If you’re a parent of young children, you’re probably all too familiar with the struggle of convincing your child to wear appropriate clothing during cold winter days. Whether it’s your son who wants to wear shorts all year or your daughter who refuses to put on a winter jacket when it’s snowing, these can be frustrating experiences for both kids and parents that exacerbate already stressful mornings. It’s not uncommon for these tense negotiations to result in anger and meltdowns.
As a parent myself, I know the difficulty of getting a stubborn child to transition to warm, winter clothes first-hand. As an Occupational Therapist (OT) as well, I’ll be sharing some factors that might be causing this behavior as well as a few tips that may help your child and restore a little peace to your busy morning!
While there are numerous possible explanations behind a child’s refusal to wear winter clothing, two leading reasons are simply a result of social pressure or inconvenience. There are significant social dynamics that influence your child’s clothing choices. These dynamics are much stronger the older your child becomes, but children often feel strong social pressures and expectations around clothing.
For example, it’s trendy for late elementary/middle school-aged boys to almost exclusively wear athletic shorts and many wear these shorts most of the year.
Likewise, inconvenience may also play a big role in your child’s refusal to wear a jacket, hat, or gloves. They might feel there is no good place to store their coat at school or these items take up too much room in a locker. Many younger children complain about jackets being too bulky to fit into a car seat and may feel too constrained with a jacket on.
Could it be more?
It is, however, important to recognize when the problem moves beyond a social norm or inconvenience to something that could be a bigger issue. Here are a few things to ask and consider if this has been a repeated problem in your home:
- Does my child avoid and appear noticeably bothered by shirt collars, belts, elastic waistbands, or clothes with rough textures like jeans?
- Does my child have an unusual aversion to tags in shirts or seams in clothing and complains if the seams are out of place?
- Does my child avoid touching certain textures or surfaces like rugs, blankets, or messy finger foods?
- Does my child’s reaction to any of the above impact their mood/behavior for many hours or a large part of the day?
Sensory Processing Disorder
If you answered yes to some or all these questions, your child could be experiencing symptoms of a sensory processing disorder. A sensory processing disorder (SPD), also known as sensory integration dysfunction, describes the difficulty that some people experience when they are integrating or organizing sensory information from the environment for use in daily life. While some children with SPD may overreact to a certain smell, touch, or sound others may underreact to the same sensory experiences.
If your child seems to overreact, avoid, or even become fearful of touching certain clothes and textures, they may be experiencing tactile defensiveness, a part of SPD. A child without tactile defensiveness might notice a tag in their shirt but they can process that information and move on with the rest of their day without disruption.
A child with tactile defensiveness might notice a tag in their shirt but be bothered by it the whole day with repeated meltdowns until the tag is cut out or the shirt is changed. If you have any concerns that this may be something your child is experiencing, an OT can help you evaluate the sensory needs of your child. An OT can also determine the correct strategies and tools to help your child to overcome these repeated difficulties.
- Lay out your child’s clothes the night before to avoid the morning rush. This can include laying out a jacket, hat, or mittens so your child is aware in advance of the expectations. Let your child have a voice in their clothing decisions and then check to see if their choices are suitable for the predicted weather.
- Agree on an outside temperature that certain clothing can or cannot be worn. For example, you and your child may come to an agreement that if the temperature outside is going to be below 55 degrees, then pants need to be worn, not shorts.
- Compromise on the types of clothing worn. If your child prefers comfortable loose-fitting clothing, then allow them to wear those types of clothes if that is appropriate for the activities of the day. Try to cut out tags that may bother them or buy clothes that have no buttons, zippers or other textures that may seem to bother them.
- Consider allowing a few layers of warm long-sleeved clothing or sweatshirts instead of a jacket.
- Consider allowing leggings to be worn under athletic shorts for children who want to wear shorts all year round.
Whether your child is experiencing social pressures to avoid certain clothing or experiencing symptoms of SPD, below are a few parenting tips to help your child dress weather appropriate and hopefully make your mornings run a little smoother:
If you have any concerns that your child may be experiencing symptoms of SPD that require additional therapeutic intervention, it is a good idea to set up an OT evaluation. KidSense is always here to help!
- Arky, Beth, 2021, Sensory Processing Issues Explained, Child Mind Institute, accessed 11/29/2021, https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained/
- Auer, Christopher, MA and Susan Blumberg, PH.D, 2006, Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA.
- Delaney, Tara, MS, OTR/L, 2008, The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book, Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, IL.
- Kranowitz, Carol Stock, MA, 1998, The Out of Sync Child, The Berkley Publishing Group, New York, NY.