Trouble Getting Dressed

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  • Getting dressed struggles

    (22 replies)

    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.

    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!):

    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. 
    good luck!

    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 ( 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!

  • 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???

    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!

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4-year old daughter is so picky about clothes!

July 2014

OK, BPN, I've reached crisis stage. I've tried everything. My 4-year-old DD is super picky about what she wears. If things are too big, too small, the wrong color, the wrong length for THAT DAY (they could be just fine tomorrow), she goes into a hysterical fit and wont get dressed. We tried picking clothes out the night before, but that doesn't help because in the morning she doesn't like what she picked.

The only rules we have for her are: 1) she must wear leggings with a dress/skirt to protect her knees at preschool --their rule, not ours, and she wears dresses every day and hates wearing pants, and 2) She can't get clothes out of the dirty laundry basket. Otherwise, she can wear whatever she wants. Most of the time, even PJs. We let her wear the same dress/skirt every day if she wants assuming it's not filthy. She chooses her own clothes-whatever she wants. We gave up fighting that battle 2 years ago. But sometimes she will stand in front of her closet naked and say she doesn't like ANY of her clothes. She'll say that she thinks they are ugly. She'll try something on and be happy for 5 minutes, then collapse into tears and take it off saying she doesn't like it for no discernible reason. Then she'll repeat the process and refuse to get dressed because she says doesn't like her clothes.

When we take her clothes shopping, we insist she picks out her own clothes, tries everything on, and that she says YES she likes it and YES she will wear it, but that's not always a guarantee. We have discipline if she's not dressed by the time she needs to go to school or isn't wearing pants, which is effective in getting results (not without serious crying, which we are working on as this is an ongoing issue), but it's STILL a battle nearly EVERY day!

Does anyone else have this? Do you have any tips? I am open to literally anything at this point. I try to listen to her and acknowledge that if she doesn't feel comfortable in something, she doesn't have to wear it and try to buy clothes that fit and she likes, but I have no idea how to get her out of the house without a battle. HELP! Tired of the clothing battles

Sounds like your daughter may be anxious daughter would get like this about certain things. We consulted some experts and they all suggested using rewards charts for these situations. You describe the desired behaviour, getting dressed easily, break it down into small steps, and give small rewards each time they do it the way you want them to. Then they earn a big reward when they have done the thing for a week or whatever makes sense. You keep using the chart until the new behaviour is mastered. I wish I'd known about this when my kids were younger like yours is. It really works! another mom

You may want to look into Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Your daughter may be having sensitivity to certain clothes and may not realize that it's happening. When my daughter was younger, she couldn't tell me why certain clothes bothered her. My daughter will also agree to clothes at the store, but then after wearing them for a few hours, they become painful to her. I now believe that she would agree to certain clothing at the store in order to please me, but when it came time to actually wear it, she just couldn't. Some days, she can wear an item of clothing, some days she can't: it depends on the day. I have a little touch of this, too: I can't wear jeans at all, and I hate the feeling of anything with a tight waistband. Some tags in clothing irritate me to the point of forming a rash. Luckily, by the time my daughter was exhibiting these behaviors, I knew what it was and could accommodate her (for the most part). Even if your daughter doesn't officially have SPD, look on the websites about it for some tips on how to help kids with clothing sensitivity. I just allowed the kid to wear what made her feel good; most of the time it was the same stained clothes over and over. I had to learn to be okay with that and not care what the rest of the world thinks. Just recently, as she neared the end of elementary school, she began to care about how she looked and became willing to try some new clothes. Good luck dawnm

Our daughter would procrastinate getting dressed in the morning because I think she wanted to hang out with us more in the morning. We were able to speed her up in the morning through rewards. I put a timer on for the time we have to leave. If she gets dressed, hair brushed, teeth brushed and sunscreen applied before the timer goes off she can play I pad games in the car on the way to preschool. Worked for us! Andrea

I am sorry to hear about your struggle. I do not know why your daughter behaves the way she does, but one possibility might be sensory processing issues. Does she complain about the style and the colors, or about how clothes feel on her skin? Does she like not wearing clothes or only super soft fabric, loose fitting, etc. I may be way off, but it might be worth taking her to get an OT evaluation anyway. Good luck

Are you sure it is the clothes? If she isn't fighting about her nightgown or pajamas, maybe it isn't the clothes at all. Maybe she doesn't like what she is expected to do after she gets dressed. Is everything okay with her school/daycare/nanny situation? I doubt it. One option to try is to dress her the night before and put her to bed in the clothes she will wear the next day. See how she reacts to that. Maybe that will work and the battle will be over. Anon

Hello, and sorry for the late reply, I would like to echo the other responder who mentioned anxiety. Our son was/is anxious and we have learned that anxiety is an amazing chameleon, and can often be difficult to recognize. Our son would freak out about his hair or clothes or all sorts of other things to avoid a situation that he was anxious about. Anxiety can cause all sorts of disruptive behavior as a child creates a wreck in order to stop something from happening. Once we recognized that what was really was going on was avoidance behavior, it was so much easier to manage. I can't be sure that's what is going on with your daughter but it sure sounds familiar. I found this book helpful along with years of therapy: Best of luck! mom of anxious guy

Dressing 2.5 year old in the morning 

Nov 2012

I have a 2.5 year old boy. Every day, we struggle on getting off his night time diaper (he is almost day trained) and his PJs. I have tried setting a timer, letting him pick the alarm sound, letting him pick his clothes, using a sticker chart and explaining. 4 out of 5 times he will not comply and then it is a struggle with screaming, crying and kicking while I get him out of his PJs and diaper and into his day clothes. He is very verbal and will tell me ''I want to fuss/struggle.'' I will sometimes get angry and need to leave the room because it's so hard. I really don't want to let him wear a dirty diaper and PJs to his school or daycare-and I want us to have a pleasant morning because I won't see him for the rest of the day. On the weekends, it's a little less of a struggle because the time element is not as pressing. I don't want this to be a daily issue and I worry about damaging his self-esteem and independence somehow with this daily struggle. Any advice you can share would be appreciated! Sad and Frazzled Mom

I wonder what time your child is going to bed and if he is getting enough sleep? I can't remember what 2.5 yo's need in terms of sleep, but I think it may be 11- 13 hours or something? My kids were going to bed about 7pm at that age (they are still early to bed at ages 6 and 8 at 7:45pm). Anyway, they get up about 6am, so we don't have the time rush in the morning, there is plenty of time which makes the stress much less. A mom too

I avoided these struggles by having my son sleep in the clothes he was going to wear the next day except the pants. So in the morning I'd change his diaper and he would put on his pants. He hasn't worn pj's in years (he's 13).

Also it's fine for you to think about your son's self-esteem and independence but what you are doing is not encouraging it. You are allowing him to enjoy his struggle with you and get off on your frustration when at his age you should be setting the rules and being firm about them. Every child no matter the age needs rules, it makes them feel safe and allows them to thrive. You are the parent, you make the rules, you do not consult him or ask for his opinion or let him make decisions he is too young to make. 2.5 years is too young for him to have this power. When he struggles, pull up his blanket and walk away, do not engage. He'll be surprised but will want your attention and do what you ask. Jane

I had 2 kids, 17 months apart in age, and worked full time for a few years when they were both really young. When my kids were about 2 and 3 (and 3 & 4, and 4&5, etc), I never let them wear pajamas to bed. Pajamas were weekend-only items in our house. Instead, after bath at night, we would put on their clean clothes for the next day. They'd sleep in those clothes and go straight to school the next morning in them. Kids clothes are usually cotton and comfy anyway, so it was comfortable for them and avoided a TON of morning battles. Maybe if your little guy sweats a lot at night it won't work, but it was my saving grace during those crazy years. I had completely forgotten that we used to do this until I read your post. They are 10 and 9 now and dress themselves just fine. But they still love their pajamas!! Slacker Working Mama

My husband was always good at making getting dressed a game for our son-- worked much better than my cajoling, pleading, threatening. One idea is to race to see who can get dressed first (we do this at night, too, to see who can win the ''pajama race''). Another is to get a stopwatch and time how long it takes him to get dressed each day and write the time down together in a special notebook; then he can try to beat his best time, getting faster every day. make it a game

2.5 is too young for sticker charts and treats and threats. (My 4 year old barely cares about them!) These little monsters live by their gut. He's probably tired and unhappy about having to be up and ready (who isn't?) and he gets to take that out on you every morning. Heaps of attention every morning (no matter if it is negative) sounds perfect to a 2.5 year old. Here are a few ways:
1. Try an earlier bed time, so an alarm isn't having to wake him up. Over time, if his natural wake-up time is a little earlier than what you need for getting dressed, I'd bet that it would go better.
2. Dress him in his clothes for the next day the night before. You'll still have a diaper to change, but not a shirt, pants, etc.
3. Why not send him in his dirty diaper? Let the school change him. It's really--really!--not the end of the world if he goes to school wet. And if he hates it, then I bet you'll get some more compliance about changing (and maybe even potty training, too!).
4. Reward the new system with some positive attention--time to read a short book together or snuggle! He doesn't want to fuss, he just wants you. Make that a good thing. good luck
Your son sounds very well developed verbally/socially and VERY sure of his own mind, so I would suggest you go WITH his strengths instead of butting heads against them. What do I mean? Let him arrive at the conclusion that he doesn't want to go to daycare in his PJ and dirty diaper on his own. How?
1. Coordinate with the daycare provider that for a few days he will appear that way in the morning.
2. Go ahead with your morning routine giving him a few minutes to change. Better than using a timer (the time ticking down is still rather abstract for him) use a CD and tell him he can change (with as little help from you as possible) during a specific song (or two- if the songs are really short). Once the song is over, it's time to go to daycare. Pack him into the care ''as is.''
3. When you get to the daycare tell the teacher loudly enough so he can hear it clearly something like ''I am sorry Johnny came in his PJ and diaper today. He didn't manage to change in time at home.''

4. Coordinate with the teacher in advance that she will say something mildly (mildly!) disapproving, such as'' Well, that's too bad. The other children will wonder what happened.'' Then she should tell him she can help him change as soon as he is ready to do it quickly. She can use the change of clothes you have (I assume) left at the daycare for messes and accidents.

I would expect that after a few days your son won't enjoy this routine anymore. Two more things:
1. He may be reacting to pressure he is feeling about staying dry all day, so dial that down if there's any going on (including too much praise and encouragement).
2. Raise the attractiveness of the outfit you have ready for him to put on in the morning at home by getting a couple of t-shirts/sweatshirts that has something on them that he likes (trains, animals, etc.). These outfits should be available ONLY at home. If you are still stuck in battles after a week to 10 days, there's something else feeding this. A consultation with a professional may be in order. Rachel B
I have a 2 y/o too and I have learned to pick my battles. What is really important for safety, sanitation, etc. vs. pretty minor stuff that my toddler is fighting me about. Do I let my kid go outside without shoes? NO. But do I let him go outside to play without a shirt if he insists on not wearing one? Sure whatever. For your situation I would insist on clean diaper, but ship him off to daycare with a new change of clothes and let the daycare provider understand the situation. That or maybe putting him in his next day clothes at night as a substitution for PJ's? Mom of a strong willed 2 y/o

Not sure if this helps, but this (mostly) works to get my now 3 year old son ready (learned from a friend who has her own version) We have our ''steps to success'' in the morning and my son has to follow them in the exact order to get ready.

1) Potty
2) Get Dressed
3) Brush Teeth
4) Eat breakfast and if time, watch a movie if no time, breakfast is cereal in a baggie/bowl on the way to daycare (they provide a second breakfast there)

This keeps the desired ''things'' at the end (food/tv). I know it doesn't really make sense to brush teeth before breakfast but at least it gets done.

What helped (I think anyway) is that I made the sign with him, and I drew pictures to represent each step. This helps when I need to re-direct him to the steps and ask him, ''what's next?'' or more often ''what's the first step to success?'' We also try to do this on the weekend so the routine is the same. it mostly works

It sounds like you are doing it all ''right'' (whatever that means!!) What struck me about your post is how well you are listening to your son. He says, ''I want to fuss/struggle.'' That is a HUGE clue. Here's some advice for you to take or leave - no big conversation with him but rather a simple acknowledgement like ''I hear that you want to fuss... I know that feels really good. How can I help you get dressed?'' Listen. He could say anything. Let's try, ''Nothing - I don't want to get dressed!'' Sit quietly and wait. Maybe a little smile comes over your face. Breath deep - you could say, ''I love you.'' See what happens if you don't feel urgent. This calm can transfer to him. It may not happen the first time - be patient. Again, it sounds like you are doing a fabulous job and that your son is lucky to have you as a mom. I wonder what it would be like if you brought that knowledge into this morning interaction with him? Parenting is HARD. Good luck! Lisa

I had this same problem with my kids, and my solution was to have them sleep in the clothes they would wear the next day. Obviously, you'll want to avoid the less comfortable clothes, like jeans. I didn't introduce pajamas until I knew they were ready to get changed in the mornings. And, the one time I did send my child to preschool in pajamas, the teacher said it happens all the time so I wouldn't worry too much about it at that age. Good luck!

Two things immediately come to mind, but maybe you've already tried/considered these:

1) Perhaps he needs some (more) physical love/play with you? My girls need A LOT of tickling, pretend I'm-gonna-get-you chasing/capturing/etc., and stuff like that. At night, as I get my 2 yr old ready for bed, we do a lot of intense tickles, raspberries, tickly-ear-whispers, etc. It THRILLS her and she loves up all the physical love. Maybe he needs more of that?

2) Sometimes with my older daughter (now 4) we use treats as incentives for doing ''big girl things that are tough for her right now.'' She knows that she won't always get M&Ms for washing her hands after using the bathroom (for example), but for right now that is a struggle for her, so we're doing this to help her learn to do this for herself. This is how we explain it to her (and why she no longer gets a choc treat whenever she pees on the potty, but we're offering that to her baby sister right now...). She totally gets it. I'm just not sure if your son is old enough to get the whole ''you can have an M&M when you're all dressed, if you help me'' kind of thing. Maybe try it and see? We're pretty healthy eaters in our family, so a treat like one little M&M is a BIG TIME treat for our kids. 8^) Mailisha

Toddler daughter refuses to be dressed---Help!

Jan 2012

My 20 month old daughter  screams and cries when we try to dress her.  She refuses to wears shirts or anything on her upper torso.   If we wrestle the shirt on, which feels terrible, she hollers and tries to take it off tirelessly.

Things we have tried-- making sure there are no scratchy bits that could be poking her, flattering her when she has clothes are on, sneaking them on in her sleep,  showing her the clothing beforehand and cooing over them--all to no avail.

She also refuses to ride in the bike trailer and be strapped in.

We would like to leave the house and have her sleep in her own bed with actual pajamas on this January...and suggestions?
Housebound by nudist Baby

Please look into sensory processing disorder. If your daughter is this distraught over clothing and being strapped in, she might be helped by an OT who can assess her for any sensory issues she might be having, and caught early can be helped a great deal. Just look into it.

Your story sounds so similar to an episode I listened to on the podcast, ''Longest Shortest Time,'' that I decided to share the link for you. In a nutshell, LST is a podcast about surprising challenges in early parenthood. Hilary interviews various new moms (or dads) about their struggles and one mom shared her story about how her daughter would scream when getting any clothes on. Listening to the podcast will do better than any summary I can do, so I would definitely recommend listening in and seeing if it sounds like what you're going through. It's possible that your daughter has a sensory issue that needs to be assessed? Here is the link to the podcast: emperors-new-onesie/ another mom

I recognize these behaviors from my own daughter. In her case, it turned out that the sensory stimulus of clothing textures on her skin and body, and the feeling of restraint from either clothing or seatbelts, was overwhelming for her. To this day (she is 9) she often goes out ''underclothed'' for the weather. Clothing that is less restrictive, such as roomy dresses and skirts, seems to help. Very soft clothing (faux satin,faux velvet, fleece) seems to help also. She has never worn anything with zippers or buttons: only stretchy elastic waistbands, so, no jeans. No shoes with laces. Velcro or slip-ons. This is what has worked for us. Also, when she was a toddler, I sometimes resorted to letting her get in the car in pyjamas or even naked, if we had to be somewhere. She'd often agree to get dressed once she was already in the car. Sometimes we just did not leave the house until she was ready to put shoes on, and I had to be very patient. Getting angry never helped; it only made her more frustrated. Zoe

You might like to look into Infant Reflex Integration. Brian Esty in San Francisco practices the Masgutova Method and can teach you protocols that you can do regularly with your child to calm down hypersensitivities, which may be the source of your troubles. I found him very helpful. AA

We had a similar issue with resistance to getting dressed at the same age, although not to the extend of yours. What worked well is taking one of her favorite stuffed animals to the changing table and getting them dressed together. We first put socks on the bear, and then her,and so on. It does extend the getting ready time but makes it more tolerable and pleasant. The other thing is showing her that we are doing the same thing... such as ''look daddy is putting jacket on so you have to put a jacket on'', etc. Hope this helps.. anon

I agree with other postings about looking into Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) son has it, and we had a horrible time of getting him dressed to go anywhere when he was younger. As for a solution, I started to ask him to let me know when he was ready to be dressed rather than trying to dress him. Usually, this meant bringing clothes with me into the car and leaving the house naked (him, not me;)) No more power struggles, no more tears...eventually, he'd realize that he would rather have his clothes on while sitting in his car seat, and we'd just get dressed in the car. Worked for me...hope it's helpful for you, too. By the way, his little brother also hates being in clothes, and he definitely does NOT have SPD. We also let him let us know when he's cold and/or ready for clothes -- he's naked a lot. Hope this helps...

Help dressing 3 year old in warm clothes

Nov 2010

My 3 year old daughter refuses to dress in warm clothes. And it's not that she's NOT cold herself; she just prefers shorts, short skirts and sundresses.

I'm actually o.k. with the skipped coat or sweater as she's very sensitive to things rubbing her neck at all, but I need to get her into at least long sleeves and pants under whatever dress she prefers; or leggings under shorts (her skirts don't work at all b/c they have attached shorts). I'm even willing to buy some looser dresses or skirts w/out attached shorts to facilitate this process.

Dressing her the night before doesn't work: she sleeps under lots of covers and she removes all clothes from the waist down to use the toilet. Choices don't work, nor does choosing her clothes for her. Taking her to school in what she wears to bed (soft summer clothes) doesn't work either. As a result I must physically force her into clothes. She wriggles out of the pants so I really have to hold her down which we both find very upsetting.

Since we can't move to a balmy climate, I'd love some help! anon

I also have problems dressing my kids. my son has sensory integration problems - not sure if your daughter does - she may - so i'd suggest you experiment with different clothes. for example my son loves pjs, sweats or really tight clothes. but no problem with the stuff he likes. everything else would be a nightmare to get on him.

now that we have given up trying to put anything other that these on him getting him dressed is a breeze compared to a daily torture event. definitely check out really tight fighting stuff. any then maybe you can skip the pants. I know several people (adults) that wear shorts all winter - I think if you keep your torso really warm then you can probably get away without wearing pants. and don't stress about how your kid looks and what others think - your home life will be so much easier without the clothing battles that you probably won't care. my son goes to preschool in a pj top everyday - sometimes a pj bottom too and I just don't care because I know the headache I avoided that morning. lastly - check is your child really cold? I used to shiver just looking at my son outside in winter wearing just pjs- then I'd feel his hands and they were warm while I was freezing wearing 4 layers! been there.

Think back to the 50s and 60s, when I was a girl, in snowy, truly cold upstate New York. Girls and grown women wore skirts and dresses all year round. If it was below freezing, we might wear snow pants under our skirts to walk to school (had to take them off when we got there) or play in the snow, but mainly, we just wore warm jackets, hats, mittens... that kept us warm enough. I'm sure many of us were uncomfortable, but we were not endangered by it! Wearing shorts/skirts in the Berkeley area is not dangerous, so as long as she's not uncomfortable, it's not worth a fight! If she'll wear a jacket or sweatshirt, that's probably good, but not even critical; my son wears long pants, but almost never wears even a sweatshirt over his short-sleeve t-shirts all year, and he isn't sick any more than most kids. I'm cold, but my kid's not!

Clothing battles with 4-year-old

Aug 2010

I'm struggling with how much to help my 4-year-old daughter with tasks that she is able to do by herself, and could use some perspective on this from the BPN community. The most frequent time we have this issue is with getting dressed in the mornings. We always choose clothes the night before, and she eats breakfast first while still in her PJs, so that she doesn't have to deal with this while still sleepy. Even so, we frequently have this battle where she stands there naked and whining, staring at her pile of clothes, and asks/demands that ''Mommy do it.'' Of course, at 4 years old she is perfectly capable of pulling on her own underwear and nearly all the other aspects of getting dressed. What I can't decide if she is legitimately too tired/overwhelmed at the task, and I should help her, or if she is just being lazy/too dependent, and if I should insist that she do it herself. Certainly, it gets done a lot faster if I do it, but am I doing her a disservice by giving in to these demands to help her do such tasks? It is most often with getting dressed but happens with other things too - feed me, mommy; carry me, mommy; etc. She does it much more often with me than her dad or grandma.

What do you think? It it OK/better for me to help her get dressed in the morning or should she be working on doing these tasks herself? To help or not to help

We try to work on these battles one at a time; at first this meant that our son would put on his underwear and pants, and I would help *only* with shirt and socks; then we moved on to shirt, and finally socks. We also made an effort to make his wardrobe as easy to put on as possible - for example, he only has ankle-length socks that he can put on himself. The flipside was that we made it clear that we would not let him hold up our day by stalling; certain fun morning activities would not happen if there wasn't time, and once (only once) we set out to preschool in his underwear. Two blocks from home he decided he was ready to put them on, and I pulled the bike over and let him hold onto my leg while he dressed on the sidewalk. We've finally (after several months) gotten to the point where he picks out his own clothes in the morning and puts them on by himself, and I even feel comfortable helping out on those difficult mornings without fear of backsliding. I must say I feel particularly proud on the occasional days when I take him to preschool in (intentionally) mismatched socks or a backwards T shirt, since it's clear to everyone who did the work. sits back and watches

My son went through the same thing. I saw it as a need for one on one attention, so I tried to give him the attention he needed, but still have him do the task itself independently. E.g., I would say "Well, let's dress together, I'll put my clothes on and you put yours on" or "I need to make breakfast, if I help you get dressed I won't have time to play with you. Why don't you put on your socks and then we can play a game together?" or "I need to take a shower, why don't you bring your clothes into the bathroom and talk to me while I'm showering and you put your clothes on?" or "I need to clean up my room, come and dress in my room while I do that." If I insisted that he go off and dress himself alone, he would claim he was incapable of it, but if he didn't feel completely alone it would be OK. Good luck!

I've got the same issue over here with my almost 4 year olds, but with me it is magnified because I have fraternal twins and one gets dressed easily, by herself, every day. The other one does what yours does almost every day. She is absolutely capable of getting dressed (and doing many other things), but for some reason turns into a crying, whining mess about this and other activities ''she needs help with.'' I don't have an answer for you, but my strategy is to choose my battles. If she is having a particularly sensitive day for whatever reason, I'll say, ''Can I help you find your clothes and put them on?'' to which she usually says ''Yes!'' On other days, I'll tell her, ''when you are done with your drawing, I'd like you to go get dressed. OK?'' I usually give her some mental prep time for her to get her head around the idea. Sometimes this works and she gets dressed no problem and sometimes it doesn't. Some other times I'll let her know that she can do ''X'' after she gets dressed. Read a book with me, pick out the snacks for the day, or even watch a Dora dvd. So I guess in summary, I figure it out day by day and try (unsuccessfully some days) to not let it get to me if she is having a bad day. I have them too some days. (By the way, the one who gets dressed every day no problem changes clothes about 18 times a day which causes other problems, as you can imagine.) Could be worse.

You'll get mixed responses, I'm sure. In my experience (and from the reading I've done on early child-hood development), kids go through phases of regression when they're going some kind of developmental change. Four-to-five is a period of great cognitive development, so it can be easy to forget that massive changes are, really, still going on (since it's not visibly obvious, like with walking). When my daughter was regressing, I would choose how to handle it, based upon how extreme the behavior was. For something like this, I would often go ahead and do it, because I knew it was a phase, and I think this helped her to feel secure about her growing independence: mommy would still be around to help and love her, even though she's growing and changing. However, if the behavior was something really difficult (she went through another phase of gut wrenching separation anxiety when she was four), I found that doing something like going on a camping trip or other adventure (something that takes them out of their routine for at least a couple of days) made a HUGE difference. For some reason, taking kids out of their routines for a few days (like, going on vacation somewhere) seems to give them a little extra push through that developmental phase. We went on a camping trip for the first time with our daughter during this horrible clingy period (she was having hysterics when I dropped her off at pre-school) and literally overnight, when we got back, she was completely different. No problems at school drop-off whatsoever. I should add that we had to hike 4.5 miles in to get to the camp site, and she did it the whole way in and the whole way out and we barely carried her at all. So something about being challenged I think made a huge difference for her and for her confidence. My point in all this, I suppose, is that you are going to get regressive behaviors like this. If you understand why they're going on, you can decide how you want to deal with it, and changing things up for a little bit seems to help. Glad Four Is Behind Us!

When my daughter was four, I dressed her most of the time -- she seemed to perceive getting dressed as attention. Maybe your daughter feels the same way -- this is one of those ''this too will pass'' moments of child rearing. She's not going to want you to dress her in kindergarten. You might want to put out some dress-up clothing so she can practice putting clothes on and off. I think as a culture we are too obsessed with independence in our children -- we seem to push them on feeding and dressing more than we need to; the natural desire for independence in this area will kick in soon enough. anon

I have a similar problem which makes me even more crazy, since she willingly would dress herself from 2 years to 4 years old! Then something clicked and she decided she needed help starting around her 4th birthday (she's now 4.5). I do many of your similar routines-we pick out clothes the night before, I'm not too insistent regarding what she wears, but still she wants help. I have pondered upon the issue a lot, and for my daughter, I think it boils down to just wanting to spend time with me. I will ask her to share the tasks with me (''You do one piece of clothing, and I'll do one,'' etc.) I also will, when I need the time to do something else, race my daughter to get ready (''I bet you can't get all of the way dressed before I do!'' or somesuch). Since they are only 4, I think it's important to not read too much into the situation. My daughter goes through stages where she wants to be babied, then a few days later, wants to be Miss Independent. Since she does many, many other things on her own, I don't make a big deal out of the dressing issue. I fully understand your frustration, though. You could be multitasking while she is getting dressed! Good luck Meg

This may sound weird, but is your child large for age? My younger daughter is age 5, but is wearing clothing size 6 to 8 clothing depending on what part of her body she is covering (6 in shirts and 8 over the booty). My elder daughter is a skinny-minny (so clothes fall off her), but my younger has an incredibly athletic frame (shall we say that she is bootilicious). She is 5, but struggles to get clothes on and off -- and generally, it has to do with me not getting the wrong cut of clothes out of her closet (every manufacturer is different). At 4, it was a nightmare...I just thought that bigger was okay, I didn't 'get' that there were certain traps (some stuff just won't work - leggings go on great. jeans need to have stretch waist, etc). jan m

My children are teens now, but this worked with my kids (one boy, one girl) when they went through this phase at 3 or 4. I bought only soft elastic waist cotton pants or sweat pants and cotton t-shirts for my children. That's what they wore to bed and went to school in the next day. So, essentially, they got dressed for school after the bath in the evening. All that was left was socks and shoes in the am, and they only had one pair of shoes so there wasn't a choice element there. This didn't go on forever, just through preschool. They grew out of it on their own over the summer when the mornings were more relaxed; and by kindergarten it was a non issue. Good luck with more peaceful mornings! Hope this helps

I have a four year old boy and will admit that I do about 90% of the dressing in the morning for the sake of speed. That said, I'm pretty sure he could do most of it himself but I just figure he will in time, and we frequently cuddle or tickle or play as we dress him ''together''. He will pull on his shirt and always does his own shoes. I have a feeling that since your daughter does these ''I need help, Mommy'' things with you more than other adults in her life, it's just the time and interaction/contact with you she is after. I wouldn't let it be a battle, how important is it that she do it herself at 4, really? Make it a time with her that something as mundane as dressing can be fun instead of a battle. Wait til she's 14, she sure won't let you dress her then,LOL! Bridget

I think it's definitely better to have her do the tasks herself, but you want to help her get to a place where she CAN do that. Often, when children have a persistent complaint, conflict or demand, it's actually because they're going through something - a developmental leap perhaps (like handling separation), or healing some hurt their going through like with a social situation, a sibling issue, or even hurts from the past that you wouldn't even think would have anything to do with this present struggle. They launch a struggle so their nervous systems can offload fear, upset or tension. So you want to help them offload that tension by holding your boundaries in a loving way and listening to them as they share their feelings. It looks like this: when she says "mommy do it!" you smile kindly and say "no, you can do it." If she gets mad, or keeps demanding, stay loving, but stick with your limit "I know you can do it... I'll stay with you while you try... I know you want me to help you, but I need you to do it... I know it's hard to take care of it yourself...." If she yells or cries, listen warmly, trying to maintain eye contact, offering just a few of those reassuring phrases. Don't try to explain why she should do it, or negotiate with her in any way. Just hold your limit lovingly, and listen while she sheds feelings. You'll be surprised when she transitions out of her upset. A lot of times they'll cry and cry and then the next minute they just snap out of it, ready to move on to something else. After a few mornings like this, her demand should dissipate. I teach an amazing class about handling issues just like this, and there are several more tools I could give you to help, including great ways to take her playfully through some of these struggles. Amy

It sounds like your daughter isn't sure of how grown up she's ready to be. This seems totally normal for her age. Children mature at different rates and it seems like your child isn't quite ready to leave the comfort of being a baby behind. Furthermore, four is a bit like two in that both ages follow major spurts in skills, growth and maturity. Four year olds are even more confidant then twos that they now have the world mastered. And as part and parcel of proving themselves they are ready to engage in power struggles with those closest to them. Of course the flip side of all this new confidence is the fear they've bitten off more than they can chew and thus the regression into babyhood. In order to avoid a power struggle around getting dressed, how about making the activity a game. "Let's have a race. I'll set the timer and we'll each take turns putting on a piece of clothing. I'll do the first sock, then you see how fast you can put on the next, I'll do the undies, you the skirt, etc." She'll get dressed faster, with you cheering each other on in the race against the timer, and you'll both have more fun. Just remember she won't always want to be a baby and if she's allowed a little leeway to get babied when she needs to, in the end she'll be a more self confidant person. Which is the most important thing. amma

Personally, I helped my four-year old get dressed and enjoyed helping him. Some four year olds can dress themselves but not all can or do. It feels to me as though you are asking a lot of your child before s/e's ready to become independent. Four is awfully young AND it is not ''bad'' for a child that age to want your company or assistance. In terms of feeding a four-year old, that seems different to me. Maybe this is a way for your child to ask for more attention from you. I'd encourage you to be patient. It will pass. another mom

We were fans of Tomorrow Clothes for much of preschool. When our children were in pre-school, we discovered Tomorrow Clothes. The child was dressed, the night before, in clothes that could be worn to school the next day, in case they could not be roused to change clothes in the morning. Sometimes vanity won out, and the child dressed quickly enough to wear a fresh outfit for school. But there were plenty of times that Tomorrow Clothes were worn out the door and into the classroom -- a little rumpled, but just fine for a preschool day. been there, done that

Tantrums-getting dressed-6 y.o.

Jan 2006

I'm looking for advice about a normally happy, secure, outgoing little girl who turns into a screaming banshee when asked to get dressed. This happens every morning, as well as occasionally when she has to get dressed to go to a party or something.

There are several different complaints: I can't decide what I want to wear, as well as It scratches, it itches, it hurts. She even complains that the waistband of her underwear (several sizes larger than she needs) hurts. As soon as she's dressed and out the door, she's fine all day at school or play. She agonizes over getting dressed, and so do I.

We've tried: getting up 15 minutes earlier to give her extra time to choose, putting out clothes the night before, setting a timer, etc. Nothing works; whatever was picked out ''doesn't feel good'' or she just ''doesn't like it'' by morningtime. We talk about the issue calmly at other times of the day, and she talks about it rationally and says she's not going to do it any more. She gets enough sleep. She loves to play dress-up in princess clothes; no problem with that.

Any suggestions? I'm at my wit's end. Morning-hating momma

My 5 year old does the same thing! I could have written your post word for word. My daughter will sit in front of her drawer, pulling out every pair of pants, every shirt, every skirt and basically be completely unable to choose. When she finally gets something on, she'll often have a complete meltdown about something not feeling right, etc. But as you said, once she is out the door she is rational, able to make suggestions about how to better deal with the problem, etc.

The only thing we tried that has helped a little is to let her have breakfast and be awake for a while before getting dressed. Some mornings that helps, sometimes it doesn't. I've recently tried to institute a policy where if she is on-time for kindergarten all five days of the week, she gets to pick out stickers.

I'll be curious to see any other responses! Good luck, I know how frustrating it is day in, day out. melimart

Whew. We went through the same battles with our daughter - now 8 - and thankfully now have far fewer struggles over clothes. We discovered that for about a year and a half, she had to think of her clothes as specific coordinated outfits to simplify the whole thing - we eventually made a little sketch of some choices that stayed on the wall. Many of them were completely monochromatic ensembles ie all blue or purple or orange, even if the colors were way off. It was little weird facing an all-orange child at breakfast but we got over it. She had fun picking out pieces to ''complete'' the outfits herself, and now she's completely free of that system, throwing things together spontaneously that we are all fine with. I encourage you to keep pushing for the routine of choosing the night before, and let her select some clothes for herself at used clothing shops so it is not a big investment if they fail. mom of finicky dresser

we just went thru this with my son. after weeks of arguments, I made a chart with 8 boxes (you might want to try less to start) and gave it to him. I explained that the new rule was that when he wakes up in the morning, he may come out of his room for the bathroom, but he must go back in until he is dressed. period. once he is dressed, he can give himself a ''check'' on the chart. then, after 8 days, he get's a ''prize''. I did all this without humiliation or telling him he was ''bad''. I just said he needed to learn to get dressed in the morning, and this was how we were going to do it. It worked right away. He loved how proud we were of him the next morning, and he loved the idea of marking the checks himself. You could even have her make her own chart and decorate it herself. Today was prize day he got his prize and a lot of praise. now we will do 10 days, and after that more, until he no longer needs the reinforcement.

Also, I lay out his clothes before bed. you may or may not want to do this, depending on if it makes it easier or not.

I think this method took the dynamic of us ''butting heads'' out of the equation and gave him some power over the situation. Even if it doesn't work everyday, we keep doing it. I think he's relieved to be over the stress Though, I've never had to deal with ''the girl thing'' with clothes. His only issue is that he always wants sweatpants. So I got him 5 pairs. Fortunately his desires arent too extravagant

hope this helps. mom of a dressed kid --finally.

Two things - Are you sure she is really ''fine'' the rest of the day, and only complains about how the clothes feel when it's time to get dressed? Pay close attention to whether she's tugging at or distracted by her clothes during the day, even if she doesn't complain. Is she sensitive to other kinds of touch activities - haircuts, toothbrushing, nail-clipping, etc.? if so, consider talking to an occupational therapist about sensory (tactile) defensiveness.

One idea that sometimes helps avoid the morning fight - have her get dressed the night before, after a warm, relaxing bath. At her age, she won't get smelly sleeping in her clothes, and nobody else will even notice. Lots of parents find this trick leads to much easier mornings. She probably won't change her mind in the morning about the clothes that she picked the night before because that would require the (unpleasant) changing. R.K.

This frustrating behavior is very common for 6 year olds. Hang in there. It will pass. One way to reduce your own frustration is to not pressure your child to dress. Take her to school in her PJ's a time or two, and she will move past this phase. You are getting into a power struggle with your daughter. Try laying out three possible outfits the night before. Then allow her to dress herself, without prompting, cajoling, etc. When it is time to leave for school, put her in the car ''as is.'' Her peers will give her feedback and she will move through this on her own! Good luck. Ilene D

Wearing ''tomorrow'' clothes to bed

May 2008

I don't know how other working parents get their kids up and ready every morning, but one thing we do is we change our kids (4,2) into their ''tomorrow'' clothes every evening after bath. I first read about this on a Web site about temperament as a suggestion for helping kids with transition issues, and I've gotta say, it works beautifully for us. Both kids wake late, and you know how toddlers/preschoolers are with having to negotiate every little thing. It's already such a mad rush I don't know how we would ever get out the door otherwise.

Here's the catch: my parents are absolutely horrified, and most people we tell think it's either hysterical or idiotic. I don't really care about these reactions, but I guess I'm curious if anyone else does this...? Are we crazy or doing our kids a disservice? --really didn't think it was so weird!

OK, you aren't crazy. I used to do this too. I have twins, and it was just easier. I saw my friend with one child having fun putting their kids in their cute jammies, and then picking out a lovely outfit for the next day. I had two at once, and no time for such fun dress-up games. I bought my kids outfits that were half-jammies-half-clothes, and they just wore those after bath and all day the next day. I stopped, however, when they went to preschool for a couple of reasons--mostly having to do with getting more ''real'' clothes that weren't as comfortable to sleep in. However, I completely support your continuing on with this routine for your kids. In fact, I could imagine doing that--sending them to bed in their tops for the next day, and underwear--then add the pants the next morning. I see no reason why this would cause psychological scarring. In fact, my girl is getting to be too opinionated about what she wears in the AM, and is starting to plow through her entire drawer to find the perfect outfit. I think I might start having her pick out her clothes the night before--a very similar idea. But, there's no going back in my house--my girl has a ''princess'' nightgown now that she won't part with, and my son is very quick to get dressed. Did the same thing

I did exactly what you do when my kids were little--I put their socks, underwear, and shirts on for the next day. In the morning all I had to do was help them into pants, and they were ready to roll. I remember people giving me a strange look when I told them about this ploy, and I also remember wondering, as you are, whether there was some downside that I just wasn't seeing. But I really don't think there is one. My kids are now 11 and 14, both wear pjs or just t-shirts to bed, and neither seems to have any particular issues related to sleeping, bed wear, etc. I say, do what makes your life easier and don't worry about it. pajamas can wait

What a great idea...I can think of times that this will really work for us (early flights in the morning, etc.) -anon

You are not crazy. It's a great idea. My little ones are still in footed sleepers, and I dress them in the shirts that they will wear tomorrow. If the pants are knit, they wear those, too, but I haven't put them in woven pants....yet. The only bummer is when they get dirty at breakfast time, and I have to change them anyway! Do what works for you, as long as the kids sleep OK. It amazes me that other people consider this issue so important! anon

We also dress one of our boys for school the night before (often, not every night.) He likes sweatpants, so his daytime clothes are comfortable at night. It works out really well for us. We'll keep doing it as long as we can. My strategy: don't mention it to the in-laws! Mom of a night owl

My son is nearly 12 years old and he has been wearing his ''tomorrow'' clothes to bed for at least the past 5 years. Does it on overnights, too. And on ''Pajama Day'' at school he just wears clothes and tells everybody he wears regular clothes to bed. It has yet to be a problem or a cause for teasing. The only thing it's done has saved us hours of hassles. You're not crazy--it works! Wish I Could Do It Too

I'm so amused that people are freaking out about tomorrow clothes! My kids invented that for themselves, and while I was a little shocked at first, I could see they really had put some thought in it, and it DID make mornings easier. What's the harm if they're sleeping well and are comfortable??? From a ''green'' perspective- you're saving water and energy by not having PJs to wash. Mine still sleep in PJ's most of the time, but there are certainly a couple of days a week that they go to sleep in their tomorrow clothes. Tell your critics they can come get the kids ready in the morning if they don't like it. another backwards mom!!

I think this is brilliant. As long as the clothes are comfortable enough to sleep in and it doesn't seem to confuse them (we still use pajamas as a signal that it is time to sleep rather than play or go outside), I think you have a great idea. I may try it myself! today's weird is tomorrow's innovation

I have to say that when I read this I laughed out loud because as a child I thought that I could sleep in more if I wore my ''tomorrow'' clothes when I was in school. I got caught because of the wrinkles. I thought then that it was a brilliant idea (I was in third grade.) The big thing to think about is that what are your children going to think as they get older. Also, what about comfy pajamas and for girls to actually sleep in cotton underwear or no underwear in order to decrease the chance of a yeast infection. I have to agree that it might be worth it in the long run to have your kids change into the clothes that they will wear that day especially if it is somewhat uncomfortable to sleep in or is really nice. I really love comfy pajamas and I think that your kids can to. As far as decreasing the transitions- I would suggest making a routine. Have the kids go to bed earlier at night so that they have time to eat breakfast, change clothes and do the other things that they need to before going to school. Set out what the order will be so that the kids will know what comes first, what comes second and etc. Make sure that you wake them up or they (the 4 yr. old) has an alarm clock. It might not be the transitions it could be the routine. As a person who moved as a child I hated having my routine disrupted or readjusted. As an adult I have a morning routine of my own. I really hold on to my routine because it feels like some type of security. Plus I'm not a morning person, the routine helps me make sure I get what I need done before I leave. Nanny/ Teacher in the know

We've done it with our two children, just for convenience. I learned about it from an acquaintance years before having kids. I thought it was odd then, but once we had kids, we saw the logic. After I discovered that a very sensible and proper friend also did it, I stopped worrying about it completely. We recently passed on the advice to friends of ours who were expecting--they were aghast but at least they are now aware of this option. Our parents live out of town so it hasn't been an issue with them. less frazzled because of it

I don't do it, but I don't think it's too weird. It wouldn't work for us because of nighttime potty issues! Be glad you can do it.

We have 2 kids, ages 2 and 5, and almost always put them to sleep in clean ''tomorrow'' clothes. They wear soft, comfortable clothes that are very similar to PJs anyway. I don't think it's funny or weird, and definitely not idiotic. I think it's a GREAT idea. If my daytime clothes were as comfy as theirs, I'd sleep in my ''tomorrow'' clothes, too! Who needs PJs?!!!?

I think it's a great idea. Although we don't put our son in all his tomorrow clothes before going to bed, we often have him sleep in the shirt that he will wear tomorrow because it's easier to change pants than shirts with him in the morning. I'm sure that you aren't the only people to do this. Ignore anyone who makes you feel bad about it. Anon

My boys started doing that years ago of their own choice. Makes MY life a WHOLE lot younger one (now 13) can wear the same clothes for days...he changes his sox and if his t- shirt is dirty I make him change it. I pick my battles!! My 17 yo started wearing sweats or jammies a few years ago, but for years he slept in his clothes. I bet there are a lot of kids out there who do that...don't be bothered by others comments or feelings. You're the one having to get kids up and out in the morning, not them. anon mom

My son always wears tomorrow's clothes to bed, he is 8 and there is nothing wrong with it. Tell your family and friends to get over it. One of Many

you (and your kids) are totally normal. our 10-yo does the same thing (for the past year), while my 8-yo daughter chooses to wear PJs. my son has other friends that will put on tomorrow's clothes after the evening shower. some sleep only in their underwear! it's all good. there are worse things in life

My daughter (age 7) started doing this recently on her own. At first I discouraged her (how can it be comfortable to sleep in jeans?) but really. . . it has saved us from a lot of our morning struggles. I say let your child do it until s/he is ready to go back to PJs. That's the approach I'm taking. . . Debbie

I never put my kids to bed in ''tomorrow'' clothes when they were little. However, if that works for you, I think it's perfectly fine and not weird at all. anon

I don't think it's weird at all. You have to do what works for your family, regardless of anyone else's opinion, even that of your parents! common sense

Your job is to parent your children - the tomorrow clothes is a great strategy. Your parents job is to compare their parenting to yours so they can justify that they did a fine job. North Pole - South Pole. It's better than the fights I had with my daughter over getting dressed in the morning. I still let her go to bed in what she was wearing today if she's tired. These are very minor issues and micromanaging your kids lives makes you and them stressed, nervous, and unhappy. I wish I had thought of Tomorrow Clothes for Preschool

Are you kidding? It's the best thing ever. My kids started doing it on their own - refusing to wear PJ's and wanting clothes instead. And I try to avoid fussing about things that don't matter much. So if they want to put on their ''tomorrow'' clothes the night before, great. In fact, if they want to sleep in their clothes and wear their ''yesterday'' clothes to school - here's a confession - I let them. (We usually do bath every other night because it is such a drama). I usually make some effort, but if I get major pushback, I figure it won't hurt them and life's too short. No one ever died from wearing dirty, wrinkled clothes. Whatever gets all of us up, fed and out of the house on time works for me. Sleeping in the next day's clothes is a brilliant timesaver. Don't let anyone stop you. A very imperfect mother. : )

We do this with our three and a half year old when he goes to preschool. We started when his brother was born six months ago as a survival tactic, and it works great. Our preschooler wakes up at 7 and all three of us have to be out the door by 8:15 dressed, cleaned, fed and packed, so this saves a lot of time. I've told a number of friends about this and never gotten a bad reaction. Toddlers just aren't that stinky on their own (like teenagers) - they acquire their grime from their environment, and I figure the bed is pretty clean. Anything to save time

Our kids are almost the same ages as yours and we put them to bed in ''tomorrow'' clothes almost every night. It started being a once in awhile thing but is so much easier on everyone that it has morphed into a frequent thing. Anon

Battling my 2yo with dressing himself

July 2004

Hi, My husband and I are near the end of our rope. We've been in the ''process'' of teaching our almost 3yo how to take on and off his clothes for approx 9 months. Our son freaks out and has no patience when trying to even pull down or up his underwear. I'm less concerned about him being able to dress himself completely than I am with his inability to pull down his pants and underwear to go potty. He always asks for help and says he can't do it. I know he knows how to do it. He just gives up way, way too easy. Any suggestions would greatly help! Anon

Give it up. If you think about it, it is not a big deal to help him with his clothes. My son always wants my help to get him dressed, even though he is almost 6 and certainly can dress himself in 30 seconds if he needs to (i.e we are going to the zoo without him if he does not get in the car RIGHT NOW). I know he just wants some special ''babying'' from me. Just allow yourself to help your son and let him win this battle for now. Laurel

My advice: let go. If it's a battle, it'll be a losing one. Why not continue to help him? My 4-y-o still likes to have help getting dressed--but he had no problem figuring out how to do pull down and up his pants when he was ready to use the potty. He also has no problem when at sch! ool or at other people's house. We don't help as much as we used to, but are still there in the mornings and evenings. And since we don't fight about it, mornings and evenings are much more pleasant. We push independance so hard in this culture; two and three years old is really little. My son will insist on dressing himself when he's ready--just like everything else he's done by himself, either earlier or later than ''normal''. Your son will too. Carolyn

My 2.5 year old also shows no interest in dressing himself. But I don't push it, I don't think it's really a big deal. I konw he also is capable, but gets frustrated easily. My advice, don't make it a battle, make it a game. Have him try by himself for increasing amounts of time, and then help him. Heather

I think ''battling'' is the key word in your description of the problem. Toddlers are great at reading YOUR will, comparing it to THEIR will and deciding when a battle's worth it. 2 Y.O. is too young to get dressed on their own, unless they are showing an eagerness to do so. Our now almost 4 Y.O. still has no interest, so I dress him. Simple as that. It's fast, efficient, and provides no battles in the morning. You have to be there to help him potty for several more years, so why not pull his underwear up and down for him? What's the battle about? YOU want him to dress, and he's not ready. He's doing his best to tell you that. Let it go for awhile and you'll be amazed at how quickly he learns when it's his decison to do so. Best of luck.

My 3.5 year old does not dress himself. He just doesn't have the coordination, and becomes frustrated if he tries to. He can take his clothes off though. I think my older kids were in kindergarten before they could reliably dress themselves without my help. Good luck