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What to do when kids refuse to put on certain clothing

By Gail Belsky

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When kids refuse to put on certain clothes, it might seem like they’re just being difficult. But refusing clothing may not be about stubbornness. Some kids are so sensitive to how different types of clothing feel that they can’t tolerate wearing them. 

When kids refuse to put on clothing — whatever the reason — it can be frustrating and get in the way of daily routines. It can also be hard to know what to do. 

The good news is there are many ways to help, both in the moment and ahead of time. First, try not to show your own frustration. Adding more emotion to the situation is likely to make it worse. The key is to focus on solutions and to let kids know you’ll work with them on it.

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When kids have extreme reactions to clothing, it can be very stressful for them. You can give them a small sense of control by waiting for a calm moment and then asking what they think might help. Kids often come up with ideas that work best because they’re the only ones who can really feel what’s bothering them.

Dive deeper

Why it happens

Some kids are highly sensitive to information that comes through the senses — smells, tastes, noise, light, and touch. They try to avoid the things they find intolerable. For some, that includes certain types of clothing, bedding, or other things their skin comes in contact with.

Learn more about sensory overload .

More ways to help

The best way to handle clothing refusal is to avoid what’s causing it. Find out exactly what types of clothing or aspects of clothes kids find intolerable. Is it itchy labels or seams? Heavy winter clothes? Pants with zippers and buttons?

Once you know what kids are reacting to, you can adjust or avoid clothes that are uncomfortable. If the trigger isn’t obvious, try observing the behavior more closely. You might pick up on patterns you never noticed before.

Get more ideas for making clothing sensory-friendly .

Next steps

When kids are oversensitive to the feel of clothing and other sensory “information,” it’s hard not to notice. But it may look different at home than at school. 

Families and teachers should connect and share notes on what they see. They can work together to find strategies and supports that make it easier for kids to manage sensitivities.

Knowing what’s behind the challenges lets you give the right type of support. Pediatricians can help you find answers about what’s going on. They can also talk about therapies that might help, like occupational therapy. 

Parents and caregivers: Get tips for talking with teachers about sensory challenges .

Educators: Learn about classroom supports for kids with sensory processing issues .

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