7 year old girl refuses to get herself dressed!

Hello BPN,

I'm at my wits end with my 7 year olds refusal to get dressed in the morning. Every morning I tell her that I am going to get myself ready and make her lunch and that I need her to get herself dressed. She won't do it. She says she needs "help". Basically she wants me to sit there while she takes 30 min deciding on an outfit (note - she wears a uniform, so she is just choosing from various navy blue items). I refuse to "help" her and tell her she is a big girl and can do it herself. She won't do it. I go to pack her lunch/dress myself and come back 20 min later and she's still not dressed. I end up screaming every morning until she finally does it. She cries. I feel like an ass. Am I choosing the wrong battle? Maybe I should just help???

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I think she wants attention and I think your instincts are to train her out of this. I was the same way, fearful that if I gave in to this I would create a monster.  Can you tell her, I would love to help you but we have to do it in 10 minutes and then I need you you to help me get dressed too? Or, "first, help me get dressed (and have her help you pick YOUR outfit) and pack your lunch." Talk to her while you do these things, but at the same time, point her towards the clock and say 'we need to both be ready by 8" or whatever your deadline is.  Generally, make it more of a "you and me against the clock" situation than "me against you" problem.  

My 5 yo daughter often also wanted me to "help" her get dressed and I also hated this. It has gotten better since she decided it was fine to sleep in the next day's outfit. Now she can just jump out of bed in the morning and come right to breakfast, saves a lot of time in the morning. Can you talk your daughter into that? Or at least picking out the outfit the night before, laying it out ready to go?

I think you're doing the right thing, but could take the argument out of it.  

Here's one way.  At a good time, not in the morning, when everyone is happy, explain to her how proud you are of her growth/ maturity and that there is a new plan for the mornings to be calm and fun.   Let her know you've already seen big progress and know she's on the path to not needing you in her room to help her dress.  Then give her the plan you want in the interim...where you do your thing and she does hers, with no yelling.  If all goes well, their could be a brief "fun time together"- you would have to decide what this might be, something she likes a lot and would want to get with you (say for about 5-10 minutes), before you go to the car.  If she's running late, then instead of the "fun time" you'll have the same amount of time to sit in her room without talking so she can finish getting dressed.  No matter what, you leave at the same time every day- even if she's still in PJs.  When you set up for this conversation, try to lay out all of the possible outcomes and how you will handle them so she can know what to expect ahead of time.  Then she is in control and gets to choose what kind of morning she would like. 

Any "argument" would happen at the time you talk about this new plan.  Then in the mornings, you just calmly enforce the plan, even if she's really upset.  There will likely be a break in period, but it will settle down over time.

We must have the same daughter! In general she is a great kid with a great attitude, but the getting dressed thing is dreadful. Here's what we're doing now and it works as long as we remember to do it - She picks out her school clothes the day before and understands that there is no switching around unless the weather unexpectedly changes (shorts to leggings or similar.) If she has trouble finding something, I'll give her two or three clothing options and let her know that is all I can do to help her. The next morning, she has to get dressed before she eats. I give her about 5 minutes of changing time (somehow she can take 20 minutes or more!) then a reminder to hurry up and change. (I have no sense of humor in the morning but if you do, make the changing process fun - I like another poster's comment about beating the clock.)

If morning arrives and she forgot to pick out clothes the day before, then I just quickly pull out two clothing options and walk away. She can choose one of those or pick something else, but I won't help anymore.

I think that the getting dressed problem is just a symptom of some other problem. Maybe going back to school is creating worries or she doesn't like making choices in general or is afraid of doing the wrong thing. I usually find that my daughter wants to fuss at me when something is wrong somewhere else in her world.

As a retired Kindergarten teacher I can tell you this is one of the most common problems parents have. As far as I can tell it's a cry for "assistance" when the world seems full of pressure. I once had one little darling that told me she was afraid to go on to First Grade. She was a top student who understood concepts with ease so I was confused. When I asked her why, she said there was so much to learn the coming year that "my head might explode". She was in all seriousness. Lay out your daughter's clothes in the same place every night and see if that helps. Usually, this problem escalates until everyone is tense, so when you go back in, just matter of factly dress her. I would also start a little "journal". Go with her to Target or whatnot and choose a notebook together. Then everyday after school, take 15 minutes to let her dictate what the best thing about her day was. Then she can illustrate it on her own. I don't want to be negative, but the government has placed so many demands on very young children in terms of testing and curriculum that it is a completely different experience than you or I had. I just retired this year, so I'm still up to date with these requirements and I feel they are overwhelming to some children. She will come round, they always do. Why not keep it positive :)

That is one battle I'm not willing to have in the morning.  It creates stress for all of us and then my kids are a mess for the day.  My kids (5 and 2) layout their clothes on Sunday for the week (I do it for the 2 yr old) and can only change if we got the weather wrong or forgot an activity and the outfit isn't appropriate.  It changes the battle from once a day to once a week.  It also has the benefit of helping them know how whether or not it's a school day.  In the morning I can grab the days outfit and take it to them to put on or ask if they want to come get dressed with me.  Some days I just say hey you are getting dressed now and put the outfit on while they're doing something else.  I figure I'd rather just get out the door in as timely, as calm as possible manner.  It's not going to be an issue forever.

I think I would want to know why she is doing this if possible (it's pretty much impossible for me to figure out why MY 7yo does or doesn't do anything!)... Is this the only thing she is like this about? Did it start suddenly? Sometimes I get positive results by trying to talk calmly with mine when he's refusing something (at a separate time when we're both calm). Ask her what is difficult for her about dressing. Maybe she's getting teased at school or something (although uniforms make that unlikely--but maybe it's something along those lines). Maybe she wants the attention. Maybe she is picking a power struggle with you (mine likes to do that when he's feeling powerless). My basic premise with this stuff is empathize with the feelings behind the behavior however ridiculous their basis, problem-solve together, have her participate in coming up with a solution so she owns it, make your expectations clear, reward success. 

Hi - Is this a new behavior or ongoing since toddlerhood?  If new, has she experienced big changes at home or possibly her new class is causing some anxiety?  if this has been an ongoing behavior there are several approaches to consider.  A friend of mine bought a hanging shelf made out of material.  It hangs in the closet and has 5-7 "selves" or cubbies.  Each week, her girls put in their outfits for each day of the week.  That way, her girls went to their cubby for the day and didn't have to think about what to wear.  If this won't work for you, she can pick an outfit the night before and set it aside in her room.  Maybe without having to think about what to wear, she will be more open to putting on her clothes if they are already picked out.  If this doesn't work and she still wants you to dress her you can let her know if you dress her you get to pick out the outfit.  This only works if she really likes picking out her clothes.  A more direct route would be that she needs to be dress by leaving time or she goes to school in her pjs.  One day of going in her pjs should encourage her to not do that again.  You could also get her up earlier and dress her.  Maybe she needs more time with you or wants to win this battle.  I am sure by the time she is in the next grade she will dress herself and if not, you can choose a more direct route (as mentioned above).  Each child is different and has different needs.  Only you know if this is something that needs to be 'fixed" now and how.  Hopefully, some of the responses are helpful in resolving this for you in the near future.

Have you tried having her lay out her clothes the night before and doing it together?  Time wouldn't be so crunched in the evening and she gets to do it with you. 


Some suggestions for you: 1) Each morning walk in and pull out 2 choices of clothes for her to wear.  She has to choose 1 of the 2.  To reduce your time in the mornings, you can select the week's options during the weekend and bundle them appropriately. 2) If this timeline works out, have her get dressed when you get dressed.  This way she will see she has a finite time and she gets the Mom time as well. 

Take her to school in her pajamas. That should put a stop to it. Been there

Pick out the outfit the night before, make sure she chooses it or at least agrees to it.

I totally get that you have many things to do in the morning, and it is frustrating that your daughter doesn't want to or in some way isn't able to get herself ready on her own.  In my mind, her behavior isn't so unusual at that age.  A process that sometimes works in situations of conflicting needs, with children this age or older, is something I will try to describe.  At a time when you are both calm and there is no time pressure, sit down with her for a talk, and say something like this:  "Our mornings seem to be hard.  There are things I need to do, and we both need to get dressed.  I have asked you in past to please get yourself dressed, but then when I come to check on you, you aren't ready yet.  Then I get mad and yell.  I am very sorry, I do not want to yell at you!"  Pause here, to see if she has anything to say, perhaps that it scares her, or it she feels sad.  You can offer validation and say you are sorry again, and will try to manage your frustration better.  "This is why I am  trying to talk to you so that the two of us can come up with a way that works better for both of us, and I won't get so frustrated.  Could you help us find a better solution?  Do you have any suggestions for how to make things work better in the mornings?  What do you need?"  This is a time to really listen.  Often kids have fears, or they simply can't focus well on their own and get distracted or go into fantasy world.  See if you can come up with something that could work for both of you.  Maybe she needs to pick out her outfit the night before?  Maybe she wants to bring her clothes into your room, so you can both get dressed, or in the kitchen while you get lunch ready?  Maybe she can help you pack the lunch if you stay with her for a bit to help her to get dressed?  You are looking for win-win situations that take both of your needs into account.  Sometimes kids then need reminders the night before.  Remember what we agreed on?  And you go through the scenario.  Then you try it out, and see if the new plan works, or if it needs adjusting or redesigning.  Anything that goes better, make sure you mention it, and how much you appreciate her help.  Good luck!  Parenting is hard work!

Yvonne Mansell

So my 10 year old girl does something similar in the morning. She likes me to hand her the clothes, and stay with her when she gets ready. I, especially when I'm trying to do other things, have gotten very annoyed in the past. Me getting angry never helped. Now I look at as a bonding time. Things go better when I just go with it.

Her behavior says to me that she needs attention. I had the same problem with 2 daughters. What we decided to do was to give them baths in the evening then have them put on their school clothes then. Yes, they went to school with wrinkled clothes, but it eliminated the power struggle and bought us all so much peace in the mornings. When they had their first pajama party in kindergarten, I bought them real pajamas for the first time. The best of luck to you.

Pick your battles - this is not worth it first thing in the morning before she's separated from you all day. In fact, needing special attention from you may be just what she needs before the STRESS of school and separation. Right now you're giving her negative attention, and she's learning that even this feels better than nothing. If you had boys as I do, you'd realize that this is SUPER common until much later ages. Mine can barely choose and don't care what the hell they wear. They love it when I just put their clothes out! I put out their stuff the night before and it literally takes 2 mins. The morning assignment is just - get dressed, meet me downstairs, and if you're there by x time then we can cuddle for 5 mins or I'll read a few pages of your book or whatever. Something cozy and fun. Dont let the stress of your own day ruin these precious minutes with your child in the morning. sw

Has she been able to dress herself in the past?  Can she actually do it completely on her own?  Sounds like she may be some experiencing some difficulties that could be helped by an occupational therapist or a psychologist.  At the very least, you might try a new approach and help her until the activity becomes less "loaded" and then you can both move on to something new!