Baby It’s Cold Outside (But Don’t Make Her Wear A Coat)

Wannabee BLUNT
Written by Wannabee BLUNT

I could hear her wailing as I walked by the playground; a little girl with tear-stained face and bright red cheeks was standing near her teacher. “I’m too hot for my coat!” she protested. I couldn’t hear the teacher’s response, but I could tell by the girl’s reaction that the teacher insisted that she keep her coat on.

Battles between children and adults over clothing are pretty common. We “know” the appropriate attire for various occasions and weather conditions. But kids have other priorities; they want something that is comfortable, that looks like what their friends wear, or that makes them feel like a superhero.

I tried to put myself in the teacher’s position. What might be the reasons she had for wanting the girl to keep on her coat? True, it was cold outside, but not bitterly so, and I could easily see how a child who was very active could quickly get too warm. Maybe she didn’t want the child to lose or forget the coat? Or maybe she was afraid of parents’ reactions? For every reason I could think of (with the exception of the child having some type of medical condition that made getting a little cold dangerous), there were solutions that didn’t require the teacher to override the girl’s need to cool off.

Later in the day, I was thinking of the situation again, and it really struck me that forcing a child to wear a coat actually undermines the message that “my body is my own.” Although it comes from a sense of concern for the child’s well-being, it ultimately boils down to “I’m bigger and more powerful than you and therefore you have to do what I want.”  And kids who regularly are pushed into doing things they don’t want to by people who they trust (or at least depend on) have a harder time standing up for themselves when they need to. I don’t want to take this too far by saying that making your child wear a coat is akin to sexual abuse, but it is one of many small messages we give kids that inadvertently tells them to give away their own power.  And while I agree that there are a few things like this that we really can’t get away from, like unpleasant medical procedures, we should do our very best to avoid exerting power against our children.

So then what’s the alternative? My own way of handling it is to bring the child’s jacket or sweater if I think it’s cold. The child decides whether to wear it. Another family I know has a thermometer on the window, along with a sign showing the cutoff point for jackets and for for summer clothing; the kids are responsible for checking the thermometer and dressing accordingly. Dad says this has eliminated their clothing power struggles. Plus the kids really like checking the thermometer.  Other families may be able to find different solutions that work for them.

The point is that once kids start being able to express their own preferences, we need to learn how to really listen to them. They need to know that it’s OK to speak up for themselves, ok to have an perspective that’s different than someone else they care about, to choose something different. If they can’t do this with a simple matter like clothes, how will they do it when the stakes are higher?

About the author: Amy is a mom, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, nanny, and friend who dreams of a world where compassion and kindness are the norm. Follow her at abetterwayparenting.com

About the author

Wannabee BLUNT

Wannabee BLUNT

Wannabe's are Guest Authors to BLUNTmoms. They might be one-hit wonders, or share a variety of posts with us. They "may" share their names with you, or they might write as "anonymous" but either way, they are sharing their stories and their opinions on our site, and for that we are grateful.

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17 Comments

    • Hi Robin, yes, I generally encourage them to carry their own coats as well. I usually have enough if my own stuff to manage!

    • Yup, I have no idea what rules the school might have about coats. But it would be worthwhile for the school to examine WHY they have certain rules and whether those rules are the most effective way to attain the goal.

  • Wow. This article really spoke to me. I have struggles with my daughter daily about what to wear–but really, at the end of the day, are these clothing battles her and I have going to matter in five years? Seeing she isn’t half-naked roaming the aisles of Target with me, let it be! She can toss a coat in the backpack and if she needs it, she has one. I agree, allowing them to make their own choices about what they feel comfortable wearing, temperature or not, well, let them have that. I really really liked this. Thank-you for sharing.
    Ashley recently posted…Bathroom Sharing is FANTASTICMy Profile

    • Thanks, Ashley! You’re right… In 5 years, this won’t matter at all. I didn’t mention in the article that my husband store wearing a coat 2 years ago. He cousins to be warm when when the temp dropped to -2 this winter! How can I make my daughter wear her cost when her dad doesn’t 😉

  • In our house sunscreen is the issue. I feel it is a safety issue (we live in South Africa my daughter has very fair skin) but it has come down to “I am bigger than you and therefore I am going to force you”

    • Hi Julie,
      I understand how important it is for your daughter to be protected from the sun!
      I wonder how your daughter would react to making the process of putting on sunscreen more fun? Maybe singing a song, or setting a timer and making it a race? Is she old enough that she could put some of it on herself? (“You rub it in your legs while I get your neck?”)
      A different tactic would be building some choice into the process. Maybe offer her several different sunscreens, or let her pick them out at the store. I know in the US, we have stick sunscreens that are great for faces, and spray on ones that really make it easy and quick to apply.
      A third option would be to ditch the sunscreen altogether by using SPF clothing. Once again, you could build choice into it. “Would you rather put on the sunscreen or wear your sun hat today?”
      Also, depending on her age, it could be really helpful to let her know WHY sun protection is so important.
      Creativity and patience go a long way in helping kids learn to cooperate!

  • I have teenagers and the issue of a coat is a power struggle. If it’s literally freezing (below 32 F) my 14 year old son used to agree to wear a coat. Now he won’t. It’s the waiting for the bus in negative weather in a sweatshirt that bothers me. Frostbite is a real thing. Sometimes you need to have the argument. After all, kids want boundaries and will always test those boundaries to see where the safe line is. Our solution it’s if he is not waiting for the bus he can wear whatever as long as it has long sleeves. If it’s dangerously cold and he’s going to be outside for more than a minute it’s a coat!

    • The survival instinct is very strong! In my experience, kids make smart decisions about their own bodies when they are given the chance to. But like us, if they feel badgered, they will often refuse, just to avoid feeling like they are being controlled.

      If it’s really, really important to you that your son wear a coat at certain times, it would be much more effective for the two of you to sit down together and work out an agreement about the conditions where a coat is required. It might take a little more time upfront, but it will prevent you from having the same conversation every day all winter!

  • So you let your 4 year old have complete control over her environment……except medical procedures!!! Well, I’m an ER nurse. When she comes to my ER for a “medical procedure”…. Ccsomething as simple as opening her mouth so we can look inside…….she expects to have control there too. And the battle is on!!! Sweetie…….do you want to open your mouth? NO!!! NO….it should be….sweetie, open your mouth for the doctor right now please!!! Parents don’t know how to parent anymore!!! Children are crying out for love and guidance and security with boundaries and rules and parents want to play friends. Then the temper tantrum comes because the child doesn’t know what else to do…….they have not been taught how to behave, they don’t know how to make these decisions!!! They’re scared, they’re uninformed, they fantasize the worse…….they need guidance and support and security that everything will be OK!!! They’re floundering! Take control of your child!!! Take control of unknown situations and reassure your child that everything will be OK, that you are there to comfort and support them if something is not entirely pleasant. Be a parent!!!

    • I agree w/ you
      Telling a child to put on a dang coat in cold weather does NOT render them powerless over their bodies and or making choices
      Im so sick of this let rhe kids do whatever even if its notin their best interest
      Get some common sense teach the kid some common sense
      The kid gets a cold or something the teacher is responsible!!! Put coat ob go play quit being a brat
      Adults make it a power struggle
      I guess these kids will grow up expecting emplyers to let them do as they please also! Unless of course they become the boss the 1st day on the job!
      Good luck in life free the children to so as they please!!!!

      • Workplaces are getting less and less hierarchical, and more collaborative. Two of the most sought-after skills in the workplace: creative problem solving and interpersonal skills. A win-win parenting model, as described here, teaches both of these.

    • I’m all for giving kids love, guidance and security 🙂 Force is rarely the way to accomplish that. As a society, we underestimate kids’ competence, willingness to cooperate, and their ability to learn crucial life skills. I love the message of Alfie Kohn, who advocates for “working with” kids rather than “doing too.”

      When my daughter went for her 18-month checkup recently, she refused to step on the scale when the nurse asked her to, even though she does it every day at home. Knowing her as I do, I knew she was intimidate by the very large, bearded male nurse. Rather than continue to battle with her, I stepped on the scale with her, then set her down for a few seconds (which she protested vigorously) and then weighed myself so that we could calculate her weight through subtraction.

      The whole idea is not that kids get everything they want, but that parents set an example of working *together* to meet the needs of both parents and kids.