Baby it’s Cold Outside
Why your kiddo always wears shorts instead of pants
Honey, you have to wear pants. It’s cold outside.”
“But Mom, I’m not that cold!”
“Honey there’s snow on the ground.”
“I know, but I don’t get cold as long as I’m wearing a jacket!”
“Sweetheart do you know what they’re going to say about me if you go to school wearing shorts in the winter?”
“I know but please don’t make me wear pants!”
“*sigh* Fine, but you have to wear a coat.”
This is a real conversation that I’ve heard parents talk about hundreds of times by now. There are so many variations of this conversation, but the theme is the same. A kiddo just doesn’t want to wear a certain type of clothing, fabric, or even a certain size of clothes.
I’ve met a lot of these kids and they all have their own unique sense of the way things feel around them; and here’s what I know: Despite what the kids (and even some adults) might say, this child is not weird. This child is not dumb. This child has what is called tactile hyposensitivity. The word tactile means “of or connected with the sense of touch.” Hyposensitivity means “a lower than normal sensitivity to stimuli.”
Literally speaking, this child cannot appropriately or properly detect certain stimuli. When talking about temperature, hyposensitivity is often the issue.
Hypersensitivity is -you guessed it- the opposite. Hypersensitivity is defined as “a higher than normal sensitivity to stimuli.” When our kiddos struggle with the way tags feel in their shirt or pants, or obsess about how their socks line up on their toes, how tight their shoes and clothes are, and the fabrics that they’re made of, tactile hypersensitivity is the culprit.
It’s absolutely common for kiddos to have some hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity at the same time. I hear all the time from our clients “He doesn’t want to be hugged our touched, but he loves to rough-house! Or, “He can fall and get bruises and play rough, but as soon as he gets a cut or scrape, it’s like the end of the world!” There can be, what looks like, a crazy disconnect between how kids respond to different stimuli, which makes people wonder if they’re “just being dramatic” or “making it up for attention.” You need to hear this: That is not at all the case. These poor kiddos are so uncomfortable in ways that we can barely even comprehend, and they deserve to be believed.
Imagine having an itch all day long that you just aren’t allowed to scratch. You just have to sit there all day, suffering, unable to focus, pay attention, or engage with others because that feeling is driving you absolutely insane. It’s distracting, uncomfortable, and makes you never ever want to be in that situation again. That’s how these kids feel in their clothes that they complain about. So it’s okay to let them off the hook.
Hyper- and hyposensitivity are both just a problem with the nervous system doing its job correctly; which means there’s good news for you. If you work at it, you can actually retrain the brain (and, therefore, the nervous system) so your child’s sensitivity problems can actually get better.
One great way to retrain the brain is to stimulate the skin using vibration. This helps coordinate and connect the networks in the brain that control the stimulation of the nerves in the skin. Many kids with hyper- or hypo- sensitivity will have a response to the vibration, depending on how powerful it is and where it is placed. I recommend starting with as low of vibration as you can get, as far away from the brain as possible. For example, you can take a TENS unit and put the pads on their left ankle on a low setting and see how they react immediately, and also after 60 seconds, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 20 minutes.
If the child becomes overwhelmed at the 10-minute mark, then you might consider repeating this placement and level of vibration until they can tolerate it for 20 minutes before you move up in location and intensity.
Continue moving the TENS unit up the body & closer to the brain when you notice that your child can tolerate the vibration at each individual location for 20 minutes. Move from the ankle to the knee, to the hip, to the wrist, to the outside of the forearm under the elbow, to the shoulder, to the left (about an inch and a half) of the lower spine, to the left of the mid-spine, and finally to the left of the upper spine right underneath their head.
It’s important to understand that you can overstimulate a child with this, so please be tender with them if they get cranky or irritable. Their brain is working hard to accommodate this much stimulation. Be patient, but be diligent. This can help them feel better in a big way!
By making these little changes to your daily routine, you can start to retrain and rewire your child’s brain for an easier, happier, and more comfortable future.
We’d love to hear your own experiences with tactile sensitivity – how does it look in your kiddo? Drop a comment below to share. It’s so powerful to hear that there are other parents out there struggling with the same things you are. You never know – there might be a scared momma out there right now that just needs to hear that she’s not the only one dealing with a child that refuses to wear jeans.
So don’t be shy, we love hearing from you!