It should be pretty straight forward: One wakes up in the morning, and one swaps out their pajamas in lieu of some daytime clothes. It’s a thing we humans do nearly every day, and yet, your toddler is not interested in performing this ritual. In fact, the mere idea of getting dressed is full-on pissing them off right now.
If you’re finding yourself locked into this particularly pervasive battle of wills with your young child, we have some ideas to help take the edge off the frustration you’re all feeling.
Let them choose
This is the top advice veteran parents will give to new parents: Toddlers want to be in control of something, anything. So start by letting them choose their outfit in the morning — or at least give them simple choices, such as picking between the blue shirt or the yellow shirt, or whether to put on that shirt first or their pants first.
As many parents of toddlers will tell you, though: Giving them choices certainly helps, but it doesn’t solve every problem every time. One parent posted in our Offspring Facebook group asking for advice about this very thing:
So this three-year-old had been picking clothes for some time and he still does. However, getting him to actually put them on is where we get stuck. He gets distracted, yells at the dog or starts making faces in the mirror and has a ton of “squirrel!” moments, which turns into 40 minutes of me asking and repeating to “please get dressed” frustration.
That’s when it’s time to get creative.
Make it a game
A toddler is much more likely to do the thing you want them to do if it’s less of a chore and more of a game. They just want to have fun, and if getting dressed is delaying their fun, the only thing to do is make it enjoyable. This is how some parents in our Facebook group made a game of it:
- Race them. Who can get dressed first — you or them? Not only do they like to play games, toddlers like to win.
- Pretend getting dressed is an Olympic sport, complete with play-by-play commentary while your little one races against the clock.
- Play Madagascar’s “I Like To Move It” and challenge them to finish getting dressed before the end of the song.
- Similarly, challenge them to help you get them dressed before you can sing the whole alphabet song or count to a certain number.
- Let the clothes fight with each other over who gets worn that day: “Ella wants to wear me!” “No, Ella wants to wear ME!”
- Bribe them with whatever fun thing you have coming up next, whether it’s opening the day’s Advent calendar, adding a sticker to their chart, or having their favourite pancakes for breakfast. It’s not exactly a game, but using phrases like, “After you get dressed, then we’ll do XYZ…” can get them thinking ahead to something you know they’d prefer to be doing.
If you’re totally desperate
So you gave them choices, and that worked for a while. Then you made it into a game, and they were digging that until suddenly they weren’t. And now you are so tired of dealing with this every day that you could just scream. That means it’s time to try one of these “oh who the hell cares anymore” suggestions, which were endorsed by several of our group members:
- Let them watch TV while you dress them. Screentime rules are meaningless this year anyway.
- Dress them while they’re still asleep. They may even be in that precious half-asleep, half-awake stage in which they subconsciously follow your directions (“lift your arms, honey!”) without the usual attitude.
- Let them sleep in tomorrow’s clothes. Don’t want to fight about changing out of pajamas? Then don’t put them in pajamas in the first place. This was one of our group’s top suggestions. Choose tomorrow’s outfit after bath time tonight and enjoy the extra benefit of smaller laundry piles.
And finally: Remember that this, too, shall pass (even though it feels like you’ve already been waging this war for a decade and counting). Rest assured that they will eventually be non-toddlers who dress themselves in the morning without screaming and crying and whipping clothes around in a hurricane of naked fury.