Fashion Statements: Common Kid Clothing Quirks

Kids can develop all sorts of clothing idiosyncrasies like hating wool sweaters or demanding to dress like a superhero. Here are some of the most common quirks, along with ways you can keep the peace while still wearing the pants.

She Dislikes Shoes

Back to School: Fashion for Girls
Back to School: Fashion for Girls

Some children just love to wiggle their toes -- they feel very constricted wearing tight shoes, and they yank them off whenever possible. Until recently, 5-year-old Alexander Morley, of Belton, Missouri, always begged his parents to go barefoot. "We'd simply tell him that he couldn't go outside the house without his shoes, and we let him pick which ones he wanted to wear," says his mother, Lynn. If he still kicked them off, she told him he'd have to be carried -- but she allowed him to go shoeless when he was at home and in the car.

Let your child know that you understand how much he dislikes shoes and that you wish he didn't have to wear them, but explain that going barefoot outside is dangerous because he could step on sharp objects or pick up icky germs, says Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist in Malibu, California. Let him pick his own shoes at the store, or bring home three pairs for him to choose from. Once he's made his selection, have him practice wearing them around the house, and try to associate shoes with a fun activity ("Let's put on our shoes and take a walk to the playground"). Help your child figure out what's wrong with the rejects: pinchy, tight, heavy? Hopefully, you'll eventually hit on a style he can live with, even if it's open-toed sandals or Crocs with socks when it's cold.

She Picks Out Odd Clothes

Children may have no clue about what's appropriate attire. "When my daughter, Marcella, was in preschool, she absolutely refused to wear anything that I picked out for her," says Julie Alfonso, of Brandon, Florida. "If I insisted, she would just change right back into her pajamas." Marcella always seemed to choose out-of-season items, dingy play clothes, or mismatched outfits. Finally, Alfonso talked to Marcella's teacher, who advised just letting her wear whatever she wanted. Even though Marcella was the only child on picture day wearing a long-sleeved velvet cheetah dress in warm weather, she and her mom stopped battling.

Remind yourself that your child's clothes aren't a reflection of whether or not you're a good parent, says Stiffelman. Unless it's a matter of safety -- like wearing slippery-soled party shoes on gym days -- learn to respect your child's preferences. Snow boots in May? Why not? Childhood is short. Try to have a sense of humor and take lots of pictures.

He Loves Being Naked

Young nudists may just like the feel of fresh air on their skin -- but taking off their clothes (and diapers) gives kids a sense of power. Danelle Eikens' 5-year-old daughter, Payton, is a long-standing member of the strip club. "She loves being naked," says Eikens, of Middleburg Heights, Ohio. "One of our neighbors even saw her standing on a chair in our front window in the buff." If your child is older than 2, make rules about when she can be naked at home, such as after bathtime and if she's in her room alone. Then explain why we cover up when other people are around ("We wear clothes when Aunt Jane comes over because it's more polite"). Encourage her to practice big-kid dressing skills like buttoning, snapping, and zipping. Keep in mind, though, that if you make too big a deal about this, your child might keep stripping just to get attention.

He's Sensitive to Fabrics

Lots of kids complain about itchy tags, but some simply can't stand crooked sock seams, stiff jeans, new shirts, or bulky coats. They have a heightened sensitivity to fabric and feel almost as if they are being hurt when they wear something that isn't completely soft. If your child has an extreme aversion to clothing, making it difficult for her to get dressed, she might have a sensory processing disorder.

Playing dress-up with different types of clothes is a good way for picky kids to experiment with various textures. When you're shopping for your child, choose fabrics that breathe, like soft cotton, and go to stores that have a lenient return policy. Look for tagless clothes, or cut off any tags right away. Every evening, give your child a choice of what she wants to wear the next day ("Would you like the red dress with tights or jeans with boots?"), and lay out the clothes to avoid morning struggles. When you're introducing a new item, pair it with an old favorite. And think out of the box: If your child refuses to wear a heavy coat, let her wear a sweatshirt under a lighter jacket.

She's Constantly Changing Her Clothes

It's totally typical for a teenager to try on five different tops before finding one that works, but younger kids (usually girls) may also leave piles of rejects on the floor. "Children who repeatedly rotate outfits are probably just experimenting with their autonomy and individuality, but it's important to set boundaries," says Stiffelman. Let your child change only once each morning, or let her change several times the night before (and clean up after herself). If she still makes a fuss, try to stay calm -- and give her plenty of other opportunities to play dress-up.

Could It Be Sensory Processing Disorder?

Kids who constantly complain about uncomfortable clothes -- and cry, hit, or throw tantrums over the feel of a wool sweater or pair of shoes -- may have a sensory processing disorder (SPD). Although parents may think that their child is just being manipulative, an extreme response to fabric could actually be physiological, says Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, executive director of the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and author of Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder. "His brain is telling him that there's something wrong." Some children have additional sensory issues, such as a sensitivity to noise or light. Other red flags for tactile SPD: a child doesn't want to finger feed, finger-paint, use clay, get dirty, play in a sandbox, or touch things using his whole hand. If your child shows these signs or has major clothing issues that interfere with his daily activities, talk to your pediatrician about having him evaluated. Occupational therapy, in which children learn to explore a sensory-rich environment, helps reduce their sensitivity.

Originally published in the November 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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