Toddlers are an interesting bunch. They are just discovering that they can control things, and often their favorite word is “no”. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter what they are asked, the answer is “no”. Questions as positive as “Do you want a chocolate?” can be greeted with a fervent “NO!”
Add this tendency to the myriad of options while getting dressed, and a very caustic and stressful situation can occur. There are, fortunately, ways of alleviating this stressful moment. Here are some ideas to help in dressing toddlers in a tear-free way.
Make it Fun
Granted, getting everyone ready and out the door in the morning isn’t really the best time to goof off and play, but there are simple ways to make dressing fun that don’t take up any extra time.
Sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Singing this song while pulling on a shirt or pair of pants makes the act of dressing more enjoyable for the toddler. It also helps to improve the vocabulary of the toddler. Sometimes, I’ll change the words and sing “shoulders, elbows, hands and fingers” as I’m helping the toddler get her arms out of the sleeves. Or I’ll change it to “toes, ankles, knees and hips” when I’m pulling on a pair of pants. This doesn’t take any extra time, but it makes the toddler enjoy the process of getting dressed more.
Tickle time: After the child successfully pulls on an article of clothing, give him a little tickle. Not too long, just long enough to make him giggle. This rewards the positive behavior of getting clothes on, and again makes the experience more fun.
Just be silly: Sometimes, while I’m putting my toddler into her shirt, I’ll place her pants on my head. Then while I’m pulling the shirt on I’ll ask questions like:
Is that where pants go?”
“Can you find your pants”
“Where did your pants go? I lost your pants.
Being silly makes getting dressed more like a game than a chore, and it positively reinforces that the child is doing something good. Also, the opportunity for positive parent/child interaction is priceless.
The standard response when dealing with dressing a toddler is to give that toddler acceptable choices. And this works generally speaking. However, there are certain circumstances and personalities where choices either boggle the child’s mind, or cause more stress then they alleviate.
Now, as I said, sometimes offering choices backfires, and can backfire badly. It’s best to gauge the child and see if the child’s disposition and personality can handle choices. If not, don’t give the child a choice about what they wear, just kindly help the child dress. If what the child wears matters a great deal to the parent, then again only offer choices that are acceptable to the parent. If the child is a free spirit and must pick out the clothes herself, then maybe what the child wears isn’t a battle to be fought.
It’s important, when offering choices, to make sure the clothing offered are appropriate for the activities about to be engaged in. So, instead of saying “What do you want to wear today?” filter the options down and say “Do you want to wear your pink striped shirt, and black pants or your purple flower shirt, and jeans?” In this way, the parent is acting as a filter cutting down all the options to a manageable few. Always take into account the activities planned for that day, the activities often will change what outfits will be offered. If we are heading to a water park, then the choice will be which of these two swim suits and cover-ups will the child wear. If we are going to church, then the choice will be which of these two dresses the child will wear. Also, the number of choices offered should not be more than how old the child is. Any more options than that, and the child’s brain won’t be able to process the options. Often, my child will pick one shirt from one outfit and a pair of paints from another outfit. Also, if the child has a specific article of clothing, and that clothing is appropriate to wear, then honor that expression of individuality, and let the child wear that piece of clothing.
Getting dressed doesn’t need to be a stressful time. Playing silly games with the toddler, offering an appropriate amount of activity appropriate choices, and working to keep things positive will make getting dressed one of the best parts of the day.