Young people often don’t have the patience to put on layers of protective clothing – no matter if that includes jackets, scarves, hats, gloves or other items. Moreover, they frequently claim that they’re not cold – even when the thermometer clearly makes a dip. Many youngsters don’t seem to care about getting wet either: “I don’t need a raincoat,” “I don’t need boots,” “I don’t need an umbrella.” Oddly enough, mothers are often at the other extreme. This part of the population often feels chilly and is willing to layer clothing, wear extra coats and gear and do whatever is necessary to cozy up. Mothers just don’t understand why their kids don’t want to be warm and comfortable! Fathers, however, are a different story. Often, men are much like the kids, braving the elements with minimal protection (although, of course, there are many exceptions to this generalization!). However, whether it’s Mom or Dad that is concerned about the child’s lack of warmth, the underlying issue is usually about the child’s health and well-being. Parents worry that an under-dressed child may catch a cold, flu or worse. And in fact, some under-dressed children tend to do just that. There are kids who are vulnerable when they are chilled. Naturally parents don’t want a child to become sick (and feel awful and miss school and so on); just as importantly, parents may not want to be personally affected by their child’s sickness such as by having to take days off work to tend to a sick child or by catching the child’s sickness themselves. These are legitimate concerns: one sick child can cause the entire household (siblings, parents and whoever else is around) to become sick too. Consequently, parents do really want to find a way to get their kids to look after themselves by dressing properly for weather conditions.
If your child refuses to button his coat, wear a hat, or otherwise dress appropriately for cool or damp weather, consider the following tips:
You are the Parent
Try to keep this in mind! You have both the responsibility and the right to direct your household. Your child’s behavior affects other people in the household, as explained above. You have every right to insist that he dress appropriately for the weather. Although this doesn’t guarantee that the child won’t get sick, it is one step that the child can take to protect himself. (You may have discovered other steps that the child needs to take as well such as getting enough sleep or eating enough healthy foods and so on. We’ll limit this discussion, however, to the issue of dressing warmly.) Some parents feel that it is up to the child himself to decide what he wants to wear. They reason that the child needs to learn through his own experience that under-dressing is uncomfortable and can lead to illness. In fact, personal experience IS an ideal way for the child to imbue this lesson of self-care. If you can allow your child to become a little uncomfortable (without rescuing him when he wants you to drive over to school with more clothing!), then you should. Experience is truly the best teacher. However, if this particular child gets sick easily (that is, sick enough to have to miss school) or if YOU get sick easily, then you may not have the luxury of allowing the child to experience the consequences of his own actions. In that case, remember that as a parent, you are allowed to insist that your child wear the appropriate clothing.
Use Your Regular Forms of Behavioral Management to Help Your Child Dress Appropriately
There are many ways to encourage cooperation in kids. Refer to other articles on this site (or the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) for detailed explanations of the main interventions that encourage cooperation with parental requests such as the 80-20 Rule, The CLeaR Method, and the 2X-Rule. Positive techniques should be employed before bad-feeling interventions (like discipline with negative consequences) are used. Therefore, if the child is listening to you and decides to wear the boots or put the sweater on, be sure to offer positive feedback (“that’s great – I really appreciate your cooperation” or “that’s very cooperative of you!”). If the child is not listening and you yourself will be layering heavily due to inclement weather, you can use non-aggressive discipline (i.e the 2X-Rule). On round two of this conersation, your message might sound like this if you are speaking to a nine-year-old who is on the way out the door to school, while you are on the way to work with little time to spare: “I asked you to wear your warm coat and if you do not put it on right now, then when you get home today, you will have to write out ten minutes worth of lines ‘ I need to do what my mother asks me to do’ (or use any other slightly annoying negative consequence such as losing computer privileges, losing dessert, going to bed early or whatever you think will be annoying enough to motivate the child to wear the coat next time!). The point is that a young child doesn’t have to understand all of the parent’s thinking processes and calculations. He won’t understand until he is much older. He doesn’t have to agree with the parent either. What he DOES have to do, is cooperate with his parent’s instructions. Giving the child negative consequences for failing to comply will help him to comply eventually – not necessarily right away. You are not looking for instant results. Rather, you are looking for positive results over the long run.
If your teenage child isn’t listening to you, it will be more helpful to strengthen your 90-10 rule with that youngster (the relationship-building ratio of positive to negative communications from you to your child). Application of this rule with adolescents greatly encourages their cooperation.
Sometimes the Child Doesn’t Like His Outer Clothing
Sometimes your child’s lack of cooperation is not due so much to defiance as to simply not liking his clothing. You can always ask him why he doesn’t want to wear his coat, gloves or whatever. If he doesn’t like them, take this seriously. Kids are very sensitive to peer pressure. Perhaps their clothing isn’t “in.” Do whatever is possible to purchase clothes your kids like and are willing to wear. Even adults don’t like to wear clothing that their friends would not like. This social consciousness is actually healthy. Don’t tell your child that it doesn’t matter what other kids think; it actually DOES matter what other kids think. Being socially appropriate helps people succeed in their lives. Being out of sync with the crowd, doesn’t work well for most people. Remember the kid in your class who didn’t dress right? What did YOU think about him or her? While we’re not trying to encourage the development of a mindless, cookie-cutter kid, we ARE trying to encourage the development of a child who can read social cues and manage to fit in well with his or her peer group.
Sometimes the peer group just isn’t wearing scarves or hats, no matter what the temperature out there is. When this is the case, you may be able to find some acceptable alternative like ear muffs, 180’s, a coat with a high collar etc. Your goal is to help your child stay as warm as possible without looking “nerdy” to his peer group. Keep in mind that YOU wouldn’t want to be the only one wearing mittens in your office if no one else ever wears mittens there! Again, social norms ARE important. Of course, if your child has particular health issues, he may just HAVE to be different in order to be healthy. However, do not impose difference on a child who has pretty good resilience just because you think he should dress the way you had to dress when you were a child!
Sometimes the Clothing is Hard to Put On
A related but different reason for opposition may be that some articles of clothing are hard to put on or do up. If this is the problem, try to get easier clothing to put on.
When Your Child is Generally Uncooperative
If your child isn’t cooperating because your child just doesn’t cooperate in general, make sure you are following the 80-20 Rule and allow a week or two before seeing a turnaround in attitude. If you still don’t see improvement, consider trying Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach Flower Remedy called Vine (available at health food stores and online), will often melt away a defiant, uncooperative attitude – sometimes within 24 hours, or sometimes a little longer. The remedy is a harmless form of water, safe for infants, nursing moms, pregnant ladies and everyone else. Put 2 drops of Vine in a small amount of any liquid (water, chocolate milk, milk, tea, juice etc.) 4 times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Bach Remedies don’t interact with other medicines, herbs, foods or health conditions; they can be taken with or without food. If you still don’t see improvement after this treatment, you can consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for a more specific remedy mixture and try this method a little longer or, you can make an appointment with a mental health professional or parenting expert for further advice.