8 ways to help kids who are sensitive to touch and textures

Sensory processing challenges can make it very hard for kids to cope with touch and textures. Strong reactions to this sensory input may be overwhelming to both you and your child. But there are ways to help with tactile sensitivity.

Kids with sensory processing challenges can be oversensitive to touch. (They may also be undersensitive.) This can make everything from eating to showering a challenge. Here are some ways to help kids who are sensitive to touch or textures.

1. Give advance warning.

Make sure your child sees you coming and that you explain what you’re going to do. For instance, try saying things like, “I need to wash your hair. I’m going to drizzle water on your head first.”

2. Find creative ways to show affection.

It can be hard not to feel rejected if your child doesn’t like being hugged or some other way you show affection. But you might just have to find a different “in.” Check with your child. Maybe a firm squeeze on the shoulder or a “pinky promise” can be your special way to say “I love you.”

3. Help your child set boundaries.

Physical contact can be a stressor for kids who are highly sensitive to touch. Teach your child that it’s OK to set boundaries with friends and relatives. You can begin by modeling how to say it. For instance, “I’m not a big hugger. But I’m so glad to see you, Aunt Mabel!”

4. Let your child dress in layers.

Kids who are oversensitive to touch can struggle with the feel of certain fabrics. They may also have trouble transitioning from long sleeves to short sleeves or from pants to shorts.

Consider letting your child wear a sweatshirt over a short-sleeved shirt and investing in clothes like zip-leg pants. When warmer weather comes, your child will only have to get used to the feel of bare arms and legs — not the feel of new collars or waistbands, too.

5. Have your child take the lead.

It’s tempting to wipe a smudge off your child’s face or brush the lint off a shirt. But for kids who are sensitive to touch, it may be better to point it out and have them do it themselves.

You may need to talk a younger child through fixing it. For instance, “You have some chocolate on your chin. The napkin didn’t clean it off. Why don’t you go use a wet washcloth to wipe it off?”

6. Experiment with different foods.

Does your child refuse to eat certain foods? It may be the texture, not the taste. Some kids don’t like smooth peanut butter, but they may happily eat the crunchy kind. It’s also possible your child will eat yogurt (or another new food) but can only tolerate the texture of a particular brand and flavor.

7. Keep foods separate.

Your child might get upset if different food textures get combined. But that doesn’t mean you always have to make a separate dish. Consider buying divided plates to separate foods. Or just use a different small plate or bowl for each food.

You can also serve casserole ingredients individually. For instance, if you’re making shepherd’s pie, set aside some of the meat, mashed potatoes, and vegetables before you assemble the pie.

8. Restock the art cart.

Does your child shy away from touching sticky, slimy, or gooey things? You don’t have to avoid art projects. Stock up on large glue sticks or glue dots instead of squeeze glue. Try paint markers or sponge-tip squeeze bottles instead of brush or finger paints.

In the meantime, if your child is working with an occupational therapist, you can come up with a plan to phase in traditional art supplies that aren’t yet comfortable for your child.


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