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Why is Getting Dressed Such a Battle?

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Teaching a child to cross the road safely and sensibly is something most parents take seriously. Apply the same logic of “TEACHING” to getting a child dressed and you won’t have battles over clothes. (Well, at least not until they are teenagers.)

Recently, we were in the park, wrapped up in our coats, hats and glove (it’s November) and there was a little girl wearing a lovely summer dress. She had tights on but no vest or coat. She looked like she was freezing, with blue hands and lips! I caught her dad's eye. He shrugged and said, "We gave up fighting over clothes years ago. Now we just let her get cold. Got to pick your battles, right?"

WRONG!!! Our job as parents is to guide, teach, nurture, support, love, nourish etc. It's not to let our children figure it out on their own. As adults, we have the knowledge and experience to help them learn and to teach them how to make the right decisions. It's not an easy job, it can be very repetitious and boring at times, but our children rely on us to do this job as best we can.

When we "pick our battles", we fail to fulfil our role as parents, we don't do our job properly and most children don't have anyone else to teach them these basic life skills. Not only getting dressed, but WHAT TO WEAR as well as how and when to clean their teeth, wash themselves, talk to people, understand other people's feelings, play with things so they don't get broken, walk safely down the street, cross the road, be kind to others... The list could go on and on.

When babies are tiny it's obvious what our role is, but as they grow older and they push against our decisions, it gets more difficult to work out what is important and needs to be seen through. But unless you are confident that your child can make the right decision on their own, you need to guide them towards it and you HAVE to see it through otherwise you are not setting them up for life on their own in the future.

So when your toddler starts to fight with you about what they wear, think about why you have chosen the clothes you have chosen and think about what you are trying to teach your child. Are you trying to teach them about how to look good and attract attention (something they can figure out on their own), or are you teaching them to wear clothes that are appropriate for the weather and the activities of the day?

How to avoid battles over clothes:

  • · From when your child is 12-18 months old, before picking out their clothes for the day, take them to the window and look outside. Talk about the weather and temperature. You can even take a look at the forecast for the day.

  • · Talk about your plans for the day, even if they are just to potter about at home and take a trip to the park.

  • · Next talk about what kind of clothes you need to choose to suit your day’s activities AND to keep them warm/cool.

  • · If they try to resist YOUR CHOICE firmly explain that those clothes will keep them warm/cool depending on the weather.

  • · DO NOT argue or discuss with them. If they have a tantrum, acknowledge that they are feeling cross because they aren’t happy with your choice and then wait for them to calm down before getting them dressed in the clothes YOU have chosen.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do make a decision based on the weather and day’s activities. Children rely on us to teach them to make the right decisions.

  • Do teach your child about hot and cold, weather and health.

  • Don’t start giving choices until your child has been taught how to make a sensible choice.

  • Don’t give choices until your child is old enough to cope with the choices. Too many choices are overwhelming and make children feel insecure which leads to them becoming controlling and and behaving in difficult ways to maintain your attention.

  • Do put clothes out of sight if they are not suitable for the time of year. (Summer dresses can be stored away until the weather is warm.)

Follow this and by three and a half or four years old, your child will be able to choose the appropriate clothes to wear and can start adding their own style to their outfits.

If you are already having battles about getting dressed with your child, you can take control and start this at any age, just accept that there will probably be a couple of tantrums while you redefine your role and take the control away from your child. Just remember why you're doing it and don't feel guilty if your child feels cross.

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