"I want my princess pajamaaaaaas!" my 3-year-old daughter, Avery, wailed as I tried to explain that her beloved pj's were in the laundry. I'm used to this mayhem. The day before, she had a meltdown about a specific dress she refused to wear ("It's yucky!"). And on the sunniest day of the week, she insisted on sporting rain boots at the playground.
Avery's outfit-related outbursts can be incessant, impassioned, and, yes, infuriating, but I was relieved to discover that they're totally typical for children her age. "Three-year-olds are learning to assert their independence, and they want more control over their environment. Clothing is one of the few things they can take charge of," says Tammy Gold, a psychotherapist and parent coach in Short Hills, New Jersey. "Choosing what they wear helps kids define who they are."
It's best to pick your battles. Some kids simply think it's fun to dress up, so when your child insists on wearing a crazy getup, consider the destination. "A tutu might be perfectly acceptable if you're off to Grandma's house for dinner, but not if you're going to church," says Elizabeth Pantley, mother of four and author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution. Be clear about your limits. You might say, "You can wear your tutu to the store but not to the playground." Then explain why -- it could get ripped or dirty.
"Getting your child out of pajamas in the morning is all about the routine," says Pantley. "If you let him lounge in sleepwear all weekend, he may resist getting dressed Monday through Friday." Set an a.m. schedule: Wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth -- and stick to it seven days a week. Little kids hate to feel rushed, so make sure you've allowed enough time in the morning for him to get ready.
If he's particularly sluggish, it's best to acknowledge his feelings but hold firm. Say something like, "I know you don't want to take off your dinosaur jammies -- they're so cozy -- but it's time to get ready for school." And as a last resort, you might meet him in the middle. "Suggest he wear his pajama top underneath his sweater as an undershirt," says Gold. "You've compromised but also sent the message that it's not okay to wear pj's on their own out of the house."
Does your child have more wardrobe changes in a day than Miley Cyrus has during a concert? Your kid's not a diva; she may simply be practicing her newly acquired skills. "Some children do this when they first learn to master the process of getting dressed," says Pantley. Plus, she may like experimenting with different looks. She's been hanging out with a lot of kids at school and on playdates, and has had a chance to check out what they're wearing. "Explain to her that in the morning, people put on one set of clothes for the day," says Gold. "Then make sure you give her plenty of opportunities to play dress-up." Keep a costume box of castoffs from older sibs or Mom and Dad, and let her imagination run free.
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.