How to Handle a Kid Who Refuses to Wear a Coat

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My four-year old loves to go out and play outside without a coat or long pants, even when it is 5 degrees out. I used to yell at him and lecture him. Then a friend told me I should just let the natural consequence of being cold happen so that he would get cold enough and put on appropriate clothing. I tried that. He went outside for 45 minutes straight in 5-degree weather and played happily. Thinking that someone would call children’s services on me, I had him come inside and forced him to put on winter clothes while we yelled at each other. Now what? -Jeanne, St. Paul, MN

Jeanne,

This was a quality first attempt on your part. Experimenting with letting a natural consequence take its toll was a good idea, even if it backfired. Your kid has developed a super-human ability to withstand cold temperatures due to some combination of two factors:

  • He genuinely is not bothered by cold, choosing instead to concentrate on shiny objects and how quickly he can freeze his snot

And/Or

  • He wants to show you how TOTALLY WRONG you were about forcing him to wear a jacket.

You have managed to give him the Holy Trinity of Kid Behavior: You gave him

  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • The Thing He Wanted

He achieved all of this just by dressing like a Hawaiian surfer in the snow. For a young kid who is figuring out who and what he’s in charge of, this is pretty powerful.

No worries. Let’s fix him.

Here’s how I would handle your kid if he tried to walk into a blizzard dressed like Jimmy Buffet.

Notice how I don’t give him any of The Trinity. This includes the fact that I don’t give him attention even in the form of an explanation for my rules regarding cold weather clothing. Also, notice that I am expecting his behavior to get worse before it gets better.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. What are you forgetting?

Kid: I am going outside without a coat because I am a Greek god and impervious to the earthly elements.

Kid Whisperer: You can go outside as soon as you are wearing your pants, winter coat, a hat, and gloves.

Kid: Aries needs no such items!

Kid Whisperer: And what did I say?

Kid: I banish you to Hades!!!!! (Kid attempts to run out the door)

Kid Whisperer: Oh, drat. (Kid Whisperer physically stops Kid from escaping, gently placing Kid just inside the door while Kid Whisperer stands in front of that door wearing a smile)

Kid Whisperer: (Still smiling) And what did I say?

Kid Whisperer repeats this process and does not deviate from the last question in response to Kid’s protests, arguments, and claims of ancient, divine providence.

Kids have a fantastic sense of the inevitable. When they truly know that they will not get what they want with a behavior, they will do what you want them to do– immediately after exhausting all other options.