Ask an expert: How can I get my child to wear a coat without a battle?

  • Fri,15 Mar 2019 09:43:47 AM

My three-year-old daughter refuses to put her coat on, even when it’s freezing outside. How can I get her to put it on, and why does she behave like this?

Parenting expert Tanith Carey, co-author with child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin of What’s My Child Thinking? (published by DK, RRP £16.99), says: “With all the preparation it takes to get out of the house with a young child, it’s easy to get annoyed and assume your child’s being deliberately naughty when they won’t put their coat on.

“But situations like this will be easier if you see them through your daughter’s eyes. For instance, your child may insist she doesn’t need her coat, because kids often don’t feel the temperature as much as adults. They have a smaller skin surface area to keep warm, are more active and have a faster metabolism. It’s also possible your child doesn’t like the feeling of being bundled up. Some find certain materials itchy, or hate feeling constricted.

“Put into simple steps you can use in the moment, what does child psychology say is the best way to handle this?

“First, avoid turning it into a shouting match – get down on her level and speak softly. Tell her:  ‘I see this is hard for you today. I can help you decide what to wear outside if you like’. When she knows you’re listening, she’s more likely to calm down.

“Next, ask if she’d like to look at other options, like a looser, but just-as-warm, hoodie. Or offer her the choice of two coats, so she feels she has some say. Don’t feel this is giving in, but listening to what she’s trying to express.

“If it’s safe, consider allowing your child to work out how it feels when she’s cold. Take a coat for when she realises it’s uncomfortable to be chilly. Point out how other children are dressed outside too when it’s cold or wet, so she realises it’s normal to wear extra clothing to suit the weather.

“If it’s really cold and your child would be at risk of hypothermia, tell her you can’t let her choose now, because today she needs to wear something to keep her comfortable. Let her know she can choose when it’s warmer. Give her a freer rein when it doesn’t matter, like choosing her pyjamas at bedtime.

“Next time, avoid leaving it until the last minute. Build an extra 10 minutes into your schedule so you have time to offer her some choice.”

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