Touch Sensitivities: Why does my child cringe when I hug them? Why is my child bothered by tags? Answers to these questions & more!

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Transcript for Touch Sensitivities:

Welcome Impactful Parents.  Today’s question from the audience is: Why is my child developing some odd habits?

Hello. My name is Kristina, and I am the founder of The Impactful Parent.  Every week I come on here and answer one of your questions LIVE.  If you have a question for next week, please DM me or email me at  All submissions are kept anonymous.

Now back to our question.  This week our question reads, “Why is my child developing some odd habits? My child has always been a picky eater and sensitive to some clothes, but now it seems like the weird habits are getting worse. Now my child is chewing on their shirt non-stop and won’t even let me hug them half of the time.  What is happening?

Touch Sensitivities

Touch Sensitivities

This is much more common than most people realize, and for that reason, I love this question.  In fact, if you think that your child has some oddities or is growing into some weird habit, then this episode is for you!  Let me start by saying that I am not a doctor. To get a true diagnosis, you’ll need to go to your health care professional. Still, it does sound to me like this child has some sensory sensitivities.  So today, I am going to give you signs that your child has tactile sensitivities and a few tips for dealing with them.

Touch sensitivities have many names. The most common names include a neurological disorder, tactile defensiveness, or sensory processing disorder. Still, whatever you call it, touch sensitivity causes a child to overreact to touch. A lot of times, you will see touch sensitivities manifest themselves in things like:

  • Difficult wearing clothing because they complain that the fabric is itchy or rough
  • Kids being irritated with clothing tags
  • Kids hating to wear socks because of the seams or how they bunch up in their shoes,
  • Kids that have difficulty brushing their teeth due to toothpaste textures or bristles,
  • Kids who can’t get their haircut because of how the barber touches them with the razor, scissors, or all the little, tiny hairs that get on them due to a haircut.
  • Kids that avoid big crowds, loud places, amusement parks, movie theaters, or anywhere that there are many bright lights, loud noises, or too much activity.
  • Kids that avoid finger painting, playing in the sand, play-doh, or avoid messy activities like cooking or gardening,
  • Kids that are picky eaters due to food textures, or kids that avoid mixing foods or food with lumps,
  • Kids that don’t like wind, rain, or other weather elements touching their skin,
  • Kids that don’t like unexpected hugs, kisses, or any unexpected touch! Maybe you see your child rubbing your hug or kiss away?
  • Kids that instantly go into a flight-or-flight response with simple, non-threatening touches.

Do you see the pattern in those examples?  These kids are overly sensitive to anything that touches them.  For example, think of a simple touch like a hug feeling like a bear is squeezing you.  Most touch is exaggerated for kids with sensory sensitivities.  On a side note: I will also mention a disorder that is the opposite of touch sensitivities where the child is sensory seeking.  If you’re interested in learning more about that disorder, send me a quick message, and I can do an episode on that disorder too.  That disorder is often mistaken for ADHD, but it is not ADHD-related.

But back to Sensory Sensitivities…

Touch Sensitivities

Touch Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities don’t affect your child’s ability to learn; however, it affects their ability to concentrate and take in information. That is why it is very important to diagnose this disorder early before your child has academic challenges. The tactile system in the body also affects the emotional triggers in the brain.  That is why over-stimulating your child will cause them to cry at the drop of a hat or irritate them into a bad mood. When your child is overstimulated, they will go into a fight-or-flight mode and view certain touches as threatening. For example, if you give your child a light touch on the neck or pat on the back and they react with a flight response like, “Ahhh! Get away from me,” then you’ve just seen your child go into flight mode.  Or maybe your child hates the tags on their shirt because it is so irritating to have that unwanted stimulus that your child cannot think or concentrate on anything else.  All these are signs your child has touch sensitivities.

So, what can parents do to help a child with touch sensitivities? Here is a rapid-fire list of things you can try.  Be sure to watch the video again if you need to write anything down.

  • Ask your child if you can give them a hug or kiss. Don’t give them unsolicited or surprise touch.
  • Tell family members that your child has sensitivities and also ask them to not give a surprise touch. This is especially important around holidays when stimulation is already high. Sometimes, the big hug and pinch on the cheek from grandma can make your child go over the top.
  • Use weighted backpacks, weighted blankets, and other weighted accessories to help ground your child and make them feel good.
  • Touch your child firmly instead of softly. Don’t hurt your child, but touch them with a firmer feel rather than a light graze.
  • Ask your teacher to have your child go first or last in line so that they can avoid others bumping into them.
  • Cut out the tags of clothes or buy tagless clothing.
  • Consider using plates that separate foods, and be aware that your child might not like lumps in their food, so you may have to puree some items.
  • Avoid tickling your child.
  • Create a quiet corner or safe space in your home where your child can go to get away from overstimulating environments and calm down. Maybe a tent or darkroom.  Create a quiet space, dim light (or use a red light bulb), and have soothing tactile comfort tools like soft pillows.
  • Ask your child to partake in some heavy work. Heavy work is any type of activity that pushes or pulls against the body. Heavy work activities can help kids with sensory processing issues feel centered, so ask your child to help you carry some heavy boxes around the house.
  • Sometimes oral stimulation will help the child distract from what is irritating to them and focus on the oral activity happening in their mouth, allowing your child to have some gum or a lollipop to calm themselves down or concentrate in school.
  • And lastly, look into a method called Willbarger Brushing. Basically, Willbarger Brushing uses a special brush to calm your child.  You brush the child’s arms and legs with the brush several times a day, followed by joint compressions to regulate their system again. The technique is very simple, and occupational therapists use this technique all the time but look into it for yourself to see if it is a right fit for your child.

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