What to do when your child hates wearing shoes and socks

Written by Amy Dufour, Occupational Therapist

Does your child hate wearing socks and shoes? Do they complain that they don’t like the feeling?

Your child may be experiencing discomfort when wearing socks and shoes due to sensory over-responsivity. Our sense of touch is important and acts as a defensive tool to protect us from things that are sharp, hot or may cause harm. Children experiencing hypersensitivity to touch may withdraw from or over react to certain sensations that others may not even notice or be bothered by. This is because their central nervous system experiences sensory overload and the feeling of socks and shoes may be uncomfortable or painful.

So, how do we increase children’s tolerance to wearing socks?

The proprioceptive system receives sensory input through the muscles and joints in our body. The muscles and joints send messages to the brain to tell it where our body is in space, this is called body awareness. This input helps our brain understand where all parts of the body are at all times; helping our bodies move around safely in our environment.

Providing children with proprioceptive input prior to putting shoes and socks on helps to regulate their central nervous system and reduces sensory overload. Here is list of proprioceptive input ideas:

  • Stomping feet
  • Foot massage with firm pressure
  • Pushing toes into the ground
  • Jumping
  • Balancing on one foot
  • ‘Sandwiching’ the child’s feet between cushions or wrapping in a towel/ blanket.

Another strategy to provide children with proprioceptive input throughout their day is JettProof. JettProof sensory singlets are a compression singlet used to calm children’s sensory systems helping to regulate their body and filter sensory information. The gentle compression provides their body with proprioceptive feedback received through their muscles and joints.

Tactile desensitization:
Tactile play increases the exposure to and tolerance of differing sensations on the feet. Having your child engage in sensory play with their feet may support tteir tolerance of tactile input, such as the feeling of socks and shoes. Some examples of tactile play with their feet include:

  • Foot painting
  • Sensory bins e.g., having a box of sand, slime or other sensory items for them to stand in
  • Sensory walk e.g., having a few sensory bins of different materials for them to walk through
  • Walking on bubble wrap
  • Using their feet to play with playdough.

Grading exposure:
Grading the length of time children are required to wear socks and shoes will increase their tolerance. This can be done during a preferred activity to increase motivation e.g., before playing with your Lego we need to put our shoes on for 30 seconds. Slowly increase the time as they get used to the feeling. This can be further supported with the use of a visual timer, so that the child can see the timer reducing and they know the period of discomfort will not last forever.
Another graded approach may be that they start by putting their socks on their toes for 30 seconds and then taking them off. Slowly pull the sock higher up the foot as they increase their tolerance.

Other tips

  • Placing their feet in warm water before putting on socks and shoes
  • Investigating socks without seams e.g. JettProof seamless socks
  • Work with your child and involve them in coming up with a plan e.g., allowing them to decide what socks and shoes to wear.
  • Practicing in a sensory safe place. Is your child sensitive to bright lights? Or is your child overwhelmed with loud noises? Have your child pick a place e.g., under a
  • table in dim lighting that they feel comfortable and safe to practice tolerating socks and shoes.
  • Trial and error what socks they feel more comfortable wearing e.g., do they prefer certain materials, or do they prefer tight or loose fitting?
  • Does your child prefer a specific style of shoe fastenings e.g., Velcro or laces?
  • Is it that your child doesn’t like tight fitted shoes? Try buying a bigger size so their toes don’t touch the end.

Please remember every child is different! This will be a process of trial and error and persistence to find what works best for your child. If you try these strategies over a period of time and find that you require further support, please do not hesitate to contact one of the Stepping Stones Occupational Therapists. Find out more at www.steppingstonesforchildren.com.au

Chu, S., & SROT, O. (1999). Tactile Defensiveness. Information for Parents and Professionals.
Calming Sensory Clothing for Children & Adults | JettProof
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