Cold Weather Parenting

Now that the cold weather is upon us, many parents are faced with the difficulty of encouraging their children to bundle up to stay warm. While some (though it seems very few!) children do this willingly, the vast majority kick and scream their way up from toddlerhood through adolescent defiance, all the while remaining absolutely adamant about NOT putting on that extra sweater or bulky coat. So what's a parent to do? Should parents simply give up or is this a worthwhile battle to engage in? Let's take a look at some of the causes of defiance as well as a few suggestions for helping your kids stay warm when it's cold outside!

There can be a number of reasons that children balk about putting on extra layers in the wintertime. Some children, for example, get overheated easily if they have to put on a coat prior to going outside. Other children dislike the bulk, weight and / or texture of winter clothing. Perhaps it feels itchy or restrictive to them. Still other children actually enjoy the power struggle that ensues over cold weather clothing. Knowing why your child struggles with this issue can ultimately be the key to overcoming it.

If you believe that your child gets overheated easily, the first step lies in acknowledging how uncomfortable it is to feel too warm. Remember that when you acknowledge your child's feelings and she feels understood by you, it's less likely that this issue will turn into a power struggle. Then, if you have a young child, offer her a choice: "Would you like to put your coat on in the apartment? Or would you like to put it on when we're out on the sidewalk?" Offering your young child a choice reinforces to her that there's no need to struggle for power because you're actually offering her some power to begin with (albeit limited power.) Once out on the sidewalk, should she balk again, you can offer a "when / then" choice: "When you put on your coat, then we can go." Between your steadfast refusal to move until she dons her warmer apparel and the chilliness of the atmosphere, success is almost assured. If your child is older (elementary school or above) you might want to consider bringing this issue to family meeting. Again, acknowledgement of and respect for your child's sensitivity to temperature is critical to an open discussion of the subject. Once his feelings have been acknowledged, it's important to explain clearly why it's important that he wear warm clothing during the winter months. Then, ask him if he has any ideas as to how to make it easier for him, given that he overheats easily. When children and teens are asked for their opinion they feel respected and are then better able to respect your wishes as well.

If you have a child who seems sensitive to the texture or weight of winter clothing, it's again important to acknowledge their feelings as a first step. For younger children, you may then need to experiment with different types of cold weather clothing in order to find something that feels comfortable. For example, cotton or silk are often tolerated better than itchy wool or acrylic. Layering loose cotton clothing and covering your child with a light weight, down-filled jacket can achieve the same effect as a wool sweater with a heavy winter coat. Remember that your children are people, and their sensitivity to different textures and materials needs to be respected and worked with. If your child is in the "older" category, you can make her a part of the purchasing process. Just the act of brainstorming solutions with an older child can often achieve the desired effect. When children feel listened to and supported by their parents they're more likely to compromise -- thus, even if the clothing isn't "perfectly" comfortable, your child may be willing to tolerate it simply because she knows that you care enough to try and work with her on this issue.

If you believe that your child is engaging you in a power struggle, then the key lies in removing the power from the situation. A good analogy is to imagine what would happen to a sailboat in a windstorm if you collapsed the sail. Without that sail for the wind to push against, the boat isn't going to move. If you think of your child as the wind, taking the power out of the situation involves removing your sail. There are a couple ways to do this. First, no matter what age your child is you must refuse to let your temper get engaged. Remaining calm is one way of taking the power out of the situation. After all, if Mom or Dad refuses to huff and puff and get all red in the face, some of the "fun" will no longer be present. Then, if you have a younger child, you can either calmly give a choice along the lines of "either put your coat on or we'll stand here until you're ready" and then refuse to move no matter what, or you can allow your child to experience the "natural consequences" of their actions. Natural consequences are wonderful teachers in that parents can rely upon nature to do the teaching and remain uninvolved themselves. In addition, they work well with elementary - aged children and teens! So for example, the natural consequences of not putting on your coat are that you'll get cold. Allowing your child to feel the temperature can be a powerful persuasive devise! And when he complains about being cold (bring the coat with you, of course) you can emphasize the point of wearing warm clothing. Just be careful, however, that you don't say "I told you so." An "I told you so" will ruin a natural consequence more quickly than almost anything else. Instead, be sympathetic: "Sounds like you're sorry you chose not to wear your coat. At the end of the block we'll stop and you can put it on." Making your child wait until the end of the block will reinforce the importance of him putting it on immediately in the future. If you have a teenager, good communication and natural consequences are really the only tools available to you. And if you feel tempted to become engaged with your teen in a power struggle, remember that your relationship with her is ultimately more important than whether or not she's cold.