Google+ Authentic Parenting: When Getting Dressed Is An Issue

Friday, April 22, 2011

When Getting Dressed Is An Issue

My daughter resists the idea of clothes. If it was up to her, she’d be naked all the time. Result is that she is naked pretty much all the time, who is to disagree? She has spent most of her life in a tropical climate where wearing clothes is indeed more a nuisance than a comfort. Moreover, here in Africa, kids just mostly don’t war clothes. In Cameroon, even adults would walk around in their birthday suits, and nobody would bat an eye, here in DR Congo, kids run around naked or almost nude up until they hit puberty and in Ivory Coast it was a usual sight to see kids just wear a T-shirt, nothing else.
In the African countries we have lived in, babies and toddlers would mostly be naked, and once they reached childhood, it depends on the morals of the country. In Ivory Coast kids dressed earlier (perhaps because of the bigger Muslim influence?).

Yet in Europe, naked kids are just not tolerated. “Indecency”, stranger danger, pedophilia and a less tolerable climate are the main culprits. But how do you make a small child understand that suddenly, the rules have changed, just because you are in a different country?

I believe that getting dressed is as much of a developmental stage as walking, talking or getting potty trained. I think, if left to their own devices, kids just wouldn’t get dressed (much) until they hit puberty, as a result of a combination of wanting to belong to the adult world and their changing body and the feelings that brings along.
Mainly - if the climate factor is out of the question - getting dressed is pretty much a question of shame. Small children aren’t ashamed of their bodies, so they don’t think twice about running around naked. They don’t see their bodies as sexual devices, so they don’t ‘get’ why nakedness would be inappropriate.

I think childhood nakedness shouldn’t be made too much of an issue. In fact, we should probably celebrate their sense of self-confidence and awe of their bodies, in order to raise confident adults. The choice to eventually get dressed should be theirs.

Sadly, in the Western World, it doesn’t always work that way, and when we leave the safety and confinement of our house, sometimes our children really do need to get dressed.
Here are a few pointers on making getting dressed a bit easier:

  1. Have them pick their own clothes when you buy them. Even when they are very little, they have preferences to certain patterns, textures and colors, when they are involved in picking the clothes in the store, they will be more inclined on wearing them.
  2. Have them pick their clothes out of the wardrobe. When they are very little, lay out two or three options, so they don’t get overwhelmed. Once they are a bit older (two, two and half) they can pick out of the full range.
  3. Being dressed is more important than being in style. It doesn’t matter if what they pick doesn’t match or if it’s shorts over pants with a dress, as long as they are dressed, it OK. Moreover, clothing is a way for them to express themselves, to seek the limits and possibilities of their bodily image. Grant them the experiment.
  4. If they are particularly resistant, think about where it is really necessary for them to be dressed. They can easily be naked in the car (maybe just wrapped in a little blanket), or in the garden, or at grandma’s house... Decide when it is really necessary, so it doesn’t become a constant battle.
  5. Making clothes together is also a great motivator to wear that special self-made item. You don’t have to be a couture-grade seamstress to do so, you could also just decorate T-shirts together with fabric paint or fabric markers, embroider, or sew on embellishments... the choice is vast and there are options for any talent and any budget.
  6. No Shaming!!! This is probably the most important pointer in this list. Shaming is a widely used tactic for kids who don’t want to get dressed, but it does nothing for the cause and only makes your child feel bad about it’s body, something we should avoid at all cost (society at large already does everything it can to reduce their bodily esteem). Don’t say they’re not pretty naked, or they’d look better dressed, or the pretty girls wear nice dresses, etc... there are so many other things to do and say, you don’t need to result to shaming. We should all be very careful about what we say to our children about their and our body anyway.
  7. Positive enforcement. When they do get dressed, notice. Say something nice, like: “I like how you matched that outfit”, “Those pants are a good choice for the walk we’re taking”. Don’t forget: positive enforcement is not praise, there’s a big difference. Positive enforcement is to pay attention to the desired behavior, not to praise it. Praise is right there next to shaming. (For those who are raising a brow right now: telling your child it looks good in a particular piece of clothing makes them doubt if they also look good without it).
  8. Make it into a game. Everything works better with children when it’s fun. You can easily make a game out of it: make a train of clothes and ask your child to put on everything on it’s trail. Count the number of clothes you are wearing and have them put on the same amount.
  9. Dress someone (or something) else first. Getting them involved in the process of dressing will make them more inclined to do so themselves.
  10. Point out other people’s clothes. “We’re going into the store, you see, all the people in the store are dressed. Do you want to put on your clothes to? See, that boy is wearing pants and a T-shirt.”
  11. Make it a question, not an order. Asking for your child’s cooperation is always a better strategy then ordering around. The mere order will make them reluctant to collaborate.
  12. It’s not about winning. If you see the issue as a battle, chances are it will be. See it as a way to find new strategies, learn a few things about each other, practice negotiation.
  13. It’s not about you. Your child not wanting to get dressed is not about getting in your air or deliberately going against you. It’s simply a stage they go through, a phase in which they explore their bodies and the world. Don’t fret about it.

I hope this was helpful. Feel free to put in your two cents on the topic and leave a note if you too have some handy pointers on the issue.



  1. I wish kid's could roam around freely as they choose.

    But unfortunately, my own experience tells me it is not safe to do so.

    Sexual abuse is very real.

    I wish it wasn't, but it is.

    I like your ideas though :)

  2. It is the same way in America.
    My 4 year old and 2 year old are constantly stripping off their clothes. In the winter I buy full body sleepers and cut the feet off then zip it up in the back. Extreme I know but they also kick their covers off and they get coooooold. Gotta do what you gotta do.
    Your tips were very useful, thank you. : )

  3. I enjoyed this post so much. We live in Australia, and my kids are pretty much naked at home, clothed when we go out. It's interesting how easily they "get" the distinction. I have no tips about getting them to wear clothes though, the closest we come is our "knickers on at the dinner table" rule.

  4. My son is 18 months old and doesn't mind getting dressed if he actively chooses his clothes and helps us dress him (stepping in to his pants, holding his foot up for socks, etc.) I let him roam naked as much as possible but his grandmother is paranoid of him catching a chill (even in the house!) despite the fact that he refuses covers of any kind at night and is just fine.

    Where it is chilly and rainy here right now, I tell him we can't go outside until he is dressed. His love of the outdoors leads him, naturally, to pick clothing and bring it to me to help him put on. In fact, dressing is probably one of the least conflicted aspects of our interactions these days! I'll remember these tips in case that changes though.

    As an aside, sometimes he tries to help US dress by bringing shoes and putting them on our feet.

  5. Wow, this is a great piece!

    "I think childhood nakedness shouldn’t be made too much of an issue. In fact, we should probably celebrate their sense of self-confidence and awe of their bodies, in order to raise confident adults. The choice to eventually get dressed should be theirs."

    I completely agree!

    Good tips, too. Not enough people let kids choose their own clothes! For lots of reasons, but most of them not too good. (Hee, that reminds me: my son was into frocks for a few years.)

  6. I loved this post! Thank you so much! As for sexual abuse, I don't want to be insensitive to anyone who has gone through the horrors of abuse. However, it is never the child's fault, regardless of what the child is wearing or not wearing. I figure that anyone perverted enough to lust after a child is not going to stop just because the child is clothed. My job is to keep my child away from that person, not to limit my child's freedom of dress.


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