Taking the Stress Out of Dressing My Toddler

It’s not just attire for school. Our kid has strong feelings about clothing, period.

Out of all the things my child cares about, I’ll admit that I thought clothing would be the last on the list. Turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The challenges of dressing your toddler has many layers. It’s not just attire for school. Our kid has strong feelings about clothing, period. On the rare weekend day where we aren’t running off to an activity or errand, we love to embrace a good slow morning, complete with pajamas, breakfast and cartoons. Our little man? Not on board with the pajama party. We’ve learned it’s not only the clothes that can be wrong but when he’s wearing them that can be wrong. Saturday and Sunday mornings seem to be the only time he wants to be up early and in jeans, pronto. And, of course, pushing has sometimes landed us in the midst of some toddler tantrums.

Find yourself starting or ending many a day with a toddler tantrum over clothing? It’s not just you. It’s a totally normal phase. Your young one is stretching those muscles of independence and, perhaps unfortunately, that extends to their wardrobe as well. Beyond independence, it’s about limits. How much is just our preference—personal and cultural norms versus absolutes? They’re testing the boundaries and looking to your reactions to clue them in as to where those fall.

So, how can we make getting your mini dressed less of a headache?

  • Choose your battles:
    Some clothing selections aren’t up for discussion. Coats are a must-have during the winter. And a snowsuit? A no-go in the sweltering heat of August. However some clothes fall into more of a gray area. It may be that those just aren’t worth the fight—for now.
  • Structure their routine to make it more manageable:
    We moved our kid’s clothes so they are closer to where he’s changing. This way he can see what he’s choosing from and feel like he’s having more of an active role in the selection process. Move the off-season clothes out of the drawer so they aren’t even part of the discussion. Cutting out unnecessary points of friction make such a difference.
  • Factor in their faves
    But within limits! Today’s fave will be uncool to them tomorrow. Consider getting multiples of a few things in their favorite character or style so that their preference is acknowledged.
  • Give advanced warning when they don’t have a choice:
    Maybe it’s family photo day, and you’ve picked out a specific outfit for them. Perhaps they’re attending a school that requires a uniform starting at a certain age. Try talking with them about the clothes and why they’ll be wearing them. We hang them on the doorknob of the closet so our son has a few days to acknowledge it’s coming. Something about setting expectations and providing the upfront explanation can help to avoid a meltdown.

This is your kiddo letting you know their personality. Their style. It might be the furthest from yours possible. Maybe you’d planned on not reinforcing gender norms with your daughter and she is obsessed with all things princess and wants to wear only shades of pink layered one on top of the other. Or perhaps you are super into fashion and your kid only wants to wear sweats. It’s ok. It’s not the rest of their life. It’s not forever. It’s just right now. And it’s likely going to change over time – so try to enjoy the moment while it lasts.

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