Current Issue of BDINews
I have a daughter who recently turned 7. There is one problem however; she seems to have a sensitivity to all materials that touch.....
Temperament and Parenting
A Newsletter About Caring for the High Maintenance Child by Kate Andersen, M.Ed.
Emotional Sensitivity & Low Sensory Threshold
Volume 22, Number 9, May, 2020
Letter to Kate
I have a daughter who recently turned 7. She is bright, affectionate, sweet, caring and excels in most areas. There is one problem however; she seems to have a sensitivity to all materials that touch her skin. For example, she may go through a half hour or more making her socks fit just right before attempting to put her sneakers on. She may go through three pairs of socks in doing this. She agonizes while doing this. I try not to put pressure on her to hurry, but now that she is in 1rst grade, she must be at school by 8:45. She goes late a lot. Even though we start early, it never seems to help. Shirts and pants are a problem too, but she has managed with my patience to look in many stores before making a choice. We don't cut tags off until she is sure and then we cut the inside tags off because they bother her too. Sometimes, this doesn't work. We'll go through this process and she decides it is still not comfortable. Then we have wasted money and time. I am so frustrated and I hurt for her. I love her so much, and her pain is my pain. I don't know what else I can do to help her. She picks out all her clothes and socks. She is not rushed, not criticized. What else can I do?
Does she need professional help?
Dear Mrs. C.
Thanks for writing. Your daughter's physical sensitivity may stem from the temperament trait called "low sensory threshold". However, some youngsters with tendencies to allergies and eczema also seem to be very sensitive and I trust you have had a pediatrician check to make sure she does not have some awful underlying itchiness (which might be treatable by eliminating certain foods, by dust or pet-dander control or even with medication). There is not always a visible rash, I gather, and sometimes that type of itchiness is affected by temperature - cold or hot.
Whatever the source of your daughter's supersensitivity, you may need to experiment with different fabrics and detergents, too. There are some youngsters (and adults) who cannot wear any amount of synthetics and even react to different dyes, detergents and fabric softeners.
If your daughter is also persistent by temperament then she may get locked in to her sensitive state and have trouble disengaging from it. If that is the case, read the letter on this website about the Highly Persistent child for some ideas for dealing with persistence. The general rule is you have to disengage for the child - you may get a tantrum, but you were probably heading for one, anyway. Sometimes there is nothing you can do except let the child know you sympathize but that you can't change reality for them - if reality is that they must wear SOMETHING that they own or not go anywhere.
With one of my own children who has this trait in a big way, the desire to dress more like other children overcame the sensitivity in time - at around age ten, I believe. Up to that point, we sometimes delivered her to school without socks! Once we arrived, she felt funny being the only child without them and got upset. Fortunately, her socks always miraculously turned up in my pocket so she could reluctantly pull them on! My child's sensitivities were always worse when she was stressed, so overall stress management (which in my family meant having some fun together) was helpful to some degree.
It sounds as though you are being very patient so it is unlikely that your daughter is exploiting this problem to gain attention from you. However, be aware that a legitimate temperament-based response can turn into attention-seeking behavior and try your best not to feed into that process by being overprotective or angry. (To get the right attitude in your mind, think to yourself "she might REALLY hate the feel of her shirt but it wouldn't kill her to wear it if there was no other choice"!)
By the way, I hear stories like yours so often that I have promised to one day hold a conference for parents just about socks! Even though there are no easy solutions to this problem, I hope it helps to know you are not alone in having it.
On a more positive note, all of my now-nearly-adult children PREFER to wear second-hand clothes that have been washed so much that they are very, very soft. This saves us a ton of money. And they have all done their own laundry from a very young age - just so they could make sure their clothes came out feeling the way they wanted them to. Now there are two great bonuses from what started out as a very inconvenient temperament trait!
to some common questions about behavioral style.
Origins, impact on parenting, risk for behavioral issues, relationship to ADHD, and other topics.
Goodness of Fit
How temperament is assessed.
Poor fit can lead to stress and possibly emotional or behavioral problems
When professional help is needed
There are qualified individuals from several disciplines who counsel parents and children.