How to Preschooler: Getting Dressed Edition
November 7, 2016 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Our charming and funny three-year-old has chosen getting dressed as her battlefield for asserting her independence. This is...not good. While we have plenty of time to eat and play and enjoy our family in the mornings. But lately we have been spending that time battling over whether mini-rainbow will wear clothes to school. We adults always win, but not without feeling like we have already maxed out our interpersonal patience reserves. We both work in people-centric jobs so it would be helpful if we could leave the house in a better interpersonal space.

Here is what we have tried so far:
-Sleeping in her clothes - No go. She likes her PJ's or nothing at all.
-Having the clothes "talk" to her and ask to be put on her body. Used to work, but no longer.
-Sit on in time out until ready to co-operate. I hate this as it just escalates the battle and guarantees a bad morning. It's where we keep ending up, though.
- Play her favorite game, "mommy bird and baby bird." - This also used to work, but now it doesn't
-I have noticed that she is really sensitive to tags, seams, non-jersey materials. I am trying to eliminate these from her wardrobe, but I can't tell if she just has these "rules" about which clothes are acceptable to delay getting dressed. If so, then she will just find something to hate about the jersey clothes next.

How did you resolve getting dressed battles at your home?
Alternatively, how did you teach your 36 month old how to dress herself so that she felt independent AND actually got ready for school.
posted by songs_about_rainbows to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Pick out clothes the night before, so debates are minimized. Make it a game (how fast can we do it today? Let's beat the clock!). Visual checklist so she can feel she's driving the bus on the routine (like picture of shirt, picture of pants/skirt, etc and you check it off as you finish it). And for really bad days? Let them win and go to school in pjs. It's not going to kill anyone and kid will probably not want to do it again.
posted by goggie at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you tried letting her pick out her own clothing the night before? (I mean, if that is tights and a tutu, that's fine right?)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am watching this carefully because we had problems when my daughter was three, had some success and are now having challenges again :(

Here are things that we tried that worked for at least a little..and still work on occasion:

- the night before we give her three choices and she gets to pick her outfit, including underwear, socks, shoes. That helped to remove the debate in the morning. Then in the morning we very excitedly reminded her about the special outfit she picked

- sticker charts. We created a little chart with three things in the morning and at night and she got a sticker when she did them. When she got so many, she got a little prize. The chart was basically: morning - get dressed, brush teeth and potty. Night time was pick outfit, brush teeth, bath. The prizes were things like those Melissa and Doug headband kits that are 5 bucks and we had different stickers we could use to mix it up
posted by polkadot at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason she can't wear pajamas to daycare/preschool? Because this sounds miserable for everyone and no one ever won a power struggle with a 3-year-old.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

Oh, we also "race" getting ready in the morning. I set a timer for 5 minutes and we both get dressed and see who "wins." Note.. I usually let her win!
posted by polkadot at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have not been through this but have seen kids at our preschool (which has a uniform) in pyjamas. Usually only for a week or so, which leads me to believe that removing the requirement works.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

My son wore pyjamas during the day for 19 months. It was ok, and the second day of kindergarten he put on real clothes. It won't last forever, so make sure she has weather appropriate pjs!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

My bet is that the clothes are uncomfortable and it's hard for her to verbalize. I hated wearing socks and other things when I was a little kid. Basically: get her more comfortable clothes. This is a really hard battle.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:07 AM on November 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

It helped us letting out kid play a part in the choosing. We framed it as him getting to be extra grown up and choose his own outfits, and that held appeal. If you're worried about the combinations she may come up with (but really, who cares, she's 3) then lay out a couple shirts and a couple bottoms and let her pick from just that set. Or just LET her pick the crazy stuff. If she wants to wear a star wars t-shirt with a tutu and rubber boots, awesome. Who cares. she changed, and that is the battle you're currently fighting.

and yes, get her more comfortable clothes. If everything is buttons and zippers and tags and fussiness, then go super toned down. T-shirt and leggings. Make sure her clothes are big enough, too. Kids grow so fast and it is easy for them to outgrow clothes before you know it.

Alternatively, stash her pyjama-looking pyjamas and have her "pyjamas" be tshirts and leggings. Just say she has some new jammies and then when she kicks up a fuss in the morning and won't change you can give in. She'll feel like she won.

Also, maybe get her to change just ONE part of her outfit to start. She has to change her pants or her top, one or the other. That may help as well.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:13 AM on November 7, 2016

I would let her wear pjs to school. You could transition leggings and tunics into her pj routine so that she has some pjs that function and look more like clothes.
But if you can't do that:
Does her preschool have a reward system that she likes? Have you asked her teachers for advice? At some point I started adapting my kid's school systems into the home, and it made things so much easier. We had a "gem jar" where she could put shiny beads in the jar when she did well, signs with pictures showing her how to do routines, etc. Teachers can be great resources for problems like this too. They've seen it all and may have advice or may help by being extra encouraging when she does wear a cute outfit.
I'd also let her pick out her outfits and encourage dress up clothes, dresses, or silly outfits. Anything that makes getting dressed fun for her.
You could have a contest to see who can get dressed first - her or daddy? Turn the radio up and dance while she's getting dressed.
Re the tags and clothing sensitivities: I deal with a lot of that too and it's frustrating. I've decided to go along with it and remove the tags, etc. I know sometimes my child is being overly sensitive, but what seems to work the best is to show her that I'll work with her when I can, but there are circumstances where she has to follow the clothing rules. For instance she doesn't have to wear socks (hates socks!), but she does have to wear furry boots if it's cold outside.
posted by areaperson at 10:23 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you tried having her choose the clothes (preferably the night before?)

We have trouble with socks here, my little one has very sensitive feet apparently and weird fit issues. I've had the best luck with socks from Costco. Uggs-style boots are warm and generally easy on the feet.

It's not the end of the world to just send her in PJs if she refuses to get dressed. (It helps if the PJs are basically clothes, like sweatpants or yoga pants.) She will either do fine that way, or be uncomfortable, which will motivate her to cooperate in getting dressed.

I will note that my older kid won't wear anything more restrictive than a short sleeve t-shirt and yoga pants. Even when it's cold. So that's what she wears. I don't care, if she doesn't.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2016

If you're dealing with sensory issues, picking clothes out the night before will not help. Things that felt fine last time they were worn can be unbearable today, with no obvious rhyme or reason.

We dealt with clothing issues last year and it's a lot better now, but still not perfect. We do our best to a) stock really comfortable clothes - knit pants, sleeves with no tight cuff, definitely no tags - and keep a lot of choices in her dresser at all times, and b) reassure her that we know she's genuinely having a hard time with how things are making her body feel, and that's not her fault, and that we're here to help her.

We also saw an occupational therapist for a few sessions. We found some of her suggestions (related to deep pressure, specifically) really helpful. One thing that helped last year when we were really having a hard time getting my kid dressed was letting her play with a squishy toy WHILE she got dressed. We used Model Magic, which is like play-doh but doesn't get ground into the rug. It distracted her enough from whatever was uncomfortable that we managed to get shoes on and into the car without meltdowns more often. Providing new or different sensory input while she was getting dressed helped a bunch. Feel free to memail me if you want to talk about it, it's super rough.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:25 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just solved this problem for my slow-poke kid. He's 8, so age difference might make a difference, but I'll throw this out here anyway in case it is helpful. After battling for months about this, it finally occurred to me to offer a positive reinforcement. I told him he could earn a "credit" towards a new Kindle game if he was able to get dressed in a certain amount of time. 5 credits = a new game. I kid you not, he got dressed in under a minute the first day and every day since then has not been an issue. This is after it would sometimes take him 20 minutes to take off his pajamas.

Maybe you can do something similar with a sticker chart and a timer? Make it a game where she gets to press start on the timer, gets to pick out a favorite sticker, and gets to pick something "big" she can work towards (a treat, extra screen time, etc. whatever her weakness is). I agree with picking out the clothes the night before, too.
posted by LKWorking at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2016

If she likes only tagless, jersey knit things, try if you haven't already. Solid color, soft basics, and they are expanding their line all the time.
posted by cabingirl at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd try all the strategies above, and try ways to make this as positive as you can. Get the soft clothes, the "new" pajamas that are actually daywear-appropriate, give her choices, reward for cooperation. Lots of good advice upthread.

But frankly, I have a child who is the same age, and my solution when she refuses to cooperate is to give her a set number of chances (or amount of time) to do $thing, with 2-3 reminders that she has X more chances/amount of time or I will have to help her, and then I physically make her do it.

This is the sort of thing that sounds cruel when you write it on paper, but if you are gentle with your voice and actions, I don't think that overpowering a 3 year old is inappropriate.* When she gets angry and screams, I kindly narrate how mad she is, how she didn't want to put on clothes/brush her teeth/etc, but gently remind her that this is a requirement of our morning. Then I cuddle and kiss her as needed until she feels better. This is much less draining than a long fight because she gets upset but then recovers and is happy again very quickly. I require of myself to never overpower her in anger.

3 is a tricky stage - no longer a baby, not yet a big kid. It's certainly a time to be working towards negotation-based strategies. But my first kid wasn't there yet at 3, and my second isn't now. So I give her time and space, but eventually the thing has to happen, and the only way (that I've found) to imbue the lesson that the thing has to happen is to make the thing happen. I feel like otherwise the kid is just learning that they can ignore 1,000,004 requests to please come brush their teeth now. Once you have established that after being asked 3 times you are physically fetched to the bathroom, they are more likely to respond to the second or third call. Sort of a "We can do this your way or my way." kind of thing.

Although as one last disclaimer, I do think that if you choose this route, the onus is on you to look as closely as you can at whether there are any real problems here - to watch carefully and frequently reexamine whether this is 3 year old being a tiny dictator because that's what 3 year olds do, or whether there are environmental issues, sensory or otherwise that need to be addressed.

*We had entirely phased this out by 4 years old with the first kid, I think the same will be true with the second.
posted by telepanda at 10:31 AM on November 7, 2016 [15 favorites]

Also, the only requirements we have for our 3 year old's clothes are
(1) no more than five shirts and
(2) a distribution of items that cover a seasonally appropriate percentage of the body.

Other than that she wears whatever the hell she wants, no matter how ridiculous. (Really, when in your life *can* you do that, if not when you're three?)

Also my son sleeps in his clothes because he hates changing clothes and can't face doing it more than once a day. We were totally on board with this. But if your daughter doesn't want to get dressed in the morning *and* she doesn't want to sleep in her clothes, then something's gotta give.
posted by telepanda at 10:39 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would say go to school in pajamas but add that you send her with regular clothes, she can change at school if it bothers her. That way it's really her choice.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:49 AM on November 7, 2016

Here is a trick which I've used successfully, but other friends have tried and failed, so YMMV: Get the kid to choose the outfit from two or three options. Kid says they don't want to get dressed? You say happily, "OK! I'll go and make breakfast and you get dressed and come downstairs when you're ready". In this house that results in the kid getting bored about half a second after I go downstairs and getting dressed and coming for breakfast.
posted by emilyw at 10:50 AM on November 7, 2016

The good news is that this is a phase and will end! Hang in there!

The battles in the morning over clothing are unproductive and just leave everyone unhappy. I found a lot that the only winning move with 2-4 year olds when they've dug their heels in is not to play. If she wants to wear her PJs to school, so what? As long as they are weather appropriate, who cares? A kid at my children's daycare once wore his Halloween costume for a solid month. Save your battles for the stuff that actually matters, like seatbelts or bedtime.

Also, maybe take her shopping. She might get excited to wear stuff if she has a say in picking it out.
posted by sutel at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

This won't win any parent of the year awards, but I sometimes get my preschooler dressed first thing in the morning after he wakes up while he's watching TV. He's sleepy and distracted, and cares much less. Plus, since I do it first thing, there's no last minute rush to increase my frustration and his resistance. I decided that learning to dress himself can come with time and is not worth the fights at the moment.
posted by yarly at 11:11 AM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

If she likes her PJs, why not make all of her clothes as much like her PJs as is possible? Even as an adult, this is basically my operating goal for clothing at all times.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:16 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I’m probably jinxing myself by saying this, but at the moment my daughter will let me dress her in whatever I want provided we’re doing it in front of the TV. I have zero qualms about using the screen to hypnotize her. Also, pretty much her entire wardrobe could double as pajamas. Of course, she’s only 2.5, and I hear that 3 is a whole new world, so this may be useless to you.
posted by Kriesa at 11:18 AM on November 7, 2016

Does she have any favorite clothes? My kiddo went through this phase, but we recently let him pick out a bunch of Star Wars shirts and "soft" (sweat) pants at the store and all of a sudden he was interested in what he wore. I make it seem like getting to wear his favorite outfits is a big treat and now he usually is happy to get dressed every morning - sometimes even by himself.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 11:28 AM on November 7, 2016

Quick tip - if the toe seams on socks are bothering her, turn the socks inside out. They'll still do their job, the seam will be on the outside not bothering her but usually inside shoes, and you won't need to find perfect seamless socks that she'll outgrow soon anyway.
posted by Mizu at 11:55 AM on November 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

My 3.5 year old picks her own clothes to wear to school. Full stop. If that means going in pjs, so be it. Today she was in a sun dress, a blue velvet coat, and snow boots. This kid is ALWAYS hot, so she refuses coats almost always. I bring one to school so she has it. The teachers never have mentioned a problem getting her to wear it when she needs to. She has to wear shorts under her dresses now (she almost only wears dresses) because she hangs upside down on things. Otherwise, whatever. Not worth the fight. We have cut down on the discussion/time it takes by limiting her wardrobe to fewer things.

My seven year old was the same way. She continues to dress herself.

They both provide me advice, and have pretty good fashion sense, really :)

Pick your battles. Clothes is an easy one to give them independence on.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:12 PM on November 7, 2016

Turn the socks inside out.

Omg Mizu, you may have just transformed my mornings!
posted by areaperson at 12:16 PM on November 7, 2016

My 3yo sits on his potty and watches YouTube Kids videos while I dress him.

Back when he was a baby, I decided to give him the most comfy clothes I could find him (based on a AskMe from a few years back for an older kid) and that seems to work well for us. Sweat pants, thermal shirts or soft cotton shirts, comfy socks and unders, easy on-off shoes. Done!

Our battle is jacket, hat and mittens. When he was 2, he would NOT put on mittens until his hands got so cold that I finally convinced him to let me put them on him and he figured it out! And the weather has been back and forth cool and warm, so I just bring the jacket along and verbally let him know that if he gets cold, I have it in case he wants to be warm again.

I follow the gentle parenting philosophy, and so this post by Nurshable is my guidelines for jackets. (Where I live it will be bitterly cold, and we will have another battleground for winter jacket versus fall jacket when it gets colder, I'm sure.)
posted by jillithd at 12:36 PM on November 7, 2016

Nth picking out clothes the night before. Just make provisions for things being warm enough. Selecting 2-3 outfits is a good way to do this.

I would also worry about ANY parenting activity that results in frequent time outs. Time outs are like the antibiotics of toddler/pre-school parenting. Frequent use will result in Time-Out resistant behavior, which is best to avoid.
posted by French Fry at 1:00 PM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Find a way to deescalate. Whether that is wearing PJs to school or a choice the night before or in the morning, whatever works for your family. The key to me with my three was recognizing that there was a bigger issue or another issue rather than the clothes themselves. Most of the time it was getting attention.

For what it is worth, this is just the beginning. Try negotiating with a 5th or 6th grade boy to put on long pants and not shorts in the winter. Kids will refuse to wear jackets in sub freezing weather. Try negotiating with a teenager to wear appropriate clothing.

Good luck.
posted by AugustWest at 1:26 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Teachers and therapists and doctors, etc., kept suggesting visual schedules and that sort of thing, but it just wasn't coming together for us. What finally worked for us -- this is very idiosyncratic! -- was: you know how PBS kids shows are in two 15-minute segments? So, I'd turn on the TV during his favorite show (Curious George at the time) and he could watch the first segment. Then during the interstitial (where they talk to live action kids or have a little song or something on most of them), he had to put his clothes on. If he got them on, he got to watch the second segment of the show. If he didn't, I turned the TV off until he was dressed.

It took a few days for him to "get it," but he felt a lot more control because Curious George was a "schedule" or a "clock" he could easily understand and he knew when "getting dressed" was coming and it was at a natural break in his attention (as one segment ended). It also served as distraction and incentive all in one -- he could keep watching the interstitial while I put his clothes on him, and if he cooperated he got the second half of the show. Eventually it quit being a battle and we don't have to use the "TV timer" anymore! This also limited the fighting over it to 15 minutes, which was the time of the second segment (we left the house at the end of that segment, naked or clothed!).

(I also think it's totally okay to wear PJs to preschool, and most of the moms will be like, "I wish I was that chill as a mom!" and feel jealous, not judgy.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:40 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would pick out two acceptable(to me) outfits the night before. The next morning I would ask my daughter which one she wanted to wear. That was it. For her it was a way of asserting her independence and a way for me to get her into acceptable clothes. Weekends it was whatever, just so she had something on her body.
posted by PJMoore at 5:43 PM on November 7, 2016

Also, we've been pretty pleased with for tagless clothes, and the PJs are pretty wearable as everyday clothes because you can get black/navy bottoms that look enough like pants, and all different tops. They have PJ pants, sweat pants, yoga pants, and leggings, which could all pass for "PJs" for your kid, and many different styles of tops, if you want to find something between PJs and clothes that she might accept. Very soft and mostly (all?) tagless.

Wouldn't a mini-rainbow be a sundog?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:45 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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