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Why Won’t My Kid Wear a Coat?

Posted 1/19/2016 by UHBlog

If every conversation with your child feels like a battle, maybe it's time to learn some new, more effective strategies. We can help.

Why Won’t My Kid Wear his Coat?

Does your child refuse to wear his winter coat? It's an age-old struggle that many parents face.

According to developmental/behavioral pediatrician Marie Clark, MD, MPH, the battle has little to do with the coat. Often, it’s more about acknowledging your child's independence and letting him suffer the consequences of a less-than-ideal decision.

When temperatures are below freezing – and certainly below zero – parents should lay down the law, she says.

“But for the most part, refusal to wear a coat can happen in times where it's cold enough to be comfortable without one,” Dr. Clark says. “It's that in-between time where people struggle. It's cold enough to want your child to wear a coat, but not quite frostbite weather. Should you really force your child to wear a coat at that point?”

You may be able to dial down the conflict while helping your child make good choices if you consider these factors:

  1. Your child's comfort. “Particularly with younger children, parents have a tendency to over-layer and over-dress them because they're so concerned about the kids being warm enough,” Dr. Clark says. “The child may even be overheated in the layers he's been placed in.”
    Additionally, some children are sensitive to tags and certain materials. A tag inside the jacket may be bothering them, or a child may be allergic to down or other materials.
    “Is there some underlying reason, related to their comfort, why the child is refusing to wear the coat?” she says.
  2. What’s really at stake? Are you afraid your child will catch a cold because he won't wear a winter coat? Old wives’ tales aside, getting cold does not strictly cause a child to catch a cold. Your child must be exposed to a cold or flu virus, which commonly circulate in the winter, Dr. Clark says.
    More to the point, when a child reaches preschool age, she often wants to assert her independence.
    “Refusing to wear a coat is an easy way to do that,” Dr. Clark says. “You could view this in a positive way. The child is developing her own sense of personhood, which is great.”
    To minimize conflict with younger kids, she offers these tips:
    • Give choices whenever possible. Rather than stating, “Put on your coat,” say, “Which coat would you like to wear?” Giving kids options, if available, allows them to assert their autonomy while you “win” in getting them to put on a coat.
    • Model the desired behavior. “Children sometimes imitate what adults are doing,” she says. “So if everybody else in the family is putting on their coat, giving the child an opportunity to watch and model that can be helpful.”
    • Make it a game. “Who can put on their coat the fastest? Making it fun can take the pressure off and distract the child from not wanting to wear the coat,” Dr. Clark says.
  3. Teen and ’tween dynamics. “Are there reasons they're not wearing a coat that perhaps you haven't thought about? Rather than scolding, take a more conversational approach: ‘Tell me why you don't want to wear your coat.’ Maybe somebody has been bullying them because of the type of coat they’re wearing, or the child doesn’t have a safe place at school to store their belongings,” she says.
    According to Dr. Clark, the problem might also be peer pressure.
    “‘Nobody else is wearing a coat. Why do I have to?’ With teens and ’tweens, that can become an issue,” she says.
    Keep things in perspective, especially if frostbite isn't a concern.

“Try to let the natural consequences take their course – and hope that the child will choose to wear a coat the next time,” she says. “If children go out without long pants or an appropriate coat on a cold day, they’re just going to be cold and uncomfortable. You can advise them and strongly suggest that they wear their coat, but sometimes you need to pick your battles. With teens and ‘tweens, wearing a coat may be the least of your concerns.”

Marie Clark, MD, MPH is a developmental/behavioral pediatrician at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Clark or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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