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It’s already 8.30 am, but the school bus hasn’t turned up, so you’ll need to drop Jessica off on your way to work which means you’re going to be late for the morning meeting. Having yelled yourself hoarse asking everyone to get in the car, checked the dog’s been let out and then popped the breakfast dishes in the sink. you grab your keys to walk out the door. Only to be faced with Debbie, your three-year-old proudly wearing her purple party dress, shiny shoes, and fairy wings. It’s now a toss-up between letting your daughter go to daycare in an outfit you know she’s bound to get dirty, or ripped, and going upstairs help her get changed which means that entire family’s going to be making sheepish excuses to why they’re late again.

If this scenario sounds in any way familiar you’ll be pleased to know that you aren’t alone. Countless parents have reported being faced with the struggle of a child who wants to wear a sundress when it’s snowing, or having kids as young as two, or three try to dress themselves despite being too young to tie laces, do up buttons or pull on jeans. In other cases, children can become easily attached to an outfit such as their favorite pajamas or a fancy dress costume and will refuse point blank to take it off. When this happens try to explain that the outfit is now dirty, and needs cleaning or suggest to your child they’ll be much more comfortable in a different dress or pair of jeans.

Parenting websites are always overwhelmed with tales of frustrated moms, and dads patiently dressing their children only to have them appear in what they just took off, clothes that clearly need washing or outfits that are unsuitable like their swimming costume. It’s not unheard of for kids to have full on meltdowns about not being able to wear something of their parents, having a tantrum over putting on socks and refusing to get out of the car when they’re wearing something that they didn’t choose.

However, attempting to pick out their outfits or refusing to wear what you’ve chosen for them can be a positive thing. Children who are becoming vocal in their opinions about what to wear are starting to test the boundaries, becoming more independent in their thoughts and ideas and leaving the baby stages of childhood behind. They’re also at the stage where they’re ability to express themselves creatively is increasing. They often begin to assert their minds through choosing different colors, fabrics, and styles as well as trying to imitate older siblings. If you’ve got one child at school and another at home, you may have already noticed the three-year-old showing a clear interest in the school bag, gym kit, and pencil case and then trying to copy even though they’re far too young too young to carry out the activities. Still, if you are going to let kids try to pick out their own outfits, there are a few ground rules you should follow, so they don’t end having constant colds!  

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Give Them Choice

Kids love having more than one option to choose from because it helps them feel like they have a greater sense of control. As parents know there’s nothing a three-year-old likes to believe more than that they rule the roost! Don’t just silently lay out the clothes you’d like them to wear, have a chat about clothes and ask your child for their opinion, but do it in a way, so it doesn’t matter what the answer is. For instance, if it’s a chilly day they’ll need to wear jeans, socks, underwear, a t-shirt and a sweater. It doesn’t matter what color the shirt and sweater are as long as they’re wearing one but by pretending it does your child will feel like they have a say in what’s happening. Saying ‘would you like to wear your green or purple jumper?’ gives them a choice, so they’ll be far less likely to kick up a fuss. 

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Smooth Not Scratchy

Some children will wear anything while others can be pretty fussy about what they have against their bodies. Sensitive, or autistic children sometimes have complex sensory issues that mean they don’t like any types of clothing as the feel of the fabric against their skin bothers them. If this is the case, it’s best to choose soft, natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk that are less likely to irritate them as well as bargaining with them that if they wear clothes outside they don’t necessarily have to be fully dressed when at home. Others, for some reason, prefer to wear no clothes and feel much more comfortable when wearing as little as possible. They will constantly try to take their socks off or end up removing their pajamas when in bed. The chances are that your child will grow out of this as they get older so try not to worry too much.

Try to avoid clothes that your kid has clearly indicated they hate, i.e. if they complain something’s too scratchy, check out what it’s made from as fabrics like mohair, polyester and elastane can feel tight or itchy against the skin. All children have their likes and dislikes so if your daughter’s not that into skirts, or dresses don’t force her to wear them as it will lead her to associate clothes with sadness. There are even ways to help overcome problem areas like annoying seams, irritating clothes tags, and stiff collars. Just turn items like socks inside out, cut out all tags but remember the washing instructions and wash collars until they start to soften up. Kids also like routine, so if Wendy wants to wear dresses for months on end, then that’s ok too. Pop leggings, tights or a t-shirt underneath in cold weather and always make sure she has a jumper or cardigan to hand.

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Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to get kids used to dressing themselves is by practicing when you’re not actually in a rush to go anywhere. By three most kids can put their underwear on, pull a jumper over their head, it may be back to front and put on elastic shorts or skirts. Kids like feeling confident, so being able to get dressed without your help is a significant step for them which shouldn’t be overlooked. Make sure you give them plenty of praise each time they attempt it on their own, and when they finally manage a correct, weather appropriate outfit buy them a special treat. Don’t worry if your child’s a bit more cautious as slow and steady wins the race, give them the space, and time to learn how to put their clothes on without being constantly watched and they’ll soon get the hang of it!

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Race You!

Because preschoolers have a only very vague, or no concept of time they rarely understand why you’re so stressed and harried in the mornings. To them, there’s all the time in the world to play with their dolls, watch cartoons, or listen to the Peppa Pig soundtrack. Getting dressed is often the last thing on a child’s mind, if they could have even older kids would go to school in their PJ’s. The best way to encourage kids to get dressed quickly is, like every other kid-related task, is turn it into a game.

You could see how long it takes them to get ready to go outside, starting off in their sleepwear, and give them a chance to pick an outfit that they think would be suitable for say a trip to the park. For example, they could be awarded points for remembering to grab their denim jacket and bringing you their trainers but be deducted points for forgetting to put their t-shirt on before their jumper. Why not make it even more exciting by using a stopwatch and pretend race flag? Set a timer that counts down in ten-minute intervals so if your child regularly appears in the kitchen before the buzzer beeps then they get a bag of sweets or a new small toy.

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Just Chill

Lots of us think there should be a special award for parents who manage to successfully button their children into heavy duty winter coats without a struggle. Children rarely see the point of it; they’re warm right now so why should they? However, as young children can’t make the link between the temperature inside and outside they rebel against something they think will make them hot and sweaty. Try not to make a big deal out of getting their coats on if the weather isn’t too bad as often kids are happier in cooler temperatures. However, make sure you take coats, gloves, and hats with you and don’t just leave them in the car. If the weather changes they’ll soon start to feel chilly and will ask you for their coat before too long. Gently remind them that their winter coat will stop them getting cold and sick, so it’s important that they wear it.