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Dr. Navitsky
Dr. Navitsky, Board Certified Pediatrician
Category: Paediatrics
Satisfied Customers: 1037
Experience:  US Pediatrician licensed in California living abroad
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5yr old OCD type behaviour over his shoest

Customer Question

Hi, our son is 5yrs old. Im not quite sure how it started but a few months ago he started to ask for his shoes to be done up tight. All of his shoes are velco shoes so we got in to a habit of pulling the velco very tight until he was happy. Some days this can only take a few attempts. Other days it can take over 30minutes and escalate into a crying/screaming tantrum that his shoes are not tight enough. This results in a very heated battle of wills. I have had to take him to school crying/screaming without his shoes on and leave him with the teachers. It makes mornings very stressfull. Days out are hardwork as he can spend ages in the house taking his shoes on and off and it tends to result in him having to get in the car without his shoes on and we just hope that by the time we arrive at our destination that he has calmed down. I have tried reward charts, ignoring, discussing and trying to find out how I can help. Its effecting him at school as the teachers say he does spend time during class trying to fasten his shoes tight. I have tried to find slip on school shoes but they tend to be for older children so cant get any his size. I think for whatever reason he got this idea into his head about having his shoes tight and we are now in a cycle of it turnng into ocd type behaviour. Once his shoes are on he can spend time unfastening and fastening the velco straps. Its upsetting to watch as it totally consumes him. I dont know how to get him out of the habit and we are frustrated as something some small as putting on his shoes is having such a big impact on his and our day. I really dont know what to do! Our 2yr old is now starting to copy his behaviour........ Id like to know how to handle him when he refuses to wear his shoes, when he has a tantrum about them being too tight and when I have to carry him into the car and school and if there is any way that we can break the cycle of this type of habit/behaviour? Thank you.
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Paediatrics
Expert:  Dr. Navitsky replied 3 years ago.

Jnavits12 :

Hi there are you around to chat?

Jnavits12 :

Sometimes kids can go through apparent OCD like episodes without actually going on to develop OCD in the future so hopefully this will be the case for him! They can use repetition and certain obsessions to try to maintain control over something especially if there are things going on that make them feel out of control.

Jnavits12 :

However even if things are always how they were at school and home and there is no tension or changes recently they can do this kind of thing. There could have been such a simple trigger as having his shoes become undone and he got yelled at one day....ask him why he wants to have them so tight?

Jnavits12 :

What I would do is remove the emphasis from the velcro by removing the velcro. I know of many types of kids shoes that are well made that are slip on (from personal experience!!) and will remove the problem...of course he may take them off but he should be able to put them back on before getting out of the car..

Jnavits12 :

Hi!

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Hi
Jnavits12 :

If you go to tie shoes you are opening up the problem with the ties as well being tight or too loose....and also they come undone more easily so imagine what he could do with these!

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I hve been to three shoe shops and his feet are too small for velco free as they tend to start velco free from size 1
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : He is still a toddler size at size 9.5 so not into the 1 size and upwards so all shoes are velco
Jnavits12 :

So I am American but can direct you to some website that may actually surprise you at the prices....I live in Spain but import my kids shoes as I can't stomach the prices here and the shoes there are better quality!

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I have asked him and he cant answer why he wants them tight.
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : He has very wide feet and when I have looked online slip on shoes dont come in his width
Jnavits12 :

The only thing is that I don't know the UK sizing compared to US but it is comparable I am sure. There are two well known US brands (try Amazon UK or even US) Keen that are like little truck tires for shoes excellent unbreakable and slip on mainly.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I was hoping for maybe another answer other than getting shoes without velco which I have tried to do......
Jnavits12 :

Then there are Merrells which also are the same well constructed and slip on (most styles) and also wide....Keen is good for wide feet.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Is there any other solution?
Jnavits12 :

So besides removing the emphasis on the Velcro really there is no way that you can make the tantrums go away as he feels that his shoes need to be extra tight and it is a fight every day to try to make them tight enough for him....with his age group he can't be "reasoned"with really...but removing the stimulus that makes him remember that he wants them tight is the way to do.

Jnavits12 :

sorry go.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I appreciate you teying to help with the style of shoe but I have tried many times and there seems to always be something else that he moves onto with the shoes ie.... Too loose
Jnavits12 :

Is he in sandals yet weather wise this year?

Jnavits12 :

Did he used to be worried about his feet in any way in the past?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : No and school dont allow sandals :(
Jnavits12 :

Not even closed toe/back ones?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : School are very strict on the type of shoes and he has to wear black school shoes. No sandals allowed.
Jnavits12 :

Ahh uniform shoes...can they be any black or only a few types of models?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : He has never had any other shoe/feet issue in the past. Infact he used to get so excited about going to the shoe shop for new shoes!
Jnavits12 :

Do you think that all is OK at school...is he being picked on or has he mentioned anything to you at all? What about with the teacher anything they mentioned about what is going on at school?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Also he plays football for a team so has to wear football shoes which are either tied or velco. He loves football and wants to go and I feel so sorry for him as he cant get his shoes as tight as he would like them and ends up not playing
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : He strated school in september and as far as we are aware he is very happy. I have spoke to the teachers and they arent aware of any problems. He is very happy when i pick him p and has never given me the impression that something is wrong.
Jnavits12 :

Is he in Kinder?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Yes
Jnavits12 :

What about his learning is he doing well with the learning to read?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I understand that trying to remove the velcromshoes may help but he cant wear different shoes for football and he must wear school shoes. I was hoping to find out how best to deal with his behaviour. I always thought that too much attention can cause the behaviour to continue but its very hard to ignore and he is a big 5yr old so having to carry him without shoes on into the car and into school is hard.
Jnavits12 :

You are right in that too much attention will cause the behavior to continue...but for a child his age having the velcro always there in front of him doesn't allow the behavior to be extinguished because it is always a reminder that he could have them tighter.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Yes he is on the reading scheme and school and doing very well and he is very good with numbers. It is a very laid back school. Only 15 in his class and their is no pressure on them at all. It is a very small village school.
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : So you dont think the problem will go away if he continues to wear velcro shoes?
Jnavits12 :

He also is a bit too young to think about involving a psychologist to help him deal with this as it is so far only his shoes that are an issue.

Jnavits12 :

It all depends on how much it is affecting your life right now. It sounds to me like you are pretty fed up with the shoe thing and it is affecting how he enjoys himself at football practice and also during school....so continuing to ignore it although it may work one day kind of is a gamble as who knows how long he will last!

Jnavits12 :

It is kind of like trying to teach a baby to sleep by themselves...sooner or later you will break them and they will stop crying but who knows when that will happen and whether the parents will decide it is too much for them before the baby is able to fall asleep without crying!

Jnavits12 :

So continuing to ignore it or force him to wear the shoes is an option although you would have to tape the velcro down in the morning or something so that he can't continually adjust it but others will have to be on board at school and such so that no one touches his shoes...

Jnavits12 :

The trick is you want to remove the stimulus from him...either by making it impossible for him to unvelcro them himself...or removing the velcro.

Jnavits12 :

This is the type of shoe I was suggesting above...the US page has $ and not #...they didn't have it on the UK page but do have some that are closed with bungees which are pretty hard for a little kid to manuver.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Ok im just having a look at the link now
Jnavits12 :

Not that I am selling these for keen but I bought these for my 4 year old who took forever to put her shoes on and then refused to close them herself and we are very happy with them

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : He wouldnt be allowed to wear these for school :( or football :(
Jnavits12 :

Too bad! Another thought I am having but you may have already tried are inserts?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Yes tried inserts but he dislikes them and just pulls them out
Jnavits12 :

Got it.

Jnavits12 :

One other thought is that you may be able to talk with the school and negotiate different shoes being allowed for him as this is a problem every day and is disrupting them as well.

Jnavits12 :

Most schools are willing to bend dress codes a bit when there is a medical issue...

Jnavits12 :

Have you also tried thicker socks?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Yes tried thicker socks. I have tried all the obvious and am now desperate which is why I emailed on here hoping that I had missed something and there would be another answer.....
Jnavits12 :

So to summarize for you there probably is not rational reason that having his shoes feel looser makes him uncomfortable and thus it is a problem that really can't be rationalized when dealing with a 5 year old. The best strategy is to remove the issue from in front of him either by making it impossible for him to adjust his shoes (by changing shoe models (that seems not possible based on what you mention for school rules and also for soccer), by making the Velcro un-changable and reinforcing he will not be able to change it once it has been tightened at home

Jnavits12 :

Often kids will go through a phase (translate not lasting), that can include some type of physical stimulus bothering them and become "obsessed" with it other examples are the way underwear fit, labels, things being itchy...

Jnavits12 :

Laying out the rules with the Velcro (meaning he can only touch it before leaving the house) needs to be done and be clear and then you have to make it very very hard for him to change them (but I can't think of a way to keep his shoes on if he wants to take them off!). You can explain to him that you think that this issue is making things hard for him and you want him to be able to stop concentrating on how his feet feel.

Jnavits12 :

So that he can be enjoying what he would otherwise normally be doing. OCD type behaviors in kids can be the sign of further issues to come but they are common enough not to mean that he will have problems in the future. I recommend seeing a psychologist when the behaviors are consuming and taking up a large part of their functional day and keeping them from being regular kids.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Ok thankyou
Jnavits12 :

I would love to have a magic bullet for you that doesn't involve some of what you have thought of in the past but it seems that your thoughts have been right on target and that he is just out lasting you guys with his behavior.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Do you think that if we can remove th velcro that overtime he will forget and be able to wear velcro shoes again? By him wearing a tpe of shoe that is a slp on he will look like the odd one out at school and children can say mean things and I would want hm to be picked on for wearing "odd" looking shoes!
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Meant to say... Wouldnt not would
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Sorry typing fast so spelling mistakes!
Jnavits12 :

The thing is that you may invest in a shoe and then have him say he doesn't like it as it isn't "tight enough" and I would have to have you spend $ to just not use something....the slip on shoes that I mentioned ( I have had many models for my 2 girls who are both really rough with shoes) don't tend to slip on/off the foot when walking as the sides come up high.

Jnavits12 :

but that is my experience...although you can also argue that if faced with only one shoe option that is not adjustable it is simplifying the issue a bit as there will only be one option.

Jnavits12 :

Football would have to be his regular cleats or you could even have him run in this type of shoe as well as they are kind of sneakers as well!

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Thats what I think he would do.... He wouldnt want to wear them because he wouldnt be able to control how tight they are. I dont think i will be able to solve this problem with buying new shoes so i guess you are telling me i cant solve it and i have to hope he grows out of it?
Jnavits12 :

You may be able to keep working on the velcro and hope he grows out of the problem but as I mentioned above I don't think that allowing him to keep touching the velcro helps as it will never be at his liking and can always be improved....

Jnavits12 :

But if he only had one shoe option and no other options that may get rid of the problem faster as a slip on shoe won't be adjusted and then he will have to wear shoes to go out so he will have to wear them...simplify

Jnavits12 :

What I would do if he were mine is talk to him about this being disruptive and a big problem for you guys. Allow him to adjust his shoes say 2 times before leaving the house and that is it for all day...then apply some duct tape or something to the velcro he can't easily take off (it does come in black)....and if this doesn't work explaining of course what the plan is tell him he will get a slip on shoe that he may find loose....

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : But he cant wear a skip on shoe for football or other sports that he does :( if i can find a slip on school shoe it doesnt help outside of school as he needs to be able to wear other shoes
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I cannot see the school being happy with them having to take duct tape off his shoes when they play sport and then having to reapply it!
Jnavits12 :

There are also many slip on sneakers although no slip on cleats that I have seen....but I would for football get them where he wants them after say 2 adjustments on your part and them tape them down.

Jnavits12 :

Well sometimes they can expend some extra effort when there is a problem...the whole situation that you are having is not "usual" and is causing you and from what you say the teachers at school distress and needs to be worked on and if it involves a simple solution like the tape and sticking to the small number of allotted adustments you may find they will be willing to help.

Jnavits12 :

How long has this been going on to this extent?

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : About 6 weeks
Jnavits12 :

So 6 weeks is not that long from what you had posted however it seems like something that kind of was gradual.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I thinks he has figured out its something he can control
Jnavits12 :

Exactly!

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Started about 8-10 weeks ago and over the first few weeks kept getting worse
Jnavits12 :

Again there is probably nothing rational about it whatsoever....why would he want shoes that are so tight they cut off his circulation! It is kind of like a thing maybe it can still be better, maybe if I just try again they can feel a bit better etc...as I mentioned above it may have had something that helped it set him off...like if his shoes was loose and he slipped and hurt himself a bit or something like that.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I did shoutnwhen he first started doing it
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : I did shout when he first started doing it
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Maybe my initial reaction caused him to continue to do it
JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Sorry trying to type whilst preparing food
Jnavits12 :

Then it was like he got stuck in a repetitive rut and feels like he has to keep doing it to find the perfect position...lots of kids play with velcro because they like the rip sensation and the way it sounds...i doubt it so don't blame yourself.

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : Yes i would agree he does keep doing it to find the perfect solution
Jnavits12 :

He probably got some benefit in the beginning from the sensation of opening and reattaching the velcro and this is more likely what made it continue...

Jnavits12 :

Which is why you have to only allow him a few tries (I would pick 2) and then the reinforcing of this part is the hard part...

Jnavits12 :

It is like taking a kid to a buffet to eat where there are all sorts of kiddie foods they love.....the eyes glaze over and they can't choose too many options...

Jnavits12 :

narrowing down the options will help him accept the solution...either by removing the velcro shoes, tying a lace up shoe in a billion knots before leaving home so he can't undo them,or taping them down....

JACUSTOMER-yi1o25io- : But you dont think if we keep using the velcro without tape that he will grow out of it over time? I think he will find the tape embarrassing as he will be different to the other children and im sure children will comment on it!
Jnavits12 :

I think that removing the issue and the ability to reposition his shoes by himself will help him get over it yes....you may not be talking about a lot of time here.....you can also try talking to him and seeing how he thinks you can work on it...if he needs tape or not. Again kids his age really do not concentrate too much on what others think so it is kind of like these are my shoes...ok lets go play...

Jnavits12 :

I wish you the absolute best in working on this. You have every right to try to make this annoying behavior extinguish itself and I hope that it doesn't get replaced by something else! Talk to your partner and see what you both think may work and the most important thing is consistency...once you pick your rules or your strategy do not waver in any way.

Jnavits12 :

If you say 2 adjustments in the morning before leaving school that is what it is and there is not way around a 3d....the first few days will be tantrum full but they should stop after doing the same thing every day and not bending the rules....I think that in a course of a week or 2 at the most you should be able to have outings that do not revolve around how his shoes could be tighter!

Jnavits12 :

I think you may be finishing off your meal. I have to go myself and attend to out food prep! Again good luck to you and please continue to reply as much as you feel you need to thanks!

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