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Mama, That’s Too, Too Boring!

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Dear Readers,

Can anyone offer me some parenting advice? My daughter Beatrice, who is 3.5 years old, is refusing to get dressed in the morning. She often refuses to get dressed at lunchtime and in the early afternoon too. While I don’t mind hanging out in pajamas for a while, putting on real clothes at 3pm only to get out of them four hours later seems a bit silly. Also, when she wears her pajamas all day they get dirty and they all end up in the laundry at once, which creates another crisis – no more pajamas!

I know she is capable of dressing herself. Some days she will pick out and put on her entire outfit. Sometimes she really enjoys picking out her own clothes, but a lot of the time she just doesn’t care what she’s wearing. I’d like her to dress herself so that she develops the skill and capability to do it alone, and also because I’ve also got to get myself and her baby sister dressed, and if I have to dress everyone it seems like a bit much. When she refuses, she says, “I don’t want to get dressed, it’s too, too boring!” Getting dressed probably is quite boring compared to playing hedgehog family and building a nest of blankets in the closet. However, at almost 4 years old I do think she’s ready for the responsibility of dressing herself. I don’t want this to turn into a power struggle but I would like her to develop her own competence and confidence by doing things for herself.

So, my questions are:

1) Are my expectations developmentally appropriate? Do other 3.5 year olds dress themselves regularly?
2) If this is an appropriate expectation, how can I encourage her? What do you do to help your child dress him/herself?

Thanks for your help, dear readers!


(Four Days Later…)

Dear Readers,

Well, this morning Beatrice came downstairs and had already gone to the bathroom, changed out of her pajamas and gotten dressed all by herself and with no prompting from us.  This answers question #1 – she is most certainly developmentally ready to dress herself.  As for question #2, I’m still interested in hearing how other parents deal with navigating the boring necessities of life with small children – how do you respectfully encourage a child to get dressed, eat breakfast, etc when they would far rather play?  How do you give a preschool aged kid the freedom and responsibility to choose for themselves while maintaining your ability to get on with life and get out the door in a timely fashion?

Posing this question and writing my post ahead of time, only to have my question partly answered by the passing of a few days, really reminded me that the parent’s mantra, “This Too Shall Pass,” should be tattooed on my hand or something.  Every annoying behaviour, every adorable mispronunciation, all the things that come with having small children will one day pass out of my life, and it will probably happen sooner than I think.  Everything is a phase that will eventually be outgrown, and while that doesn’t mean that I should ignore all the annoying and troublesome behaviours because they’re only temporary, it does mean that a realistic perspective will probably help me keep my cool.
So, anyone have any good tips on how to encourage your preschooler to do things she thinks are boring?

Thanks again,



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lauren @ Hobo Mama April 13, 2010, 3:01 am

    That’s too funny that you wrote the post and then your daughter psychically divined that she’d better step it up and prove you wrong. :)

    I keep having the same thing happen with me. I’ll get all worried about something my kid is or isn’t doing, and so I’ll make a big deal of it in a forum or a blog post and then — lo and behold! — time passes and development happens. Who knew!

    As for your question, I hope someone has some ideas! We try games and routines for some things (brushing teeth, getting ready for bed) and try not to care about others (honestly, we all sit around in PJs unless we’re going out), but there are definitely times I’d prefer things be done a certain way or in a certain timeframe and they aren’t, or at least not without a struggle.
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice =-.

  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama April 13, 2010, 5:51 am

    Have you ever tried working *with* your daughter toward a solution? What if you said “I understand that you sometimes want to wear pajamas for part of the day, but there are times that I would like you to get dressed – like when we go out to the store. Can you help me think of a solution that would meet both of our needs?” An excellent book with much more coherent thoughts than I can write is Naomi Aldort’s “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.” I highly recommend :) (Disclaimer: my child is only 28 months old, so I cannot speak from the position of a mama with a preschooler ;))
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..How We Came to Unschooling =-.

  • Danielle April 13, 2010, 8:35 am

    Yes, this too shall pass, I’m pretty sure that that’s what the response to my post will be. :)

    I haven’t had to struggle with these issues with my own babe yet (he is only 13 months), but when I worked as a nanny and a teacher, I often had similar issues.

    The best solution I ever found was trying to find a way to give the little one some control or power over a situation. If it was time to get dressed, I’d give the little one a choice (one that I would be happy with him/her making). Would you like to wear the blue pants with the white shirt or the pink pants with the striped shirt? There isn’t an option to not get dressed, but there is some choice for the little one.

    Keeping the number of choices manageable helps too. It rarely works to just say, “What would you like to wear today?” It is too much, at that age. Break it down.

    Best of luck. It’s interesting to read and think about many of the struggles that we are likely to face in the not-so-distant future.
    .-= Danielle´s last blog ..Help a Mama Out =-.

  • Cave Mother April 13, 2010, 8:43 am

    Hee hee. I have trouble getting my 19 month old dressed! I can’t really help you, but I was just going to say that I have so much admiration for mums who manage to get their kids dressed, breaskfasted and out the door before 9am in the morning!
    .-= Cave Mother´s last blog ..When To Wait to Nurse =-.

  • BluebirdMama April 13, 2010, 2:58 pm

    My son is 4.5 and we’re STILL having this issue. Some of the things that work for us:

    1. Having clear rules about when we get dressed and when we don’t. Some days we have pj day (we’re sick, tired or just because) – if it’s not pj day, the expectation is that we get dressed right after breakfast. When we have PJ day for no reason, it has to be agreed on by both of us at the beginning of the day.

    2. Rain is easily distracted. It helps to talk him through the process and keep him on track. “Ok, socks now. Nope, put down the truck. Focus.” That kind of thing. Doesn’t save time AT ALL though.

    3. Praising and thanking him the days when he gets dressed quickly and without a lot of fuss. This has by far been the most helpful.

    4. Sometimes making it a game and sometimes doing it myself when I just can’t fight it out. Or sometimes we bargain. “You start with underwear and a shirt and I’ll help you with your pants and socks.” If he’s at least putting in an effort, I’m more than willing to help.

    It’s too too boring is too too funny though. Gosh. I can just picture her saying it.
    .-= BluebirdMama´s last blog ..Balancing Needs When Baby Trumps Mama =-.

  • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries April 13, 2010, 3:28 pm

    I also don’t have a preschooler yet but I second what Dionna said. I just read How to Talk So Kid’s Will Listen by Faber and Mazlish. It was so good and I was continually surprised at hoe young children were coming up with their own solutions!
    .-= Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries´s last blog ..Diaper Duty Dilemma =-.

  • Zoey @ Good Goog April 13, 2010, 9:16 pm

    I don’t have a pre-schooler yet – my daughter’s only two. Although she often is quite enraged if I try to help her get dressed. Which means it takes so long.

    One suggestion – try to make it into a game. She has to try and race to see if she can get dressed before her sister?
    .-= Zoey @ Good Goog´s last blog ..The Real Toddler =-.

  • michelle April 13, 2010, 10:15 pm

    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions, everyone! Aldort and Faber/Mazlish are excellent resources and I think I might go back and re-read Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves to refresh my memory.

    I am starting to realize just how independent Beatrice is. She needs to know what I expect, and she sometimes needs some encouragement and help, but pushing does neither of us any good. In the past week she’s gotten dressed by herself a couple of times and still needs my help or encouragement on other days. BluebirdMama, thanks for sharing what works for you! I think Bea could tell I was impressed that day she’d gotten dressed by herself and has found choosing clothes much more interesting since. :)

  • Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com April 14, 2010, 12:27 am

    Oh, these battles of the will! I think your beautiful little girl is just asking for a little more attention. I remember going through the same with DD and I simply helped her get dressed. She didn’t want to get dressed by herself, she wanted to be nurtured and babied – they move between wanting to be independent and wanting you to take complete care of themselves so quickly; which is why they have meltdowns and you’re left wondering what on earth just happened!

    I would just say, as you are pulling on a top over her head or buttoning her shirt that “as soon as this boring getting dressed is out of the way we can go and have some fun.” or sing a song together as you do the task..

    Another mantra for me is to ‘choose your battles wisely”, you’re so wise and thoughtful; could you sit for a moment and ask yourself just how important this is to you? How much it *really* matters if she wears PJs until 3pm. Could you get 3 more pairs so there are always clean ones available and turn it into a situation where your LO has more control over the situation?

    it might be something you feel is completely inappropriate, but sometimes I realise that my perception is totally different to DDs and I’m willing to let things go …
    .-= Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com´s last blog ..Ride the Bike, Drive the Change! =-.

    • michelle April 14, 2010, 9:55 pm

      I think she probably does want more attention – this was at it’s worst when I was parenting solo for a week and a half while my husband was traveling for work. It’s much better now – some days she dresses herself happily, other days she wants me to help her or pick the clothes out for her. I think the key is not getting too bent out of shape by it myself – letting anything turn into a power struggle just ends up with frustration on both ends. I know this, but still, it’s hard! Some days I just want her to do it by herself. I need to remember, “This too shall pass”

  • Arwyn April 14, 2010, 9:23 pm

    You’re right that she obviously has the physical and sometimes mental ability to get herself dressed, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily a reasonable expectation that she does it by herself every time. I tend to think of it like weaning: sure, by a year they can eat food, but they usually still need nursing too. Or like even my 3yo, who started walking everywhere at about 20 months, still wants to be worn or carried sometimes. I’d wonder if your daughter’s statement that it’s too boring might be interpreted as her not having the focus yet to do things by herself that she doesn’t want to do (which is a different developmental ability than the actual process of getting dressed).

    So I’d suggest that while you continue encouraging and supporting her own trials of dressing herself, that on the days it feels really necessary to you (echoing another commenter in encouraging you to ask yourself whether it’s really important — and it might be, and that’s fine), you help her.

    That’s what I’m doing right now with the Boychick; for a while it was really important to him to pick out his own clothes, but he’s in a stage right now where he basically ignores me and any mentions of getting dressed, but will cooperate if I bring him clothes and hold them out in front of him for him to step into. And by just going with that instead of insisting he come to be/do it himself, getting him dressed takes all of sixty seconds, instead of 20 minutes of stress.

    But you’re the one who knows your daughter best. More than anything, I’d simply encourage you to not make it into a power struggle, and choose joy whenever possible, whether or not that means letting go of attachment to a particular outcome.
    .-= Arwyn´s last blog ..Where is the mutually agreeable solution? — When parenting calls for blood draws =-.

    • michelle April 14, 2010, 9:59 pm

      Weaning is a great analogy – she is capable of dressing herself but still does need/want the attention and help. It’s easy to get impatient once I see that she can do something new, but I forget that doing newly learned things takes a great deal of energy! Letting go of my end of the power struggle has helped a lot.

  • the Grumbles April 15, 2010, 8:56 am

    Too funny, I wrote about my son not eating solid foods for my post this time and conveniently the night before the carnival he chowed down a whole bunch of black beans. The just love to prove us wrong, don’t they?

    I noticed a similar thing to what other people are commenting with my nephew. Just because he finally CAN tie his shoes by himself doesn’t mean he wants to go over there and do it all alone. I found if I went over there and made it a joint project (and then let him do all the work) he was much less resistant.
    .-= the Grumbles´s last blog ..the grumbles primer on pumping at work (part three, the final chapter) =-.