Can’t Take Another Morning Battle?  A Little Give and Take Can Work Wonders

Watching our children grow and develop little personalities is one of the best parts of parenting.

But those little personalities often clash with our patience as toddlers and preschoolers learn to become more independent and self-sufficient.

There’s one part of the day that is among the most challenging for moms and dads – but it’s all for a good cause.

We’ve all been there, more times than we care to count.  Chasing a half-naked child down the hall as they fight to get dressed in the morning.

It’s hard enough when you’re not rushing off to work or an appointment, but they seem to sense when we are late for something and losing patience – so they rachet up the struggle until we are at a boiling point.

The fight over getting dressed is just one of the battles we face – like mealtime, cleaning up, or bathtime.  

But our little ones are not fighting us just for the sake of it.  Sure, they may find a short-term benefit in their negative attention-seeking, but these battles are about so much more.

Clothing choice, in particular, is an important way for young children to express themselves as an individual.

After all, that fight at mealtime has only one conclusion – they have to give up eventually because they have to eat to survive.

But getting dressed, especially in the outfit Mom or Dad chooses, is a different story.  We are often no match for their boundless energy – and they know it.

Twisty-turny, energetic toddlers who kick and scream and flail around while getting dressed are expressing their “autonomy,” and it’s an important phase we must allow.

While it requires a lot of patience on the part of parents, this phase is vital.  

By calling the shots when (and if) they get dressed and by what they choose to wear, they are  actually building confidence.  

It’s an actual stage of development coined in the mid-twentieth century by psychologist Erik Erikson, according to the New York Times… “autonomy versus shame and doubt.”

They are exploring what it takes for them to gain a bit of personal control, judged by our reactions to their insistence.

If they are not able to exert this independence in their clothing choices, they can begin to feel shame and lack of confidence.

Sure, it’s no big deal if they want to stay in their pajamas or wear the same princess dress or silly hat all day when you don’t have to go anywhere.  And it’s not even a big deal if they wear those things to the grocery store.

But then there’s church and school and important events.  We can’t let them go to our friend’s wedding or their piano recital wearing something filthy that they haven’t taken off for a week or dressed like Elsa.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Well, first, pick your battles – for example, those situations mentioned above.  Is it a big deal if they go to their playdate or the store dressed like a pirate?  While it may not be your first choice, it’s probably not worthy of a battle.

But if they’re fighting over wearing a nice dress or little suit to their recital and it’s a must for the occasion, then it’s time to offer choices.

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Now, for many of us in this jeans and t-shirt age, our child may only have one nice outfit for an important occasion.  Or, they may have to wear a certain style or color of dress for an event or school performance.

Even giving kids small options will go a long way.  If the fancy suit is mandatory, let your son wear his crazy pair of socks with it.  

For school or church, set out a couple of different options for your child to choose from – and make sure that all of your shirt/pants/socks options are interchangeable as far as color/style/seasonal appropriateness.  

Otherwise, you know they’ll pick the most obnoxious combination of the pieces you’ve given them.

And small children often want to wear nothing at all around the house.  This is normal and part of their independence-seeking.  They know that nudity is not the norm, so they’re going to make it their norm to push those limits.

You can work with them by setting limits on where and how long they run around in their birthday suit.  No, they can’t go to church without pants over their pull-up; yes, they can wear just their pull up during movie night at home.

A little give and take will show them that you respect their quest for independence, but if you feel the battle over getting dressed is an all-out, constant war that leaves your household in constant chaos, it may be worth bringing up to your pediatrician to come up with some better tactics.

So, hang in there, mamas (and papas).  This too shall pass… at least until the cycle repeats itself in the teen years.