Tying toddler's shoe

Help Me With My Child’s Issues Getting Dressed

“Help! My son has big issues getting dressed. I’ve tried making it funny, using imitation. He laughs, but there is still so much resistance. What can I do?” she asked. 
Preschool girl getting dressed

Imagine, if you will, a morning where you got up, went to your preschooler and he or she smiled up and willingly put on the clothes you had selected. No fight, no struggle. 

Impossible? It is for so many of us. 

“Not those shoes!”

“I hate that dress.”

“I want to wear my shark costume,”

“I am never wearing that jacket,” are way more common scenarios, and yes, they can be completely frustrating. Exasperating even. 

And even though in calmer moments we may recognise the struggle as a good sign, a sign that our kids are developing assertiveness and negotiation skills—at just the right time—in the heat of the moment with the clock ticking, all we really need is for getting dressed to feel easier. 

Bored of the Pleading and Play: When You Just Want to See Getting Dressed Happen

If you've been reading this blog for any stretch of time, you'll know that we are big on play. There are lots of possibilities for play when it comes to getting dressed (or brushing teeth and other challenges you might face in getting out the door with kids – these two posts have lots of ideas). But sometimes, when silliness seems beyond you and your son is still adamant about wearing shorts in minus degree temperatures, you just want to get the job done. 

That's certainly how it felt for one mom recently, who posted in our Parent Club seeking help. 

Setting A Limit On Getting Dressed

Happy girl who got dressed

“Help! My son has big issues getting dressed. I’ve tried making it funny, using imitation. He laughs, but there is still so much resistance. What can I do?” she asked. 

Here’s how our Parent Club instructor Kathy Gordon responded. 

“This could be a time where you do what we call proposing the limit. That means that in the moment you’re just offering the idea of getting dressed as the excuse he can use for offloading. 

You can just hold the clothes right there, not moving in to get him dressed, just waiting and holding the expectation that it will happen.”

Her suggestion is fantastic for getting past that backlog of feeling your child has developed about getting dressed and which they show by refusing to.

Often, you will see their resistance even at the thought of getting dressed, prompting whining, maybe anger, sometimes aggression and often tears.

As your child's protests fade, propose the limit again. You may see one, two or quite a few flares from your child as you make this (outrageous) suggestion, but after a while you'll see those feelings fade. 

Watching For A Change in Resistance

Time for step two, where you move in closer, or try handing an item of clothing to your child.

Again, you'll see their feelings flare up.

Actually, that's a good thing, a sign that your child is moving through the roadblock of emotions stalling them. Keep light and open. After some rounds of this, you can try some light, playful attempts at playfully dressing your child. You might try putting a sweater on his leg, or your own to measure how much resistance there is left. 

At this point, some children may smile, and be happy to ‘show you how to do it properly,' and then put on their clothes. Others may balk and cry. At this, you can move in and be there if your child wants a cuddle. When the cry reaches its end naturally, you'll be ready to propose the limit again. You can read more how to listen supportively to your child's crying in this post, What to Say During Staylistening.

For sure, this is a delicate dance. You can also expect that it may take a few days to work, so starting the getting dressed routine early and on days where you feel less tired and not too rushed is advisable.

In moments of doubt or worry? Compare the alternative – weeks and weeks of refusals, upsets, whining and tantrums.

Ideas For Days You Need To Move Fast

And in the meantime, on days when you just know you won’t have time for this level of patience and listening to your child, Kathy offers another idea: “Several families have shared a workaround. Getting children dressed in comfy daytime clothes at bedtime means that it’s not even an issue in the morning,” she says.

This also means that any time you might normally spend fighting about getting dressed can be spent doing something fun and connecting – like extra Special Time!

Get a free guide to Special Time here, and start easily connecting with your child every day.

Kathy Gordon is a group moderator of the Hand in Hand Parent Club, our monthly membership where we work the tools according to your own family's needs. You can learn more about the free Q&A call-ins, classes and groups in the Parent Club here. Try the Parent Club and see how 24-7 support for your parenting brings calm peace of mind.

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