on my plate, that I don't do self-care, or that I may or may not be pregnant. I'm simply a mom working with a beautiful, independent, and strong (all good things) 5 yr old who is going through a phase of being frustrated by how certain clothes feel to her. I don't think she has sensory issues or will have them for a lifetime. I think this is a phase, much like how many children go through a OCD phase in their later childhood years. I consider myself a very empathetic mother and as I posted was quite empathetic about this situation as it was developing; but my empathy is waning -- which I believe is normal when dealing with a frustrating situation, self care or not, pregnant or not. Yes, I believe my daughter should have say in the clothes that are purchased for her and yes, she should have say in the clothes that she wears. Both of which occur here. But, no, she can not wear the same pair of underwear everyday and yes, those two pairs of underwear from the exact same package (which she picked out) are the same. Nothing on my plate or a little on my plate, we cannot spend an hour debating which pair of underwear to wear. That is just as unhealthy as a non-empathetic mother.

Meemee, I trying to believe that your response is one of trying to help me. But it appears to have a condescending tone and you appear free to make a lot of assumptions about me (little self-care, a lot on my plate), which I am trying to see how you took that from my post and really can't see where you got it.

I was simply looking for some suggestions on how to help her and me move through this phase.
post #5 of 20
yes my intention was to help.

what i cant understand is why your empathy is waning.

it is a physical thing for your dd. yup it could be a phase. but no matter what she is feeling the sensitivity. i am not sure why that is irritating you. its not like a behaviour thing. or a food thing. she cant help but feel it. at times like this all you can do is support her.

perhaps you need to give examples of the details which irritates you. like the underwear thing. yes i agree two underwear should be the same from the same pack. but really sometimes they are not. there are threads poking at some which your dd could be sensitive to. she is at the moment like a princess and the pea. it doesnt matter whether it continues to an older age or not, it is there right now and you got to help her with that.

i guess i dont see how that irritates you. i really dont think its a debate unless she is using that as a reason to get out of something. not go to school or something like that. but i kinda get you are denying her feelings of sensitivity. whether that is forever or just a phase. i maybe completely wrong here.

if a pair of socks hurts her feet - just as an example, how can you not try on 100s of pairs till you find the right one, but instead debate. change in laundry detergent, change in washing and drying method affects clothes. for instance if i hand wash my dd's socks and air dry them they are stiffer and the seams sharper and she has a terrible time wearing them. she just CANNOT!!! i cant see how you would debate that. now if she was using that as a manipulation, then its a whole different story.

honestly in a situation like this i feel there are no tricks. how can you argue with your child if she says the woolen sweater next to her bare arms feel like sandpaper on her skin. unless you doubt she IS feeling the roughness of the material.

but hey if someone feels there is a trick, then i am open to listening and learning.

i cant see how you can empathise with your dd either. like hey deal with the roughness till we get another sweater.

i guess what i am trying to say is i just dont understand your situation.
post #6 of 20
My Ds has issues with certain pants (can only wear fleece) and for the last few months will not wear underwear.. Can your Dd go commando? (Not in a skirt but in pants)
Also my son can not tolerate the seam on the top of socks. He has one pair that he will wear and so most days he is sockless (even in the cold) I save those socks for snow play or let him wear them dirty. (Our kids clothes are mostly hand me down so I can't always duplicate what he likes)

My biggest stressor for this is that sometimes he really WANTS to wear something else and it makes him very upset that it hurts him. (He's 3 so tantrums ensue)

So I guess my only trick is...give in
post #7 of 20
Give in.
Seriously, life is too short to fight over clothes with a child.
My ds is the same. He has to have plain ts, no buttons, no tags on ANYTHING ANYWHERE, pants have to be button no zip, jackets have to zip no buttons, list goes on and on..i just let him pick out his own stuff and then everyone is happy.
a few times i have told him "tough, deal with it" but that is when we were out and he spilled something on his shirt and he was freaking out because it was wet but i didnt have a spare so he had to deal until we got home.
post #8 of 20
Giving in is really the only way to handle this. I understand your frustration completely, as I have a 6-year-old ds doing the same thing; it has been going on for almost a year now. I totally understand how irritating it is, and how you can get to the end of your rope when you have spent hundreds of dollars on clothing for your child and he won't wear any of it, even though you have gone far out of your way to try to figure out exactly what he will like and get only that, and how getting the child out the door to school every morning is a major ordeal. I understand!

However, my experience has been that there is really nothing you can do short of getting OT for your child. Because this is a very real issue to the child! They are not making it up My son does have mild to moderate sensory issues in other areas, but this came out of nowhere, almost over night.

I have found that the more I tried to fight it, the more I tried to insist on him wearing things, the worse things got. In the reading I have done on sensory issues, this is common. It is not something that you can get the child through by "insisting" they wear things anyway. Even if it's only a temporary sensory thing for your child, it's still a sensory thing, a real experience for her.

One thing that does help some is by relaxing both myself and my child as much as possible. If I knew there was something that wasn't going to go over well, I would try to present it in the nicest, gentlest way possible. I would take him on my lap and help him get dressed. I would use touch to help calm him down, like stroking his hair, patting his arm, etc. If I could get him really mellow, I might have a chance at a successful dressing experience. (Might...)

But mainly, I've just tried my best to accomodate his current preferences. He got down to only two pairs of jeans he would wear to school (no other types of pants were acceptable). Both pairs had holes in the knees, even though both had already been patched. I just let him wear them until I had money to get new pants. Yes, I cringed at what his teacher might think, and yes, he wore them dirty sometimes (though I drew the line at visible stains). Right now, we finally know which style, brand and size of socks, underwear, shirts, and pants he will wear, and we are enjoying a fairly easy period at the moment until he grows out of his clothes.

I feel your frustration! You can't know just how hard this is until you've experienced it. It's not a big deal to have one or two smaller things that bug your child. What gets so tough is when they are having multiple issues with all sorts of different clothing, and you have tried multiple things to fix it, and nothing is working, you are spending tons of money, they are changing their preference every other day, etc. It is really, truly maddening! Hang in there!

Oh, and I also wanted to mention that I think my ds feels better once he gets out the door and goes to school. HIs teacher has not noticed him having any frustrations. I think he is distracted at school and thinking about other things. But the clothing still bugs him when he is getting dressed, in quiet moments, etc.
post #9 of 20
I don't know your child at all, obviously, but from the things you describe, and my own experience with my five-year-old and little issues like this that have come up, I wonder if this is really an expression of other, deeper worries or stresses? Is she in school? Could this be a mostly unconscious stalling tactic because of stresses experienced there? Does she feel pressure to get dressed and ready by a certain time?

I read somewhere, I think in Unconditional Parenting, that "rushing a small child is a fool's errand" and have found it to be 100% true with my first DD (who is 5). The moment she feels pressure or the need to "hurry up", even if she is outwardly willing, something is bound to go wrong immediately--something requiring more time than probably would have been needed to finish the original activity if I had refrained from adding the 'time/hurry' dimension to the problem and just gone in to offer help or provide some direction to get the "getting ready" process moving along (you know how prone to distraction they can be at this age, I'm sure!)

In our case, we don't do school so there isn't any pressure to be dressed by a certain time, but my dd's dress themselves and they're usually ready before I am even, because they want to get going and doing things! Is it at all possible to let her handle the dressing on her own?

I don't know that I would go to extreme lengths to find the "right" clothes, especially since "right" seems to be relative depending on the day . . . hour . . . minute? The fact that she can be distracted from it easily if something else comes up really makes me think this is being used kind of like a red heron--there IS a real problem, but focusing on the sensory issue isn't getting you anywhere, so maybe it's not the main issue. Does that make any sense?

What about saying something like, "here are all the pants we have that are clean right now. I'd love to see what you end up choosing when you're ready." And then leaving the room to go about your other things, giving the responsibility to her? Would she just come out wailing that none of them work? What if you just kindly respond that you're so sorry none of them feel very good, but you don't have any others so you guess she'll just have to figure out which ones are the least uncomfortable?

Okay, sorry, I won't ramble on anymore. Just trying to think of some possibilities for you, and these are the things I'd probably try. Maybe you already have. Good luck and let us know if you make any progress!
post #10 of 20
Thread Starter 
I sincerely appreciate all the replies. I am comforted just knowing that this is an issue that a few other mamas and young children confront.

To be sure, I am not forcing her to wear wool sweaters on bare arms or anything of that sort. Our clothes are a mix of hand-me downs and gifts and a very few purchases mixed in. DD has say in the purchasing of clothes and what clothes she wears that day. In fact she picks out her clothes everyday, all day long. She has been through phases of one dress everyday for a month, a phase of just jeans and a t-shirt everyday for 6 months. I do not force her to wear anything she doesn't want to wear; however, she does need to wear (relatively clean) clothes, especially when leaving the house in February.

Her recent issue seems to have started around underwear -- too tight, too small, to itchy (nothing changed, no new underwear, no washing changes, etc). We have now purchased (w/ DD's input) 3 different types/styles of underwear and nothing is satisfactory. I am fine with her going commando and have even suggested it. She is not fine with going commando (except to bed where she sleeps naked). From underwear we have moved to pants which can't have any tags (unless she doesn't see them) and tights (100% cotton) being either too long, too itchy, too short, crooked, etc.

This morning went like this: I went to take my shower and asked DD to get dressed while I was in the shower. She brought 3 pairs of tights into the bathroom and informed me that she was going to wear tights w/ a skirt (thereby avoiding the underwear issue, she doesn't have to wear underwear when she wears tights). She looked at the 3 pairs for a good 10 minutes while deciding which to wear (she was also drinking her tea so I'm sure that took some time too). She put one pair on half-way (too her knees) and decided they were "too scratchy" and took them off. Now, she proclaimed she had no idea what she was going to wear. I (kindly) suggested trying the other tights or going back to her room to look at other options. She becomes upset b/c pants means underwear and all underwear are uncomfortable and tights are not an option b/c that one pair she tried on for 4 seconds was too scratchy. None of my kind, gentle suggestions of trying this or that or the other thing seep in; she has made up her mind. There are tears, but she has not completely melted down yet. I am practically dressed at this point. I offer to pick out her clothes and dress her myself (she likes this b/c she feels like a princess being dressed and also I usually include a piece of my jewerly or a funky headband or something). She goes for it. We go to her room. I select underwear (new pair she picked but has refused to even wear for the last week b/c she knows they are too tight even though she has never had them on), a pair of well worn jeans and a long sleeve T shirt. I dress her. She is rather unhappy about the underwear; I fold the elastic over, she is comforted. I put on the jeans and the shirt. She appears fine. I can't believe it has gone so smoothly today. 10 min later we are walking downstairs and she discovers there is tag in the jeans; all h#$L breaks loose. She can't wear these jeans. I remove the tags, DH removes the tags, we show her there are no tags in the jeans. She is still positive that there is something remaining that will frustrate her later. We change underwear (I can't remember why) and then we change back (I can't remember why); DD is on the verge of loosing it. DH offers to read her a book and if she is still frustrated at the end of the book, she can go change. He reads a book for about 5-6 min, crisis averted. Nothing is bothering her. She has not thought about her clothes nor mentioned them since. Getting dressed took approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, and this was a good day, a really good day.

I love the suggestion about using touch to calm her and me. I need to remember that. I think I mentioned in my original post that after a while I was saying "solve the problem yourself" (meaning pick out the clothes that you want) but in reality, I don't think she can. I think she needs someone to guide her through it b/c in her mind NOTHING will work. However, 2-3 hours of dealing with her frustrations can wear on me (which I believe is a normal response to any illogical frustrating situation). I truly believe in "giving in", especially for clothes, but that is not what I'm dealing with. This is not a situation of her begging to wear a certain shirt and I'm saying no. This is a situation most often of her being naked and me saying you have to wear something, even the dirty shirt from yesterday, but something. And yes, I have let a dirty pair of underwear get an extra day's wear and I have washed clothes that are acceptable at night while she is sleeping, but the clothes that are acceptable are quickly reducing and as I've said, going out and buying the exact same pair of underwear (which do not have extra threads, or thorns, or anything of the sort) is unacceptable.

So long post. I appreciate all the similar stories that other mamas experience.
post #11 of 20
What happens if you do something else with her while dressing? E.g. watch TV (if you do TV) or tell a story, or play I spy. Especially if it's something that lets her feel both engaged and close to you.

Maybe it really is a sensory issue, but your description reminds me of a (not really sensory, probably anxiety-related) "wrong feeling" I often had as a child.
post #12 of 20
aha!!!! i understand. so while putting on clothes, the focus should not be on the clothes. also it seems (the discovery of the tag example) that she recalls something uncomfortable from the tag situation and so now completely freaks out whether it is affecting her or not in the present.

yes i totally agree with you she cant put on clothes alone. i remember my dd going thru a phase where she just needed that emotional help. and yeah at 5 she needed help with clothes, socks, shoes and also making choices.

the key here seems like something soothing to start with - get into the mood and then change into clothes. books work really well with my dd too. and music. also story time. both of us involved in making up a story. or telling her her favourite story that keeps her spellbound. so i would say prep to a good mellow mood, then start the changing process and carry on with the mood mellowing. at this point if tags bother her remove all tags from clothes. so she trusts and knows there are no tags.

include in that, touch or hugs (pressure on the body so her skin is not crawling when she starts dressing). so before dressing play some physical games. tickling, or scratching - back scratch, massage while listening to favourite music or reading a book, or telling a story. almost like keep all her senses occupied so that she is just not focused in dressing.

it would be also a good idea to read up on SPD - sensory processing disorder coz of the fantastic OT ideas you will find there.


look at all the books on this page. i read the Out of Sync child book as well as the activity book (GREAT activities ideas for ANY kid). my dd doesnt need OT BUT she has a slight form of it. she used to be sensation craving and now she is the opposite. a lot of her sensitivities have gone, some of it came on around 4 or 5. she has never been able to wear socks or shoes or tolerate anything in her hair right from baby hood, and she only really wore shoes once she started school or ps. the moment she walks in the door everything comes off and she puts on clothes only if we have company.

also with her i found boys underwear are much more comfortable than girls. its just recently she started wearing girls UW. otherwise all this while she wore boys. to me too they feel sturdier and well made and well shaped. but i know at 5 your dd has to be open to trying it.
post #13 of 20
One of my twins is extremely particular about the way his clothes feel. He too, couldn't have tags from about age 2-5. He wouldn't wear button-up shirts because they weren't soft enough. And his absolute favorite jeans were lined with soft flannel.

He's 6 1/2 now and he will wear button-up shirts, but he won't wear jeans anymore if they have a waist band. No matter how baggy they are, he claims they're tight. It's extremely frustrating for me, especially since he initially says the pants are OK, wears them, then rejects them on second-wearing and forever after. Five pairs of brand new school pants were wasted this way. He's skinny, so most elastic waist pants don't fit, which makes it difficult to find pants for him. But I finally found some from Mini Boden, which has jersey-ribbed waist bands on some pants, and adjustable elastic on others. If I would force him to wear regular jeans, which I have to do on occassion, it really ruins his day. Even my more-strict husband feels sorry for him and will let him change! He also has an issue with socks and claims shoes are too tight even though I buy them a size too big, which becomes a tripping hazard.

Since it has gotten better over the years, I think this will eventually pass. But I can relate to you about how frustrating it is.

FWIW, he also has issues with food. He is extremely picky about foods, too. I'm curious about whether your dd is particular at the table, too.

Hang in there-- I do think it will get better eventually. I agree it's frustrating-- and expensive. But I don't think my son does it on purpose.
post #14 of 20
My ds has had these type of issues since he was about 3.5.
He hates anything tight around his neck or wrists. He won't wear any shirt with buttons or a collar. Jeans were a problem at one time. When he was 4 he wore sweatpants every day.
He's 6.5 now. The issues seem to die down for a while, then they come back in a different form.
He's also quite picky about food.

It's extremely frustrating when you've given them so many choices and options and nothing seems to work! It's awful to have to spend hours fudging around with clothes every day.

And I had these same issues myself. When I was a kid my shoes had to be tied "just right", and I couldn't stand anything itchy. Unfortunately I grew up in the 70's and dressing up meant an itchy polyester dress with a lace collar. Aaagh! And with that, I STILL cannot muster up as much empathy as I feel I should for ds. When we have to get up and out in the morning, I give him a choice between two outfits and I set a timer. Once we are out of the house he forgets about it.

My only advice, if you find something she likes, buy 3 of them. But even then, she'll probably prefer one over the other two.
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks everyone. I think just knowing that others deal with this has slowed me and my thoughts down about it all.

To answer a few questions, she has no other "picky" or "fussy" areas. She has zero food issues and generally is very laid back about everything. She did go through a phase of not wanting her pants to get wet in the morning dew, but it certainly didn't cause the meltdowns we are currently experiencing.

I'm going to focus on being more present myself during these moments, but also remembering that there might be a time when she needs me to take charge and show her how to solve these problems.

Today was a great day as we had no where to go and therefore no clothes were necessary. She decided to wear a certain nightgown and the same pair of underwear from yesterday. Hey, it worked.
post #16 of 20
have similar issue with dd. i have learned what is tolerable and what is not. she gets to pick a couple things in the eve and hope for the best in the am. i am so thankful that there are many things without tags which makes things easier.

also nothing ribbed, no turtle necks, no zippers, no jeans, no buttons, no seams especially cuffs as it irritates her eczema.

i wash everything in charlie's soap, it's the only detergent she tolerates. also socks are washed by hand to prevent piling. as soon as it piles inside, it's a no no.

and if all else fails, i let her pick whatever so we can just get out the door!

food is the same way. she is very particular with texture so i'm careful what i fed her and when she's in the mood I try to get her to try new things. she also obsessed on one food for a long time and then drops it in an instant.

i try not to let it get to me because i know it's not personal, it's just her sensory issues.

hang in there mama!
post #17 of 20
We have had clothing issues with DD for years now. She went a whole summer where she only wore dresses, another 6 months where nothing could have pockets or hoods. For now, it's all about comfort (cotton, sweats, etc.). In our house, DD picks what she wants to wear when we are staying home (even if that is PJ's). She actually does fine, if she can totally pick what she wants and fix the issues (ie cut out tags, etc.). She has a few nicer clothes that I won't alter and I've explained that to her.

Our issue is school days, when she has some degree of "rules" about what she can wear (weather appropriate, etc.). So, on school days, I help her pick out clothes at night. Right now the have to be cotton stretch pants or seat pants. They can't be too loose or too tight, too short or too long (ie, they have to fit just right). There must be an undershirt that has had the tag cut out and a long sleeve t-shirt (also cotton). She has one style of socks she will wear- thin mid-height ankle sock. Underwear are not an issue, at least right now.

Our biggest factor in success is that I no longer shop for DD's clothes without her, unless I am 100% sure it's OK (read- she has the same outfit in a different pattern, etc.) and whenever possible, we try on the clothes. I've learned to abide by her rules, which makes things a lot better, as I don't try to get her to wear jeans anymore, or a button down shirt and I know that thick socks are never acceptable!

I say give in, but find a structure to it you can handle. For us, picking everything out at night and agreeing on it ahead of time has been a life saver. We were both too crabby in the AM to be arguing about socks. And she knows on home days she gets to pick, so she can handle some compromise for school twice a week.
post #18 of 20
You have gotten some helpful replies for sure but I wanted to mention something else.

Do you think this is a dry skin wintertime thing that is making it worse now? My own skin gets really really dry in the winter and my normally soft clothes feel itchy!

Maybe some kind of lotion or body oil might help? You could even slip in a few drops of lavender oil or something?

Just an idea.
post #19 of 20
Sorry you guys are going through this! We go through it to a lesser degree - DS can't stand the feeling of most socks and most shoes. His good friend has these kinds of issues about his shoes and clothes as well. Both the other mama and I have found it helpful to find at least one type of whatever the offending article is, and buy as many of them as you need to get through between laundry cycles. So her kid has 4 pairs of the same pants, and it looks like he wears the same clothes everyday. After trying on many different types of socks, we finally found one that was OK. So, we replaced all the uncomfortable socks with the new kind.

Also, you may want to check and see if she has sensory issues. My son is now 4, and figured out fairly recently that he has sensory issues. A lot of the things I thought were just little quirks are really indicators of sensory issues.

Good luck!
post #20 of 20
I have similar issues with my ds. Some days are good, others not. It can be extreamly frustrating. Some days I don't have an hour to sit with him and go through all of our clothes to find the perfect ones.
Some tricks that have worked for me, for days when we have to get out of the house relatively quickly:
-Make sure that he has recently peed (this is another issue with him, but OT)
-Make sure that he is well fed
-Have hime be distracted while getting dressed (i.e., bring the clothes downstairs, turn the TV on if I'm desperate, look at books)

I know that it can be trying -
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