Many people—kids and adults—find putting on winter clothes to be a pain. But sensory processing issues can make it a real misery. Kids who are hypersensitive or who are tactile defensive may literally scream if they put on clothes that don’t feel right. The clothes might be too tight, too bulky, too itchy or too hot. And that can make everyday life difficult for the whole family.
Getting your child with sensory processing issues to wear winter clothes isn’t impossible. But it can take time, compromise and some creativity. The strategies you use will depend on your child’s age and his particular challenges and sensitivities. But giving him choices and some sense of control is key. Here are some tips to consider:
- Buy sweaters and sweatshirts with loose collars. (If your child prefers his clothes to be close to his skin, do the opposite and get tighter-fitting items or even turtlenecks.)
- Settle on hoodies instead of a coat. Hooded sweatshirts are a great compromise item because they can be layered over T-shirts and worn unzipped. If your child doesn’t mind warmth or weight, buy some extra-fleecy ones.
- Remove all tags. That goes for hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters—coats, too. Even if a tag is touching a layer of clothing rather than skin, it can be annoying to some kids. Also, consider buying socks with no inner seams.
- Practice wearing winter clothes. Get kids used to winter clothes by having them wear them for short periods before it gets cold.
- Experiment with fabrics. Some kids might tolerate fleece, for example, where they couldn’t handle wool or down.
- Stock up on soft clothes. If you find an item your child is comfortable in, buy a few in larger sizes. Hand-me downs and thrift-store clothes are good options, too.
- Dress in layers. If your child prefers T-shirts or other light clothing, dress him in layers that he can peel off indoors.
- Shop together. Have your grade-schooler or middle-schooler try on everything from sweaters to gloves to coats. The more say he has, the more buy-in you’re likely to get—and the fewer returns you’ll have to make.
- Let your child choose. The night before, have your child pick out what he wants to wear, and lay it out for the morning. Let younger kids choose between two or three options.
- Put summer clothes away. When it’s time for long pants and boots, pack up the shorts and flip-flops and put them away. “Out of sight, out of mind” may really work here.
- Keep warm clothing at school. For young kids, have the teacher hold on to a sweater, sweatshirt or extra coat. Older kids can keep spares in their locker or backpack. Even if they don’t manage to dress warmly enough in the morning, they have the option to add some layers during the day or on the way home.
- Leave extra time. Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier to leave more time for getting dressed and wrangling with outerwear.
- Create a to-wear list. Hang a picture chart or written list of outerwear in your child’s room or near the coat closet. This will help him keep track of what he needs to put on before leaving the house.
- Negotiate with older kids. Having your child be part of the solution may be worth giving up some ground. For instance, you might give up on the scarf and mittens if he agrees to the coat and hat.
At some point, you may find that it’s not worth the tantrums, arguments or frustration to insist that your child wear proper winter clothes. So do your best to let it go.
As he gets older, you won’t be able to control what he puts on—or keeps on. The best you can do is provide options and be sensitive to his needs. And then, if it gets too cold, he may opt to wear warmer clothes on his own!