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How can I get my kid to wear a coat? It’s cold out there!

Nothing triggers our protective instincts—and slows the out-the-door routine—like arguments over the need to wear a coat. Whether it’s barely spring, brisk fall, or the frozen heart of winter, there are days when baby, it’s cold outside.

Clearly so cold that you need a jacket or a coat. So why why why would your son or daughter possibly disagree?

As nonsensical as coat resistance may seem, it’s quite normal, especially around the preschool and elementary years, says Elisabeth Stitt, a parent coach and former teacher in Mountain View, California.

WHY it happens:

Here’s a kid’s-eye view on coat ditching:

Your child actually feels warmer than you do out there. Little kids like to be in constant motion. Especially if yours is the type that’s on the go pretty much the entire time he’s outside, chances are he’ll be keeping himself warmer than, say, an adult watching from the sidelines.

“I think their bodies really do get hotter than we think they do,” Stitt says. “Their bodies are working really very hard.”

A big, heavy coat further raises body temperature to the point where it’s uncomfortable.

Your child wants to move about freely, and the coat is in the way. In our efforts to keep them warm and safe, we can bundle kids up so snugly that we’ve actually made it less fun to be outside. They want to run, jump, kick, throw, flip…a bulky coat can be a literal drag.

He may be okay feeling cold as a trade-off for more movement, Stitt says. It’s a matter of kid priorities.

Your child might want to avoid the hassle of getting it on and off. Kids tend to relish their playtime outside and want to get out there as fast as physically possible. Having to contend with an extra layer cuts into that time. Preschoolers especially hate standing still or waiting to get an adult’s attention and help with buttons or zippers, Stitt says.

Other kids may resist the extra layer based on how quickly they can get out of it—like to use the bathroom.

Your child might be asserting himself. Some coat-resisting is basic preschool power play. When we tell kids how they feel—”I know you’re cold; put your coat on!”—we’re implying that we know more than they do about their own bodies. Many don’t take that too well. (“You are not the boss of me!”)

TRY this:

Get clear about your child’s main complaint. The next time your child refuses an outer layer, simply ask, “Why don’t you want to wear your coat?” or “What is it about the coat you don’t like?” Some problems are easy to resolve once you know exactly what it is. Maybe a down coat is too hot or a wool one too itchy, or the toggles take too long to fasten. Maybe her sweater gets bunched up inside the sleeves.

“Even a 3-year-old is going to have the language to communicate what’s the core issue here,” Stitt says.

Pick layers over one bulky coat. “For some kids, it may work better to put on long underwear and a long-sleeve t-shirt and a vest on top,” Stitt suggests. Try lighter-weight jackets or fleece. Aim for comfort both temperature-wise and mobility-wise. Layers also hand some control over to the kid: He or she can add or remove a layer as needed (though, yeah, the risk of losing one along the way goes up a little).

Choose outerwear together. “We could save ourselves a lot of headache if we let them choose,” Stitt says. You might love the durable wool lining, but your kid is all about soft fleece. When you’re looking at coats, don’t just check how it fits or how well it insulates. Check how user-friendly it is. Have your child try out the zipper and practice putting it on and taking it off. Can she do it herself and relatively quickly?

If a fashionista is eyeing an option you predict will cause her trouble, try to steer her away gently: “Wow, that’s a great color. But it looks like a tricky zipper. How’s that going to feel when you have to ask Mommy or a teacher every time to help you with it?”

Avoid telling your child how he or she feelsInstead of insisting to your shivering jacketless kid that he’s cold and demanding he slip it on, Stitt suggests a more observational approach: “You look so cold to me.”  Or “Your chattering teeth tell me your body is cold.” Your impressions, his body. Help make it his choice, not yours.

Help your child anticipate temperature changes. Sometimes you really have to spell out for kids how different another environment will feel. “Right now, we’re in the shelter of the house, but at soccer it’s going to be much colder. It gets super windy at the soccer field.” Or, “You’ve never gone skiing before. The snow makes it a lot colder than when you’re outside at home.”

Also explain how not planning for the weather can be a problem: “Once we’re there, I won’t be able to go back home and get your jacket. So, it’s better if you wear it there.” You can also suggest that a balker bring a coat along in the car and decide about wearing it once you get to the destination. Seeing all the other kids in coats might goad him into following suit. Or he might realize, “Hey, Mom’s right—it IS colder here at the soccer field!”

Let shivery natural consequences happen. If your child flatly resists and you don’t think the temperature is prohibitive, let him decide—and maybe get cold. If you see he’s suffering, you could end playtime prematurely: “You look so cold, and you seem so miserable. It’s too bad, but now we’ll have to go inside.” Next time, remind him what happened: “Remember when you were so cold because you weren’t wearing your coat at the playground? If you wear your coat, you get to play longer.”

Kinstantly KidNotes

Know what your child is thinking, doing (and needs) at every stage.

Brace for this possibility: He might not complain. Maybe he didn’t need the coat after all.

“It’s a balance between helping them anticipate and letting them have the experience of being cold so they know how that feels,” Stitt says.

Set a severe-weather guideline ahead of time. It’s best to be flexible, but if you live in a harsh climate, sometimes the weather demands protective gear. That’s when a clear rule can come in handy. Determine ahead of time a temperature below which your child must wear his coat. If it’s downright frigid and your child resists, you can simply say something like, “Let’s check the wind chill.” That can make it less of a personal judgment call to argue over.

Be realistic in setting that guideline. Unless frostbite is a real concern, the reality is that kids don’t “get sick” by not wearing a coat. (Colds come from viruses, not chilly air.)

Bottom line: At least they’re outside!

Ultimately, kids need chances to learn about their own bodies—and choosing to wear (or not wear) protective layers is a big part of that self-care.

Their job is to learn what cold feels like and what happens when they make decisions about dressing in different ways. Our job is to give them space to do that by loosening our impulse to keep them mega safe and warm. Sometimes that includes thumbing your nose at the potential judginess all around you about why that kid doesn’t have his coat on.

Hey, they’re outside and unplugged! Isn’t that pretty great?!

Photo: David Kessler/Flickr

See also:

By | 2017-06-30T13:21:37+00:00 March 12th, 2017|Preschooler, Q&A|

About the Author:

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Senior editor Juanita Covert is a mom of three (ages 6, 8, and 11) who works from her home in Traverse City, Michigan. She’s also a busy hockey mom, softball mom, and Girl Scout troop leader.