There are lots of things that can add to morning stress, one of which can be a child who refuses to get dressed. I’ve worked with so many families whose child is absolutely intolerant of the feeling of an uneven sock seam, the rough feeling of jeans or the sandpaper feeling of a shirt.

There are lots of things that can add to morning stress, one of which can be a child who refuses to get dressed.

I’ve worked with so many families whose child is absolutely intolerant of the feeling of an uneven sock seam, the rough feeling of jeans or the sandpaper feeling of a shirt. They may not necessarily be able to express their discomfort, so it can present as screaming or refusal to dress.

Dressing a child under morning-time pressures for school can be more than challenging, but add to it a child who simply won’t tolerate the feeling of a piece of clothing, and it could send you over the edge.

Parents ask why their child is manipulating and so defiant, so I make them aware of potential sensory issues that can highly affect some children. One of my sons, now very successful and working on Wall Street, had to have his sock seam exactly straight across the toe line every morning, no matter how late we were running. If it wasn’t perfect, the shoes came off and we would have to “reseam.”

He had heightened hearing, so I had to remove the battery out of his bedroom clock, because the ticking kept him awake. And, believe it or not, he could smell vanilla ice cream from another room. Heightened senses can become a disability, because the child remains focused on the sensation and is unable to attend to other learning. However, I know first-hand that success and achievement of such a child is limitless if a parent becomes educated and is willing to work with what could otherwise be thought to be a defiant, “difficult” child.

A mom called in tears, saying that her son was ruining their household, that he refused to dress for school and screamed as she put on his clothes every day. We talked about what he was comfortable wearing, which was a total of three pairs of pants and about five shirts out of his entire closet. I suggested books for her to read and provided lots of information for her to digest. I suggested she only shop for clothes with him, and that before the tags came off, he should wear them around the house to see if he was comfortable in them.

Each night after his bath, he dressed into his next day’s school clothes to be sure that they were comfortable. Just before bed, he changed into his pajamas and those clothes were laid out for school. Any morning difficulty could then be identified as behavioral, since the clothes were comfortable the prior evening. That was a year ago, and today Joe has expanded his tolerance and his wardrobe.

Another area of concern can be allergies. I have worked with numerous families whose children had severe reactions to food, soaps or medications, reactions manifested in aggressive behaviors. Exploring the use of new detergents, allergy medications, amount of chemicals/dyes in junk/processed food, and family history of allergies is the first step in determining what is causing misbehaviors.

Years ago, I worked with the parents of a 3-year-old with koumpounophobia, a phobia of buttons. Every morning while dressing, she violently refused to wear anything with buttons, and screamed if her mom had buttons on her shirt.

Some may think this is a totally noncompliant child who needs to be forced or punished, but that will not resolve the issue. Mom needed to accept that the pretty clothes with buttons were not going to be worn, and if she wanted to hold her daughter, she needed to remove her own buttons. The little girl needed to learn how to sit near others with buttons, and developed self-soothing techniques of hand washing when she came in contact with a button.

This is a diagnosable phobia, one that requires time and effort by family and professionals, but my point is that it is important to be aware, to acknowledge and to accept that our children may be exhibiting unacceptable behaviors because there is something wrong.

Children cry out for help in a variety of ways. We need to listen, watch closely and love them, no matter what.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio, and a contributor to The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.