6 Strategies for Dressing Toddlers Who Resist It

6 Strategies for Dressing Toddlers Who Resist It

Strategies for dealing with little ones who rebel when it comes to getting dressed.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

One of my earliest childhood memories is when I was 3 years old, and my mom tried dressing me in this pair of ugly, light blue corduroy pants. Somehow I remember screaming something to the effect of, “I don’t want to wear the pants! No! No!” Though I can’t recall the outcome of that day’s “pants rebellion,” I do remember seeing photos of 3-year-old me wearing said blue pants -- so mom must have had some kind of trick up her sleeve!

Now I’m a mom of an equally ornery toddler who often -- say, once every three days or so -- refuses to put on some article of clothing. Often times, I abide by his request: If he doesn’t like the dark gray shorts, we’ll wear the blue ones with white birdies on them. Other times, I brace for a massive tantrum and wrestle him into his clothes. So it’s a real treat when I can use clever tactics instead of sheer force to get him into something.

If your toddler is refusing to wear an item of clothing, such as pants, hats, or a particular sweater, try one of these six tricks:

1. Put it on yourself. When my son Nathan refused, for the second night in a row, to wear his PJ pants and started shouting, “No pants, Mama!” I yanked them off and put them around my ankles. “My pants!” I exclaimed. Sure enough, a little smile crept across his lips and soon he was yelling, “Not yours, Mama! My pants!” Seconds later I slipped them onto his legs (this same tactic worked two days later with his new jeans).

2. Let the babysitter try. When my son turned 1 and refused to put on his first pair of shoes without breaking into hysterics, I sent them to day care with him (one of the caregivers said she was a pro at getting toddlers to put on shoes). By the end of the day, he was happily running around in the shoes, never to complain again -- until we needed to buy new shoes. For the first few days after we get them, he kicks and screams as I try to put them on his feet. Yet when the babysitters slip new shoes on Nathan -- after naptime in the afternoon -- he rarely whines for more than a minute or two. My best guess is that he knows he can get away with the bad behavior around Mommy.

3. Act incompetent. In a recent article on getting your young child to do what you want, Harvey Karp, MD, author of the DVD and book The Happiest Toddler on the Block, suggests making an activity silly and acting incompetent to get a desired behavior. For example, if you put a raincoat on backwards and say, “I’m ready to go,” there’s a good chance your kid will laugh and then put her own coat on. “Even the most defiant toddler will take pity on us if we seem like total incompetents," Karp says.

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4. Turn up the tunes. It’s well known that distraction can be a great way to get your little one to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. So if your toddler is stomping his feet at the pants you’ve picked out, try breaking out into song -- or, if you’re like Maxine Kozler Koven, a Los Angeles-based mom of 22-month-old Jordan, play one he’ll like. Whenever Jordan is giving his mom trouble getting dressed, Kozler Koven speeds up the process by playing a tune on her smartphone. “If I use distraction, specifically singing and dancing, playing his favorite music, I can slowly but purposefully put on one piece at a time,” she says. “Most kinds of distractions work, but music is the best.”

5. Give them a choice. Unless your kid is home sick all day, if he’s going out into the world, he has to wear something. “One thing that has worked for me is to pick two outfits and then ask, ‘Do you want to wear this or this?’” says Giuliana M., a Fairfield, Connecticut-based mom of two, referring to her daughter, who is almost 3. “Then she has a choice in the matter.” This tactic has also worked for Mechanicsville, Maryland-based mom Jennie Graham, whose sons are 4 and 2. “First thing I do is encourage them to be a part of the process by picking out what they want to wear,” she says. “Give them a choice between two things, but only two things so as not to open a can of worms. Also I try to make getting dressed a fun experience and use enthusiasm and encouragement on everything.”


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6. Bribe, if absolutely necessary. Offering sugary treats in exchange for compliant behavior is a parenting no-no. But when it’s absolutely necessary to get your young one to wear something, you might have to resort to it (just don’t make it a habit, or they’ll come to think that everything they do warrants a treat). “My oldest son hates sweaters and occasionally hats,” says my friend Emily B., a mom of two based in Silver Spring, Maryland. “I wanted him to wear both to my office holiday party last year, when he was 4. How did I get him to don the offending apparel? With the promise of a giant gingerbread cookie.” While that tactic worked, she only breaks it out when absolutely necessary. “I've learned to fill his drawers with the clothes he likes and I can tolerate,” she says.

Does your toddler refuse to wear a particular kind of clothing? How do you deal with it?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/RapidEye

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