My daughter is very fussy about getting dressed

I am a mother of five-year-old twin girls and have been having ongoing problems with one of them in relation to dressing. When she was younger she was always a bit fussy/temperamental when it came to what she wanted to wear which I just put down to her personality. However, it is now a real problem. She creates a fuss most mornings saying she doesn’t like her vest/ T-shirt/pants/whatever and that it’s annoying her.

Sometimes I think there must be some kind of sensory thing going on but then other times I think she’s just playing up. There just doesn’t seem to be any consistency to the whole thing – something that was annoying her this morning she will wear this evening without any fuss.

For example, this morning her pants were annoying her, she had them rolled up over her knees on the way to school and they were rather ridiculous looking but I said nothing. When we got to school she put them back down without a word. When I collected her this afternoon she came out with them rolled up again which I again ignored. At some point she put them back down again and this evening there wasn’t any problem with them. It is not just in the mornings either, she can suddenly start saying something is annoying her when we’re out for a walk, in the shops, in the car, etc, for no apparent reason.

I am at a loss to understand it. If it is just attention seeking I can’t see why she’s doing it as she really doesn’t get attention from it, she gets half an hour of special time (time just for her) with me every day and I always sit with her for a few minutes at bedtime too, which she loves. I don’t insist on her wearing anything in particular, I give her lots of praise when she’s good and try to ignore as much of the bad as possible. I am very conscious of the whole twin thing and am very careful to give both girls the same amount of attention, etc.

This is something they have fought over since they were very small babies, however, I don’t believe there is any resentment between them, they are great friends and totally adore each other, although they argue plenty too! Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Many children have a clothing sensitivity which means they find certain clothes or textures very uncomfortable to wear. Simple things like seams or labels or straps can be an irritation to them and can bother them through the day. Even though it can appear inconsistent with your daughter, she still could have a sensitivity – children are often most bothered by their clothing when they first put it on, forget about it as they get caught up in the day and then return to being irritated at other times such as when they are hot, or sitting down, etc.

Of course such sensitivities can be hard to manage as a parent and can lead to battles at dressing or resistance to buying clothes as well as irritation and crankiness when wearing the clothes. A clothing sensitivity is part and parcel of a whole range of sensitivities that children can have. For example, fussy eaters can have a sensitivity to food textures, smells and tastes which can lead to battles at mealtimes and other children can have sensitivity to noise and crowds which can cause them to be uncomfortable and act up when out socially in groups.

There are a number of things you can do to help your daughter, many of which you are doing already. First, it is important not to get into battles with her over the issue. As you are doing, it can work to simply turn a blind eye to some of her sensitivity issues – as when you did not criticise or make a big deal of her rolling up her trouser leg. Second, try to empathise with your daughter, and make sure to appreciate her struggles and feelings – see it as a sensitivity and not as misbehaviour and this will help a great deal.

You may have to accept that dressing or shopping for clothes may take more time. Work hard at noticing what clothes/textures she does find more comfortable such as extra soft clothes with few seams, or sandals instead of tight shoes, etc. Each child with clothing sensitivity is different and the key is to “tune into” your daughter and notice what makes her comfortable.

For example, she could have rolled up her trousers because they irritated her when they moved loosely against her leg and preferred when they were tighter above the knee. This could indicate that she might prefer tighter fitting soft trousers like leggings, etc. Sometimes simple things like removing labels or washing clothes in a fabric softener can help. There are also many different brands of extra soft clothing for children who are sensitive that you can search for online.

Finally, work to establish good routines around getting dressed in the morning and try to give her as much responsibility as possible. For example, you set a particular length of time for dressing, let your daughter select her clothes (from a limited selection), praise and reward her when she makes an effort to get dressed without a fuss, while acknowledging this is hard for her. To motivate her, you can also set up a reward chart with her, whereby she gets a star for getting dressed on time.

While clothing sensitivity in most children is generally mild, in extreme forms it can be an indication of sensory processing disorder (which is a difficulty in how a child processes and responds to different sensory input) and it can also be a feature of other childhood developmental and learning problems. Though from what you describe this does not seem to be the case in your daughter’s situation, if you remain concerned or if other problems emerge, you could seek an assessment from a paediatric occupational therapist (OT).

Contact your local health centre or early intervention team to inquire about this and you can also access an OT privately on As well as providing an assessment an OT will also be able to advise on specific physical exercises that could help reduce your daughter’s sensitivity and improve her tolerance of different types of clothes.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, July 2010. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.