Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Dressed for success, pre-school style

About 6 months ago, in the interest of household harmony, I stopped fighting the morning battle with my preschooler about what clothes she would wear. Now, with broad guidance from me, she gets to pick what she is going to wear, and I live with it.

Most days, this works out just fine, though we have a tendency to wear the same favorites over and over. And there are other drawbacks: some days she throws together combinations of colors and patterns that I fear might make people go blind if they look directly at her. (In her defense, I am slightly color-blind and basically fashion inept, so this was a risk even when I was the one dressing her.)

The broad guidelines I set are designed to make sure she's comfortable at preschool: short sleeves when it's hot, closed-toe shoes for the playground, hats when it's freezing, and so forth. My goal is primarily to make sure that my daughter isn't miserable, but, the morning clothing routine is a big one for the care providers, too.

A new study that looked at 34 child care centers in Cincinnati found that inappropriate clothing was a major reason why classes don't go outside. Among the sins catalogued: a lack of cold-weather gear, flip-flops and "nice" outfits that weren't designed for the usual rough-and-tumble world of preschool.

What I liked best was the explanation of why kids showed up dressed all goofy:

It also emerged that clothing choices were a significant source of conflict between parents and child-care providers. Caregivers suggested several reasons why parents may dress their child inappropriately, including forgetfulness, a rushed morning routine, limited income to buy clothes, a child's preference for a favorite item, and parents not understanding the importance of outdoor play.

I have to confess that there have been times when the kid has been less than well-outfitted at school, and some of these reasons have come into play. I've left mittens on summer the kitchen table in the hurry out the door, acquiesced to shorts on the occasional autumn mornings to avoid a fight and failed miserably to accurately predict the weather. Now that we're moving into the season where lousy clothing really does make a difference, I'm curious how all of you fight the clothing battle to make sure that everyone stays warm and toasty outside.

By Brian Reid |  November 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
Previous: How to get your kids to bond with your parents (even if your bond isn't so strong) | Next: Cell phones: How early is too early?


"failed miserably to accurately predict the weather..."

I wouldn't worry about it Brian, the weather forecasters in the DC area all suck at it too, and it's their job.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 9, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Should be mostly a non-issue. We leave extra clothes in the car. If she's in shorts and it's a bit cool, there's a pair of leggings that can go into the cubby. For winter, we spend around $10 on snowpants (salvation army) and extra gloves and hat to leave at preschool.

Dresses, well that's just the workers being overly concerned. I had this talk with the teacher first day of school. If my daughter's in a dress, she can play outside in it, paint in it, whatever. If it looks fancy, too bad. That's MY problem.

Shoes - flip-flops are ONLY for swim class and they stay with the swim bag. That I don't budge on. Closed-toe shoes ALL other times.

Posted by: inBoston | November 9, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

The reasons given for not going outside in that child care center survey sound pretty bogus to me. Every center I've ever seen has tons of extra kids clothes, in individual cubbies and just lying around in the lost and found closet or whatever. If teachers really want to take the kids outside, it's generally not a problem to throw a couple of extra sweatshirts on the kids who are underdressed.

Posted by: bubba777 | November 9, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I fully admit to being a total clothes horse - both for me and for my two kids. So I probably fall into that category of letting my daughter wear "nicer" clothes to preschool now and then, but I've always made it clear to the teachers that it's totally ok for her to get them messed up. We'll happily live with dirty clothes at the end of the day if it means she had fun and learned things at school.

To avoid the battle, I set out six sets of weather appropriate clothing at the beginning of the week. Then she gets to pick which set of clothing she wants to wear that day (putting out six sets means she even has a choice come Friday). It works really well and gets us out the door in a timely manner...usually.

Posted by: stephs98 | November 9, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

My oldest and I sometimes clash about clothes, but not terribly often. I won't buy things that I'm pretty sure she won't wear and I try to have her help me pick stuff out at the store.

We do argue about wearing dresses to school on occasion, because I've seen the way the little girls in her class play on the playground in their fancy clothes (that is, they don't really play but sit primly on the side of the playground). I want my daughter to run and jump and play in the sandbox without flipping out about ruining her fancy clothes. Plus a lot of girls' dress shoes are not good playground wear. Our compromise- she can wear the fancy duds on special occasions (like a school party), or when it's raining and she won't be able to go out anyway.

Posted by: floof | November 9, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I have this so easy....

My husbands puts out their clothes and it is a rare day when they don't just put their clothes on. If they don't like their clothes, sometimes I let them change their minds and sometimes not if their selections are not appropriate. When they start to dig in their heels... I simply tell them that I am not going to explain to the other parents (ie their mom and dad) about why they went to school inappropriately dressed. That seems to resonate with them because they always put on the offending piece of clothing (usually a jacket) without another word.

So glad this is not a battle in our household.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 9, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Here's something I've been doing since I was in 1st grade:

Pick out the clothes the night before and lay them out.

Don't make it a fight in the morning, when everyone is stressed. Just do it as part of the bedtime routine.

Plus - my children's preschool's policy from the very beginning was to tell parents that the children would be getting messy and dirty every day.

And now that backpacks are required from age 3 on up - put the sweaters, gloves, whatever, in the backpack the night before. Then everything goes with the child - even if the day turns out nicer than predicted.

Posted by: Amelia5 | November 9, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

As a pre-school teacher I can say that the centers they interviewed must stink. There is not a day-care or pre-school I have seen without a box of extra mittens. In any NAEYC accredited center you go outside everyday if it is above 32 deg. and if you don't use can lose your accreditation. In my school kids in flip-flops come outside with us but are allowed only in certain areas. After a few times of being told you can't climb or run in those shoes, they stop wearing them. We also let parents know that their kids will be messy. We will not tell a kid in nice clothes not to paint, we'll just remind their parents that they might get messy and they either need to not allow those clothes to come to school or just be ok with the mess.

My only requirement for my kids clothing is that it be seasonally appropriate (and now that I have a pre-teen, that it meet a few other standards of appropriate). Otherwise, I don't care about matching, etc. Life's too short. If my DD wants to wear a tutu with her jeans everyday, why stop her?

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | November 9, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Lightning. That's the only time our nursery school keeps kids inside. All students keep extra clothes at the school and there is a pile of extra warm weather gear so nobody has an excuse.

Of course, the struggle over getting dressed sometimes has little to do with clothes. For a lot of kids, going to school is stressful (even if they like it) and getting dressed is one of their last meaningful interactions with their parents before they separate for the day. They just want to engage your attention and exercise some control over the situation. This leads to the refrain; "he was fine after you drove away."

Posted by: KS100H | November 9, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Interesting discussion. My daugher is 7 months old, and she doesn't care what she's wearing (other than getting annoyed that I keep putting her shoes on, so she can't pull off her socks in colder weather). I wish her daycare were better about getting the infants outside, at least in nice weather, but I understand that getting non-mobile, non-verbal kids outside requires at least 1 extra teacher just for the transition out, then back in. I'm looking forward to the toddler days, when the teachers can just help each kid into his/her jacket and get them out to the playground. If she weren't getting regular outside time then, honestly, that would be a reason to consider switching daycare providers.

Posted by: JHBVA | November 9, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Never a battle for us. Older DD just always wore what I picked out for her. She'd probably do it today if I was willing to take the time to do it. I'm not, and she wants to be warm and comfortable, and is not a fan of dresses, so she is always appropriately dressed. Younger DD always wanted to pick out her own clothes, but it was about asserting her independent choice/style, so didn't lead to battles. Like everyone, sometimes I've dressed my kids according to the weather report, which turned out to be wrong. Usually not drastically wrong.

Posted by: janedoe5 | November 9, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The best idea I've ever hear for families where this is a big fight is somewhat like the putting the clothes out the night before, except you have the kid actually put the clothes *on* the night before. Yep, that means they sleep in their clothes (including shoes in the family I knew who did this!). But this particular child loved getting herself dressed from head to toe, and that took about 45 minutes - far more time than they really had in the mornings. Seemed like a win-win solution to me! (And yes, they had bags of clothes both in the car and in the daycare for when the weather might be a surprise.)

Posted by: karenrayne | November 9, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Was this kid Liberace?

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 9, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Granted, my kids aren't in pre-school anymore, but I'm the mom who pretty much lets them wear whatever they want. My son is a hot kid, always has been. He's the kid in a jacket when all the other kids are bundled up. In the past I would let him go out without a coat expecting that he would come in when he was cold, guess what, he never came back in. I now leave it up to them. I tell them the weather, i make my recommendations and its their choice. If they make a poor choice, they will learn a valuable lesson. Regarding appropriateness, I don't buy anything that is inappropriate and my daughter wears bike shorts or leggings under her dresses or skirts so she can have fun and not put on a show. While my daughter often chooses combos I wouldn't select, more often than not, they rock. As long as they behave nicely, work hard and brush their teeth, I don't care what they look like.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | November 9, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Karenrayne, my older daughter is the same way! To save time in the morning, she dresses in her school clothes the night before and sleeps in them, even the shoes! This allows us to check the weather the night before to make sure that the outfit is appropriate for the next day (and at this time of year where we live, we can have frost on the ground in the morning and T-shirt weather in the afternoon, so it does get weird!). I do have a couple of rules regarding clothes-no dresses on PE days, no dressy shoes to school (this is easy to avoid since we walk to school and dress shoes hurt then anyway), and nothing trampy. Fortunately, she likes conservative dresses (she even wants me to make her some like they wear in "Little House On The Prairie") and realizes that the rules about no jewelry or dressy clothes in school actually make sense.

I'm bracing myself for the clothing battles when she becomes a teenager...ack.

Younger daughter is only 2 1/2, so she's still pretty malleable, but she's already picking out her own clothes and dressing herself. If something she chooses isn't appropriate, I tell her to pick something else, and she usually manages to do so. She's a funny kid...she has a thing about wearing a hat when we go outdoors, no matter what the weather. If we go out without letting her grab one, she lets us have it! I just hope that display of common sense lasts through school.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | November 9, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

OK, had to laugh at the Liberace comment. Why (or how) is it taking 45 minutes for a kid to dress themselves?

We never had huge issues on dressing. My son still likes me to pick out his clothes for school, which is fine. My daughter has never really had issues with picking out clothes except that she started to wear gym attire all the time last year. Now we have a rule that she can dress like a gym rat occasionally, but she has to wear "real" clothes like jeans and normal t-shirts most of the time.

Our biggest issues now are shopping for reasonably priced shoes and keeping jackets/sweatshirts hung up and clean. We also have to shop early for jeans for both kids because they are skinny and need slims. They aren't always plentiful in every size.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | November 9, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

How a child takes 45 minutes to dress?

First... she pets the cat... then she sits on the couch and stares off into space. Then she takes off her socks... then she pets the cat... then she talks to brother... pets the cat again... takes off her pajama bottoms... comes into the bathroom to ask me which way her underwear goes on of if she really needs to put on new underwear... sees the other cat and talks to her.... puts her underwear on... sees a toy she wants to maybe bring to the babysitter...

And that is how it takes 20 minutes to get dressed! These days she is getting faster because I just gave up waiting on her and if she is not dressed when I am ready to walk out the door - I dressed her myself. She is not into that so much so it motivates her to get dressed in a timely manner.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 9, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

How a child takes 45 minutes to dress?

First... she pets the cat... then she sits on the couch and stares off into space. Then she takes off her socks... then she pets the cat... then she talks to brother... pets the cat again... takes off her pajama bottoms... comes into the bathroom to ask me which way her underwear goes on of if she really needs to put on new underwear... sees the other cat and talks to her.... puts her underwear on... sees a toy she wants to maybe bring to the babysitter...

And that is how it takes 20 minutes to get dressed! These days she is getting faster because I just gave up waiting on her and if she is not dressed when I am ready to walk out the door - I dressed her myself. She is not into that so much so it motivates her to get dressed in a timely manner.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 9, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Pussy is difficult to resist.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 9, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

We had huge battles at about the 4 year mark. Solved by the traditional route: "do you want to wear this one or that one?"

The childcare excuses seem like just that. My kids tend to stay warm and don't like/need the heavy bundling some other kids do (unlike their mom!). I just don't worry about it much -- unless it's just bitter cold or wet, 15 minutes outside without a jacket won't do any harm. And if they get cold? Umm, go inside. It's really not that tough.

Posted by: laura33 | November 9, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Reminded once again just how lucky I am. DH is responsible for the boys getting dressed and to school each morning. I'm walking out the door on the way to work while older son is in the shower, and younger son is still in bed.

Thankfully, DH has great fashion sense. He even picks my clothes on shopping trips. Younger son is just like him - very concerned with his appearance and always dresses nicely. Older son is like me, pretty much oblivious.

Posted by: SueMc | November 9, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

45 minutes to get dressed? Heck, it takes a half an hour just to find a matching pair of shoes and socks. They could be anywhere from under the dining room table, the bathroom, locked in the car parked in the driveway, under someone's bed, in the backyard next to the trampoline, and then we have this mean, evil couch that eats a steady diet of car keys, cell phones, homework, and of course, shoes and socks. Every day, it's another friggin treasure hunt at the Whacky's!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 9, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Ahh, the good ole' days of clothing battles. Whoops, those still happen almost every day.

Our kids' day care center (NAEYC accredited) was like thosewilsongirls described - they went outside EVERY DAY unless it was pouring down rain or just too cold. Parents were told that. If kids came in dressed the wrong way, tough - they went out. Any parent who complained was shown the contract that they had signed, clearly stating that the kids would go outside. (But yes, there were usually tons of extra sweatshirts, sweaters, etc. lying around, too.)

The 13 year old? Gets herself up at 0600 for the 0730 school bus - takes that long to get herself dressed and made up. I let her mother handle the battles about what is and is not appropriate for 8th grade given the weather and the day's activities. And trust me, those battles often continue long after I've left for work.

The 17 year old? Gets up at 0530 to leave at 0630, but with her it's usually a question of which pair of jeans and which t-shirt/sweatshirt, unless there's a chorus concert and she has to dress up. The only battles with her are when her favorite jeans haven't been washed and she wants to wear them anyway.

The other two are at college, and I usually don't see them. (Haven't seen the oldest since she left for London more than a month ago.) DS is really happy he no longer has a dress code (he went to an all-boys Catholic high school, so he had a strict hair/uniform code). As long as I don't get a phone call that those two have been busted for indecent exposure, I tend not to care what they wear.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 9, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

My pet peeve is when kids in my girls' pre school class come dressed poorly. The kids in t-shirts and shorts on a 50 degree day or the kid in a turtleneck and sweater on a 80 degree day. It takes 1-2 minutes to look up the weather for the following day! When in doubt, do layers! My girls go out for recess at 9:30, and it is often still cold out even if it will be much warmer later. I keep a fleece jacket in their backpacks for days like this.

Then there are the kids in ripped sweatpants or totally mismatching clothes. Why exactly are you letting your kids out of the house this way? It DOES refelct on you and it DOES make you look bad. I wouldn't leave my house in clothes like that, so why do I want my kids to? And why would I let a 4 yr old choose her own outfit every day? I am the parent, not them! I let the girls make some choices, but generally I bring each girl an outfit downstairs every night. After breakfast the following morning the girls put them on, no questions asked. Today one of my girls whined about wanting to wear a dress and I told her she could wear one tomorrow. End of story.

And why exactly are some of your kids wearing their school clothes to bed? That is just weird and plain lazy.

And a tip for the annoying mitten/glove problem. Buy the cheap kind at Wal Mart and stick a pair in the pockets of every coat. We have gloves in the pockets of the fleeces, the vests, and the winter coats. If the girls lose one of them, I'm only out about 50 cents! I keep the good "for playing in snow" gloves here at the house and only get them out when needed.

Posted by: LBH219 | November 9, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Wow, it seems like a lot to make out of nothing. My daughter has gone to school in everything from a Disney princess costume, minnie mouse pgs, to her flower girl dress from a previous wedding. I was required to leave an outfit and light jacket at school and day care. I also choose to leave a cheap pair of sneakers in both locations.

Each time, my daughter thought this was a grand outfit and wore it for the first part of the day and was willing to change to more appropriate outfit when she was informed that she could not play or paint in her chosen attire.

I also informed the school that I could care less if she wrecked her outfit during play or art.

Kids like to make choices. Why not give them a safe avenue to make those choices. They can learn real world lessons while doing it. Choose your battles. Preschool dressing isn't one worth fighting.

My nephew used to sleep in his clothes sometimes. Seems kind of strange to me but he liked it.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 9, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Well, I was going say that parents should relax because NOBODY cares what you kid looks like (as long as they are warm/cool enough) but then LBH219 proves me wrong.

Posted by: KS100H | November 9, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I have one three-year old daughter, and clothes aren't too big a deal. Her biggest requirement is usually that something be pink. If she doesn't like what I pick out, I give her one other option and make her pick between the two outfits. That's working so far.

I've always dressed her in pants/shorts and a shirt except for sunday school or special occasions, so she never asks to wear a dress. When she was a baby, I would put a dress on her occassionally but that stopped after I saw how the dress kept getting caught under her knees while she was playing; what a nuisance. I've also held off on buying "dress up" or "princess" costumes, so she hasn't asked to wear those to preschool either. I figure I'll buy the dress up stuff when she actually asks for it.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | November 9, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

fr lbh219:

>...And a tip for the annoying mitten/glove problem. Buy the cheap kind at Wal Mart and stick a pair in the pockets of every coat....

Please do NOT patronize wally world or sammie's junk club. They sell VERY poorly-made goods, and refused to apologize to a gay couple that they accused of shoplifting two Bic lighters.

Posted by: Alex511 | November 9, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company