How do I get my toddler to get dressed?
Q: My 2 1/2-year-old daughter has been fighting with both my husband and me about getting dressed or putting her coat on. We give her a choice of outfits, give her few-minute warning before leaving for somewhere, but nothing seems to work. It gets frustrating and tiring but I'm not sure how to make this better. It doesn't seem to matter where we are going either—from our house to Nana's or heading home or another outside activity like sledding this morning.
A: I have a special place in my heart for two-year-olds, because they’re completely unreasonable! As you’ve probably noticed, rushing is likely to bring out her stubborn streak. Offering limited choices can help, but she probably wants all options at the same time, so it may be hard for her to make up her mind. Here are some ideas that might make getting dressed easier.
- Make sure her clothes are comfortable and easy to get on and off. Banish shirts with tight neck holes!
- Dress her on top of the changing table, so there’s less room for her to run off.
- Give her a book or toy to play with or a window to look out of while you put on her clothes.
- Two-year-olds love to give orders, and they love silliness, so try a game of pretending to put the clothes on wrong and letting her correct you. Do her socks belong on her ears? No? Where should you put them? She knows!
- Try musical comedy. Make up a “getting dressed song” with a silly action after each piece of clothing. For instance, “First we put your pants on, pants on, pants on. First we put your pants on and then we [blow on her tummy]. Next we put your shirt on… Now we put your sock on…”
- Toddlers don’t understand statements along the lines of “Put your coat on now because you’ll be cold later.” If your daughter resists putting her coat on, just bring it along as you step outside and tell her, “Let me know when you’re ready for your coat.” If she doesn’t say anything after a moment or two, ask “Are you ready for your coat?” If necessary, you can put the coat on backwards as she sitting in her car seat or stroller.
Answered by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.