Sensory or Stubbornness?

Q: My 11-year-old daughter needs to start wearing a bra but is refusing.  She has always had sensory issues with clothes, such as socks, tight-fitting clothes like jeans, shoes even—very particular about the clothes she wears. She tried a bra on once but has said it was too uncomfortable. How do I get her to start wearing one?

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A: All too often we discount a child’s sensory issues when it comes to clothing, ignoring their discomfort or dismissing their concerns as childish behavior. I remember hating to wear scratchy sweaters, which was basically anything that was acrylic and sometimes wool. It always made me feel hot and itchy. I never broke out in hives or anything, but to this day, I stay away from anything but cotton when it comes to sweaters and other heavy garments. I also tend to stick with all natural fibers to avoid the experience of synthetics against my skin, which often makes me feel, well, funny in a way.

Since your daughter is already particular about what goes next to her skin, I’m not surprised that bras are on her “do not wear” list. Plus, this can be a difficult transition for girls, especially as bras are not the most comfortable things to wear and most have underwire that can constrict and pinch. I’m assuming at this age, she probably doesn’t need a lot of coverage, so you can get away with some alternatives for now.

Try cotton camisoles with or without built-in “bra” shelves or those little “halters” that are kind of like the top of a two-piece bathing suit that are less bra-like as well that might work too. Those might make the transition time work better. Girls can even wear some of the “boy” tank top undershirts, which are nearly always cotton or cotton blend. Have her do some sleuthing of her own to find out what fabrics she can tolerate and which she can’t—a good project for an 11 year old to do.

Then when she really needs to wear a bra, spend some time researching fabrics and involve her in the process to find a brand and style that work well for her. I’m guessing she probably put on the one you bought, it pinched or felt funny, and she was done. Use the interim items, talk to her about why it’s important to wear a bra or bra-like undergarment, and let her choose the model to wear. There are many different styles of bras out there, so finding the right brand and style that work for her will take some time, but it’s time well spent, given that you’re helping her figure out one of the most important garments a girl will ever wear.

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