When Soap Hurts

california-baby-shampoo-bodywash-calming-largeLike all of us, Baxter has his own unique sensory processing profile.  Part of that has always included a certain amount of tactile defensiveness.  He likes a firm touch and deep pressure, and has always sought that out through gross motor activities.  As he’s gotten older, his strategies to get this for himself have become more socially appropriate and he no longer stands out in a crowd the way he did when he was younger.  Matt and I were amused recently to watch an old home movie in which Baxter lay on a crash pad on our family room floor and begged his 1-year old brother to fall on him over and over.  “Fall on me, baby Lyle!” he implored in his high 4-year old voice.

However, we still have mild struggles and the problem that has yet to fade into something that looks more typical has been his complete disgust of lotions, creams, and soaps.  He just cannot bear to touch them.  At age 8, we are still putting his sunscreen on for him (while his 4 year old brother sits next to him, slathering on his own) because although the feeling of lotion on his body creeps him out it’s nothing compared with having it on his own hands.

Fast forward to this morning.  We insisted that the boys take a shower this morning because, well, it had been a while since they’d bathed, to be honest, and we were going to church and then to a friend’s house later.  Matt usually does their showers but this morning I agreed to do it.  When I realized that Baxter – this very big kid! – was still not helping to wash himself at all, other than holding the shower head, I pushed him to do it.  I only asked him to do his own arms for today and gave him a choice of bar soap or liquid soap, but it didn’t matter.  I suggested he chew gum, which his OT had said helps kids tolerate sensory discomfort.  He would have none of it, and just stood there having a fit.  As we all know, once that old anxiety starts to rise, it’s a little hard to negotiate – for mother and child.

You would think – or at least I would – that a mother who understands this stuff, who has always recognized it in her son and helped him adapt and be tolerant of sensory experiences, wouldn’t be so obnoxious with her child.  But I was.  I got really, extremely, aggravated with him.  I used the word “ridiculous” at least 10 times and I’m not proud to say I used the old, “Are you going to go off to college not able to wash yourself with soap?”  Yes, I did.  (And his answer?  “My friends will help me!”)  To not try any of the strategies, to just stand there and cry, refusing to budge, really drove me nuts.  I finally did one of his arms myself using a soft scrub puff and he was willing to wash the other arm.  But honestly?  A 10 minute fit?

It’s so hard to know sometimes where to draw the line.  What is truly unbearable for him and what is an old habit that needs to be broken?  He expects we’ll wash him, just as he expected that we would always get up and pour him some more milk or put his homework away for him.  Now he gets up and gets himself more milk and puts his homework away all the time, and he’s proud of himself for doing things on his own.  Is this just one more thing, or is it really that uncomfortable?  I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Later, Baxter admitted that it was more comfortable to wash himself with the scrubber than to do it with his own hands, and agreed to try that again next time.  We also apologized to each other and he loved it when I shared with him that we are both very stubborn and so when we get into an argument, no one budges.  This is only funny after the fact, for the record.

I know lots of you go through situations like this all the time and that there are no easy answers.  But if you have any strategies for helping the sensitivity to lotions improve, I’m all ears.

Sunscreen season is coming around again, after all.


13 responses to “When Soap Hurts

  1. Have you ever tried the foaming soap bottles. I think the one I had was pampered chef. You mix soap/water in the bottle and it’s less slimy.

    The only way I’ve found to move forward is to present these kind of things in a different sort of scenario, i.e. having him handwash dishes in the sink. Or even have a mini-carwash w/ facecloth/soap kind of thing. I guess you can’t use our tac of saying sunscreen is princess lotion. 😉

    Do you play music in the shower? I bet he could wash fast enough to only listen to a short 3 minute song–think of the water you’ll save!

  2. Patience and baby steps. That’s all I’ve got.

  3. Will he tolerate sunscreen spray? (I’m sure you’ve already thought of that.)

    Regarding what is true sensory problems and what is habit – I have found in our house that there definitely comes a point when it’s just a habit and the aversion is gone.

    There are many times I have pushed something because I *know* that once Chee experiences it, she’ll be fine with it. Sounds like that may have been the case with Baxter and the scrubber brush.

  4. Will he tolerate something like the Huggies wash clothes? They are pre-loaded with (dry) soap and lather when you get them wet. Might be a good intermediate step.

    Or how about a bath mitt so his hand is inside and not touching the actual soap?

    Will he tolerate things like moist towlettes-type of sunscreen or bug repellant?

  5. If you find an answer, let me know because I am Baxter in this scenario. I don’t even like to get water on my hands, and lotions are cringe-inducing for me.

    For me, once my hands are wet, it’s easier, but that first immersion is tough. I like the ideas of soap on a loofa or a bath mitt. I use a loofa but haven’t thought of a bath mitt. That’s a great idea.

    I put spray sunscreen on my kids because I can’t stand rubbing it in. I don’t use lotion on myself even though I have psoriasis because I can’t stand putting it on.

    The bottom line is that as an adult I have learned when I have to use soap or lotion or water, and I suck it up and do it. I have absolutely no recollection of my sensory issues as a child.

  6. Wow, I can’t thank you all enough for your suggestions and your honesty. I went to Target today and loaded up on new things to try. Not only did some of them help, but Baxter was clearly surprised and touched by my efforts. He tried things out in the bath tonight and he loved wearing bath gloves, using a big soft sponge, and the foaming soap! He said it didn’t bother him at all – and I wish you could’ve seen his grin. I’m also going to incorporate music, allowing them each to get washed up to their favorite song just for fun.

    Thanks and gratitude to you all!

  7. I LOVE THIS! I especially love that Baxter knew you were doing something special just to help him out and he really appreciated it. He’s such a great kid. 🙂

  8. This was a great post on many levels. I also felt personally understood as a mom – you do so many things so well, Jordan, and are such a model for me, that it really helped me to know that I am not alone when I get really impatient with my kids and feel like a total jerk later. You’re right, it IS only funny after the fact! All of the suggestions from the Wonderfriends were great, too – teaching me to think outside the box and making me feel a part of a community of moms. Yay!

  9. Thanks, Cara, this community of moms is really what it’s all about for me. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? YOU are all wonderful!

  10. Well, of course I know exactly what you are talking about!!! Sunscreen season, don’t even mention it, I dread it! OK, first of all, I struggle with what is just habit all. the. time. And, also, any change in the normal routine (like the fact that you were the bather instead of Matt) would have probably set my kid off to begin with. So, Scott uses a wash cloth and I think that helps him b/c he likes the feel of the washcloth and he only uses the J&J baby wash, still, b/c it is so mild and not smelly. As for sun screen, I have to put it on him (but there’s hope for this year, right?) b/c he can’t stand it on his hands or his skin (and neither can I, incidentally, I must wash my hands with soap & water afterward & a scrubby brush, so no putting it on on-the-fly for me). I tried the spray in but he hated that, too and it is too harsh for Jane’s skin, so I gave up. He does sort of get used to it as the season progresses and I am lax about doing his legs unless we are going to the beach.

    I wrote about this on my blog awhile ago, how someone brilliant is going to invent a sunscreen that you put on the kid’s back, like you do with flea medicine and it spreads over their body naturally. Or a pill they can eat. Or something, for the love of God b/c sunscreen season is a nightmare!

    Oh, and losing your cool? Been there, done that, so many times. It is so difficult to know whether your kid is just working it or truly can’t handle the situation.

  11. Oh, and who had the music idea? I LOVE that! Awesome. That’s your Philly friend, isn’t it?

  12. Yes, Lori, Heather is your PA neighbor! 😉

  13. Pingback: Essay: The last to know | Truth and Bone

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