Getting Dressed in the Morning

Dear Miss Faith,
I wonder if you could give some ideas for me to help my 4yo daughter get dressed in the morning. She is taking it very slow, and nothing I say or do can seem to speed it up. My 2yo and I have to wait for her before we all go downstairs for breakfast, and I find I feel angry and powerless. Another thing is that she has developed a sensitivity to her underclothes, where there’s only one that she’ll wear. But it’s only for me; for dad or grandma, she’ll wear any of them. At this point, we’re washing her underwear in the sink each night so she can wear it again the next day.

Dear Mama,
When child develops a sensitivity that only appears for one adult but not for others, it’s frustrating all around! Especially when you see her behaving like an angel for someone else. The trick for situations where you’ve fallen into a negative pattern like that is to look and see how you can take your “self” away from the interaction a bit. One idea that’s occurring to me is to have her bring her clothing downstairs, where she can dress at her leisure while you do other things. Perhaps you and your 2yo would even start eating breakfast without her if she takes too long, but it’s not because you’re angry or punishing her; it’s just the result of the choice that’s she’s made. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be able to eat with you again.

Another option is to literally take yourself out of the equation. If things go fine with dad, could he help her get dressed each morning? When I find myself getting into a cycle of negative interactions with a child, I’ll often hand-off that interaction to my assistant, and things can go much more smoothly. It pricks my pride a little, but the reality is that I have many other interactions with that child over the course of the day, so why struggle over something that feels hard, if there’s another option?

If dad’s schedule means that he can’t help during the week, and having her dress downstairs is not taking the sting out of your interactions, try to think outside the box a little. I’ve known some parents who had real struggles dressing in the morning, who would dress their child the night before so they could skip the morning dressing altogether. I don’t recommend that as a long-term solution, but doing it for a couple of weeks might effectively push the ‘re-set’ button, and you could find that your previous issues have melted away once you start again. When you don’t give your child something to push against, by taking yourself out of the situation as much as you can, it can help the energy start to flow again.

Finally, an image for you: whenever I have an ongoing issue with a child, I find that pushing and pushing all the time just doesn’t work. Instead I push for awhile, then relax a little and see what happens. Then push again, and relax a little. It is like the image of the waves on the beach as the tide comes in. This way, the child is not being over-powered into submitting to our will; he (or she) has time to decide to do what we’ve asked him to, out of his own free will when I’m not pushing. Or if he doesn’t, it gives me time to shore up the loving side of our relationship, and for him to get used to the level of where things are at, before I give another gentle push. So that’s why I think it’s better to try and find a solution that takes to struggle out of it, even if it’s only a temporary solution–it might allow your daughter to decide something different on her own.

Warmly, ~Miss Faith


  1. Another helpful and thought-provoking post, thank you!!
    This made me think of a struggle I have with my almost 2yo regarding naps. He naps easily for 2 hrs straight at day care (3 days/wk) and when his grandmother puts him down, but fights me tooth and nail and then only sleeps 45 mins or less without fail. I can sometimes get him back down again, but it is a real struggle. With a new baby, I don’t know how to keep this up. He was doing this long before the new baby arrived so I don’t think that has something to do with it. Any suggestions??

    • Hmmm…one idea I have is to ask your daycare provider what their nap-time schedule is (what songs they sing, how they do things, in what order, etc.) and then tell your son that the two of you are going to “pretend” that you’re at daycare today at nap-time. You have to do it too: pretend that you’re a daycare provider, and that this child is one you’re caring for and not your own child at all. If he starts to put up his fuss, remind him that you’re not mommy, you’re “Miss so-and-so”. This game may help you be able to take some of your Self out of the interaction, and he may well just settle right into it. Good luck!

  2. What I love most about all of your posts and responses is the invitation to parents to remain calm in the midst of the stormy seas. Thanks for this reminder. With this particular situation I liked your advice to give the daughter the space to put her clothes on while mom continues with getting herself ready and doing what she needs to do. One thought that occurred to me: would it be so bad if daughter just didn’t wear the underclothes? Would it work to say something (in a non-threatening but just matter of fact way) like, “I know you really love that pair but today they are dirty. You can either wear these others that are clean or you could choose to not wear any for today.” Would that be an alternative?

    My 2.5 year old son has been extremely resistant to putting on coats/hats/gloves, etc. I’ve been doing my best to not create a power struggle over this but just to say, “Okay, I’ll bring them along and when you feel cold you let me know.” We’re not into the really cold bit of winter yet and I imagine it won’t take long until he figures out that he’ll be more comfortable with those items on…

    • Melody, I certainly don’t think it’s a big deal for a child not to wear underclothes, if that makes life easier. One thing to keep in mind for mittens and jackets is that young children are often not very good at telling whether they are hot or cold–they don’t like wearing out clothes because of the bulk and will say “I’m hot” because that’s a phrase that tends to get the reaction they want. So that’s something to keep in mind. To see if a child really is warm, feeling their hands can give you a good idea: if their hands are warm, their core certainly is, too.

      On the other hand, it can take awhile to get used to wearing these new bulky clothes as the cold weather starts coming in, so I think that it’s fine ease into it a little. By the end of winter, many of my toddlers refused to go outside withOUT mittens!

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