Getting dressed struggles
I have an almost 4-year-old who has become very needy and inflexible the closer he got to age 3. My husband and I used to trade mornings and other tasks, but now there are certain things e.g. going into his room in the morning, help with getting dressed, wiping his hands after eating, going potty, that can only be me. Getting dressed has been a struggle on and off for a while. I've tried getting his stuffies dressed, having fun in other ways, bribing with putting sprinkles on his breakfast, changing the order of when he gets dressed, being stern, being very comforting, etc. He's getting pretty good at talking about his feelings and sometimes he makes a suggestion on what will help. Some things work but on a very short basis and basically it all has the same result of us struggling through it until eventually we get there and almost always right after he's fine though sometimes it spills into breakfast. This struggle happens on weekdays or weekend days. Thankfully my husband and I don't have jobs that begin super early but I am over the fight. I'm sure there's no magic solution, but I'm interested to hear what others have tried. I don't think any of it is particularly abnormal, but I'm tired and running out of ideas. Also, is age 5 really a magical time where things like this, bedtime, hitting, etc. get easier? In some ways I feel like I understand my kid now more than ever and I know this too shall pass, but boy can it be exhausting especially when so much falls on me. We also have an almost 18 month old who has a very strong personality so I know that is adding to my older son's feelings of insecurity.
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We have some very similar issues with our almost-4-year-old son, too! It's exhausting. You may have already tried this but I figure another suggestion can't hurt. We have started using a calendar I downloaded from Etsy (it was like $4 or something inexpensive like that). We have pictures of different activities and pictures of each of us and our family members/nanny. We put the task and the picture of the person whose day it is to help for each of the days. We used a home laminator and velcro stickers. We change it out every 2 weeks. My son used to get very upset about bedtime, bath, dressing, etc. we think maybe because he just didn't know what to expect. I was doing every little thing and I was exhausted. This has taken some getting used to but it is working for many of our struggles (now we have different ones, of course, because toddlers!).
Here's a link if you want to look at it (looks like the price has gone up but it's still only $10!): https://www.etsy.com/listing/1151520802/editable-weekly-visual-routine-c...
I hope this helps, but if not, you're not alone!
Has he tried to dress himself? When my son was two to three he was developing strong opinions about what he should do for himself, but not always expressing it directly. I helped with buttons and laces sometimes, but mostly he would choose and put on his own clothes. He even washed them, though I had to measure the detergent and fold. Maybe he's looking for more autonomy? Good luck.
Does your son get solo time with you? I would suggest planning special "dates" with him. He can even help plan some of the outings. It sounds like he is needing something extra from you that he may feel he is not able to get now that he has a younger sibling. This might not solve the issue immediately, but it could help over time.
I can empathize with being the preferred caregiver for a variety of tasks. My 3.5 year old will scream "It's only a momma job!!!!". Dad is really good about doing it anyway if I am busy with something (like caring for our 14 month old). My 3.5 year old decided he wants to wear "wake up clothes" for bed awhile ago, and its worked great to simplify the mornings. He changes into clean clothes before bed, and then we don't have to get him dressed in the morning (not sure if you can try that?) We also recently programmed a Hatch with the "ok to wake" function, and now he leaves the room on his own when it turns green. So all we have left to do with him in the morning is breakfast. Good luck!!
that sounds really challenging. I am finding my kid to be a bit easier around dressing now that she's 4.5 but not sure if that is just her or will apply to you too. we had a phase where we let her sleep in her clothes for the next day to make the morning less terrible. this did work for a while. we also let her dress herself while watching tv which is a treat for her. not sure if these ideas are helpful for you or not but know you aren't alone in your struggle
I don’t have specific advice but I’ve been (re)listening to “How to Talk so LITTLE Kids Will Listen” and there’s a lot of talk about morning routine there. Best of luck…!
I totally feel you on the struggles— my daughter was/is very similar. She’s almost 6 so for us 5 wasn’t some magical age of cooperation, although I do some improvement and the specific struggles have changed. Getting dressed was and can still be hard although the most egregious fights we used to have were centered around using the bathroom when she didn’t “have” to right then (i.e., she has always been able hold her pee a very long time and being asked to use the bathroom, say before school or a road trip, would cause a HUGE fight). The one thing that works best for us is to have a stuffie or a puppet ask her to do things she doesn’t want to do. She does a great deal of imaginative play still and I think to her it’s more like a friend asking than bossy old me. For getting dressed specifically, having her pick out clothes when she is in a better mood (at night) and having the clothes talk to her sometimes helps. And of course if she is dreading the reason for getting dressed (school), that contributes to meltdowns too. Anyway, maybe this will help you and I look forward to seeing other parents’ suggestions!!
Hello!! It’s a struggle to get our 3.5o dressed also. It doesn’t work every day but what has helped is to:
-dress after breakfast time, less of an issue if hunger is not in the way and he can stay in his pjs for a bit more
-learn what triggers sensations in clothes he doesn’t like, for example socks that are too tight, jeans that are too stiff or sweatshirts he can’t take off himself.
And indeed it’s difficult to have to be the parent on call to do it all… again I sympathize but a no-negotiation position and suggesting that the alternative is for him to do it himself (like washing hands, things he can manage) sometimes works.
My child is a teen now, but at various stages in his life different routine have turned into power struggles and have been hard for a while. A few ideas that helped us with morning routines.
1. Minimize the steps, if possible. My son slept in his clothes for several years around that age. He was happy to do that, so instead of PJs, he put on clean clothes at bedtime. I bought comfortable sweats and shorts with elastic for several years.
2. Picture schedule with the steps of the few things he has to do (take out any steps that aren't absolutely necessary). Maybe a small reward if he does the steps. Depending on your kid, it might be something like: "If you are ready when the timer goes off, there will be time for me to read you a story at breakfast...(or play outside, or have sprinkles). Make sure the steps are ones that he can do independently, or provide whatever help he needs if he can't.
2. Try to minimize the amount of talking/emotion around the routine. That's easier said than done, but simple instructions without a lot of talking might work best (avoiding both the yelling and the comfort). Acknowledge his feelings briefly and calmly. "I know you don't want to do this now, that's hard." But still follow through, by helping him with steps he hasn't done. If he's successful, then: "You're ready so fast. There is time for a story." or "Looks like today took too long. No time for a story, but I bet you can do it tomorrow."
3. I would set up a schedule ahead of time for which parent is helping (take turn), and make sure that you review that with him. Then stick to whichever parent is helping, even if he protests. You could say: "I hear that you don't want me to help today. You're not happy. Mommy is busy today." If he's not willing to let his dad help right now, then maybe it would be easier if you go out for a walk during the routine for a few days.
I'd recommend listening to Janet Lansbury's podcasts for other suggestions. Her way of helping parents manage this kind of challenging behavior seems helpful and compassionate. There are podcasts in her archives that deal with similar challenges.
We had similar issues and worked with a great parenting coach through Sproutable (www.besproutable.com). One helpful suggestion they gave was to have a very set routine: eg, Monday mornings mom helps kid get dressed and Tuesday mornings dad helps kid get dressed. When Tuesday morning comes around and kid wants mom, dad’s response is “I hear you that you want mom and that you’re disappointed. Tuesday is dad’s day to help you get dressed. Do you want green shirt or red shirt?” No more negotiating. After a few weeks of that, things got a lot easier for us.
Preschoolers' "daytime clothes" are basically pajamas. Dress him in some comfy sweats and a longsleeve t-shirt for bed, and then he's already dressed when he wakes up! This was a magical solution when my son was 3. Also, for us, a switch flipped on his 5th birthday. There are still hard days or episodes, but overall his emotional regulation is SO MUCH better, and we can reason with him much more easily.
What you have sounds normal, but frustrating! We've all been through it. I was told that kids either go through the "Terrible Two's" or the "Terrible Three's", but nobody is spared. Kids that age are starting to want a bit more independence, without actually having the skills or ability to be independent. What worked for my son were choices, allowing him to do some things by himself, and sticker charts. For choices, only offer two choices ("Do you want the white shirt or the blue shirt?" "Do you want cereal or toast?" or "Do you want to get into the car by yourself or do you want me to put you in?") and don't allow negotiation. If he doesn't choose, you choose for him. For "Do it myself", you can allow your son to get dressed by himself by laying out (and choosing) the clothes the night before. Put up a sticker chart, working on one skill at a time. So for example, say, "This week we will work on getting dressed by yourself. You get a sticker for every time you do it by yourself with a happy smile." Determine what he gets when he gets X number of stickers. After a few weeks when the skill is established, say, "You did so well we don't need a sticker chart for that anymore, you can do it by yourself!", and start a new sticker chart for a new skill, or a new routine you want to achieve without crying, e.g. leave the house with a happy face and not a sad face. What you can achieve really depends on your child. My son could not dress himself till he was much older, so that was not a skill we bothered with. As for the "I want only mommy!" I really don't know what to do with that. My son did that too. After a while I just told him he had no choice and put up with the tears. My husband's feelings were slightly hurt but now that he's older, my son is best friends with his dad, so "This too shall pass."
When my daughter about 3 and 4 years old we started giving her limited choices. For example, when it was time to get dressed I would lay out two complete outfits and ask her which one she wanted to wear. She would choose one of the two choices. Kids at that age are struggling for some independence so giving them 2 choices for everything makes them feel more in control. If they favor a particular color outfit, then always include an outfit with that color. Also, your older child may feel that your younger child is getting too much attention. Have your older child help pick out clothes for their sibling. Give your older child opportunities to make decisions.
I don't have a ton of helpful advice but wanted to offer solidarity. My 4.5 year old daughter has so many struggles with getting dressed, it's absolutely exhausting every day. For her it's mostly about underwear and pants being "uncomfortable" but the discomfort disappears within seconds if/when she's distracted or able to move on. So I strongly suspect it's not a true sensory issue, she just needs to get used to the way clothes feel when you first put them on (wait till she finds out about jeans...). Anyway the one thing that has maybe helped a bit is giving her as much control over the process as possible. We pick out 5 school outfits and 2 after school outfits every Sunday, remove all other clothes from her room, and put a trash bag around hanging clothes. Seems extreme but presenting fewer options, and fewer opportunities for outfit changes, have helped some for sure. We have a 2yo little brother in the mix too, so I have to think some of this is related to her brother's growing personality. I also tend to be a little bit of a control freak myself and have to REALLY remind myself to try and let her do what she wants in as many aspects of her life as possible as long as it's not a health or safety risk. Hard to let go of your baby but she needs and deserves the independence and I'm hoping giving that to her can help overcome these and other struggles. Best of luck to you, you're doing a great job! <3
This is SO HARD. I tried everything with my son and eventually kept small cookies by the door. If he went to the bathroom, put on shoes and socks and a jacket without a fight (ideally independently) he got a cookie. After a week it became a part of the normal routine without bribes- but I wouldn’t call it perfect.
I feel you on this. My son (who's now 9) was very challenging at age 4, too. I decided that clothing was not something that was worth taking on. Is your child appropriately dressed for the weather? If so, let them wear whatever they want. PJs can be daytime clothes, too. Pants that are 6 inches too short or have holes ripped in the knees may look funny to you but they do the job. At some point your child will grow out of this.
Our 4 y/o daughter also struggles with this and as a result pretty much every morning one of her parents is dressing her while simultaneously reading her a book or playing stickers or some other task she’s engrossed in - even though she is very much capable of dressing herself. We’d love her to do it herself but we’d never make it out the door. We have occasionally had success making it a game/race (30 second countdown with her stuffies watching/cheering her on). It sounds like you’ve tried A LOT. We haven’t resorted to this but I recently heard of a popular parenting hack where, after evening bath, you dress your kid in their outfit for the next day (instead of pajamas) so in the morning, they can just roll out of bed. Remove the point of friction altogether and cut down on laundry! :)
I couldn't help but notice that the timing of when thing started getting difficult was around the same time your 18 month old was likely more mobile. For our son, what helped was spending dedicated 1:1 time with each parent every day. I got the tip from Big Little Feelings about a 10 minute miracle. We would set 10 minutes, no phone, no babies, etc and we would do whatever he wanted. Transitions, going to bed, bath time, waking up, getting dresses were all easier. It was as if his cup got filled (and mine too). I look forward to it everyday.
I got rid of my kids' pjs pretty early on. They sleep in their next day's clothing.
For my family, brushing teeth, bathing, wiping one's bottom clean, brushing hair, putting on shoes, taking off shoes, using a napkin instead of pants, not slamming doors, etc. sort of got a bit better when the older kid was 5 and the younger was 3. (It is much, much easier (for me) now that they are 10 and 8.)
Mostly, I chose to give up on a lot of distress when some of these tasks were not promptly fulfilled. I let the tasks and expectations go. Putting on shoes a pain? Just toss 'em in the car and try to get them on when you get to where you are going--at least the kid is trapped in a seat there, and easier to wrangle. Not brushing hair, or not bathing often enough? Cut their hair shorter so it's less of a chore to deal with, and wipe them down with baby wipes. Don't want to sit up and eat a proper breakfast? Fine, eat a slice of bread from a napkin.
I won't win any parenting awards, but I am less angry and tired than I used to be. My kids are having a good time. Hang in there! It does get easier.
I went through something similar with my daughter, specifically around getting dressed on weekdays, and for a while I just had her put on her "tomorrow clothes" the night before, instead of PJs. She thought it was fun and it eliminated one morning battle. We also just gave up on morning toothbrushing and I stopped worrying about whether or not she ate much breakfast and she just had extra snack at daycare if needed. I found I just had to eliminate the battles and within 6 months or so she was getting herself ready for school in the morning with almost no battle. For us, any resistance I gave her just became a place she needed to assert herself. Removing my role greatly reduced the resistance. Good luck and it really does get better.
Sometimes the best way to eliminate a morning fight is to move it to the night before. Our kids slept in their “next day clothes” instead of pajamas at that age.
Rest assured that they found plenty of other things to fight about in the morning. Good luck!
Wow, thank you for all these suggestions! I think he is clearly ready to do more things on his own but falls back on me to do things he can do, like putting on his underwear and pants, and then is frustrated b/c he does want more independence. We will try having him sleep in his clothes the night before and having a clear schedule for who gets up with him in the morning on what days. Thank you again!