Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Battle over Dressing

This blog entry was inspired by a high school friend whose facebook status update was asking for advice for her son (I think he is around two years old) who refuses to get dressed in the morning. Was it OK to allow him to choose to wear his pajamas out?

Many said yes, just let him go out in PJs, choose your battles. I respond to this with a resounding "NO!" While I agree that as parents we should choose our battles, this one is not a choice. One of the many jobs of a parent is to teach societal norms. Can we go out in our PJs? Certainly, most days I would love to, but no, we cannot. Nor should your child, past the infancy stage.

Another responded with a sticker chart. Reward his "good" behavior of getting dressed. But any reward or punishment system denies the child to do the most important thing, the very work of the child. And that is to learn. Rewards/punishments serve only to produce a desired outcome for an adult, not to teach the child about anything. Instead, the purpose of getting dressed in the morning should be for no other reason than to master this very important skill, gain self-confidence that he can perform these skills, and being proud of his appearance when he does get dressed. A child has a great amount of dignity, and they do like looking very nice and taking pride in their appearance.

So, how to stop the battles? As a Montessori teacher, I would try to find out the root cause of the battle. Is he lacking in self-confidence that he cannot do certain tasks involved with getting dressed? Most children at the age want to do things for themselves, and do not want help from an adult. However, they can quickly become frustrated when tasks do not come easily to them. If this is the case, make sure the clothes are easy for him to put on. Lots of elastic waistbands, no buttons and zippers, etc. Lay the shirt out on a bed face down so he can "dive" into it. To help him prepare for more difficult clothing, have things that he can practice with at other times of the day. In our classrooms we have dressing frames, but bears, dolls, etc are easily found at toystores that allow practice with buttons, snaps, zippers, etc.

Or, do you dress him and he is ready to move on from that and be more independent? By all means, at this age he certainly has the capabilities to do this himself. You may need to allow for more dressing time in the morning. Adjust your morning prep time accordingly.

Are the battles because he doesn't feel he has control over the situation? The control might stem from a few different places. What is going on when he is asked to get dressed? If he is playing with his favorite toy, he probably does not want to stop and get dressed. Try either waiting for a break in his activity or giving him warning about when he will need to stop playing and get ready. Adults do not like to be interrupted when we are busy with something, and neither do children.

Is the control centered around the clothing choice? In this instance you can either let him choose his own: "Which pants are you choosing today?" This is the choosing battles time. It is OK that the outfit does not match, his pants are on backwards, etc. Just be joyous that he did this himself.

Sometimes, the whole choice of a closet is too overwhelming, or maybe it is a special occasion when unmatched clothes are not appropriate. In these cases you can limit the choices for him: "Would you like to wear these pants or these pants?" He will still be happy that he got to have a choice in the matter.

Another reason for not wanting to put on his clothes could be that they are uncomfortable. Do they have tags or something that are itchy? Are they too big or small? If this is the problem try to help him remedy the situation by making the clothes more comfortable. Some children have certain things they are very sensitive about, such as socks aligned just right. Help them learn to get the clothes the way they like, and where possible help them learn that it is also all right when things are not just perfect.

In the end though it may come down to: "You can choose to get dressed, or I can dress you." If the response is negative (or a refusal to respond, which is also a negative response): "OK, I am going to put your clothes on." Period.

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