My son has many clothing quirks. Some of his earliest ones were refusing to ever wear socks or shoes, not wearing any fabric which wasn’t the plainest of cottons, and an aversion to zips. His clothing issues never seem to really go away, they just evolve to various extremes and different intensities. For example, the never wearing socks at one stage became always wanting to wear socks (and being otherwise very upset and anxious). Whilst he still always wants to wear socks now, his reaction if he doesn’t get to is less severe, though he will perseverate on the matter.
Growing up, buttons appeared to be a non-issure. His style of clothing was the over-the-head cotton t-shirts, the sort that didn’t typically sport even decorative buttons around the neck-line. But his school uniform and most of his shirts now, do have buttons at the neck-line, and along with the buttons has come the problem with the existence of buttons.
He always wants them buttoned all the way up, even when it’s very hard to do the buttons up (when they’re intended to be decorative), and even when doing up the top-button makes the t-shirt uncomfortably tight around his throat. If I try to persuade him that they don’t have to be done up every time, and don’t have to be done up all the way to the top either, the reaction is upset and upsetting: He will desperately try to do them all up himself, while repeating over and over that he wants or needs them done up, and his eyes start to glisten with tears while his anxiety ostensibly builds. If he can’t get them done up, it can end in him shaking and in tears, while he continues to blindly fumble at the buttons.
The other day he’d obviously had enough and declared he wanted the buttons cut off his shirt altogether. That’s one way around the issue, but obviously an unhelpful long-term solution, especially when uniforms are required in his life.
It usually helps in these situations if I can give him very clear-cut rules: Something along the lines of “always do up your buttons when..” and “leave all the buttons undone when” and also maybe “buttons can be left half-way done up when…” The problem is I can’t seem to formulate the appropriate rules. Whether to do buttons up or not is somewhat to do with formality, but also to do with comfort, warmth, appearance and at the end of the day, personal preferences. Trying to piece all these considerations into some sort of universal button-rule has been un-successful so far. The rule would need to be simple to understand and to apply.
Unfortunately the rule can’t be “when mummy tells you to do them up, you do them up,” this never suffices for my son anymore. He does understand the importance of authority figures, but he is a “why” child, and passionately so. If he’s told to do something (or not do something) he requires a clear explanation of why. Without it he gets upset and confused and is unsatisfied; he will not let the matter rest and it can escalate into an issue all its own, with its own attendant anxieties and obsessive behaviours, as he tries to sort his world into predictable and understandable pieces.
Of course, it’s never really just about buttons in themself. Or socks. Or zips. It’s about providing my son with rules that help order his life, and about managing and controlling his anxiety levels, regardless of the cause of the anxiety. Unfortunately life will throw him unknowns and curve-balls, and he needs to be able to self-soothe (in appropriate ways), and to be able to adjust to circumstances as they change. One my roles in his life is to provide him with a growing body of rules that he can then apply through-out the rest of his life, since he doesn’t simply pick up those rules by being around people and being part of society. But I don’t know definitive “button rules,” and considering that this has become a daily and unavoidable issue, I really need to come up with some at this point.
Perhaps someone reading this can suggest a simple rule; something that gets us out of the current two extremes on offer: Either the buttons are done all the way up, or they get cut off. I’ve become pretty good at recognising, responding to, and problem-solving my son’s various issues, but I am currently struggling with the problem with the existence of buttons.