Every time I hear someone say “oh, she insists on wearing that cotton sundress even though it’s 20° outside” or “my kids complain the house is too cold” or “he’s just cold-blooded, he refuses to put on socks” I think, dream, and fantasize about the blog post I’m going to write on the topic of dressing children properly.
|Thrifted booster seat — I’m so excited to put my grandson in this!|
So here it is, and people, please don’t tell me about how warm it is where you live. I’m not in a good mood thinking about winter as it is, and I will be seriously put out if I have to listen to you tell me about how you don’t even have a coat and your kids are just fine in their bathing suits. I commend your foresight on choosing a warm place to live, and I’ll be back to talk to you soon about cleaning up the kitchen! I bet your kitchen is a mess.
|Rosie’s visiting with little Pepito, as we call him! So happy…|
The point is that many children are running around not properly dressed for various reasons, and I’m going to set you straight on it once and for all.
First, we all know how hard it is to switch the clothes out each season. Those of us who are not squandering our salvation by living in the tropics, that is, but who, rather, are working out our purgatory here in the dark north.
But it has to be done. Putting away clothes. Try to focus on what I’m saying.
Somewhere along the line I realized that it’s not quite such a burden if you do one child at a time. And if you play your cards right, you’ll work it so that the ones who are actually capable of finding their own shorts in spring or cardigans in fall get it done before you get to them, saving you a few steps.
|A New England breakfast: leftover apple pie and cheddar cheese….|
Do brush up on Laundry Problems Start with Clothes. Get rid of anything that isn’t helpful. Put away summer clothes.
Just put them far away.
Your four-year old won’t wear that favorite tank top if it’s in a box in the attic. Get her excited about winter clothes instead. Tell her next year is another year. Bribe her with candy. Just get rid of them.
Then use this transition to implement some rules that may be new to your family — if you want people to be dressed sensibly.
You see, between fashion dictates issued by hot cubicle dwellers, and overheated cars and schools, people have lost a piece of the collective memory that relates to keeping warm. Some of us who can’t afford to crank up the heat until our little darlings are comfy in t-shirts and flip-flops in the middle of winter have had to figure things out for ourselves. If you want to live simply and save on heating, as well as be the proud mom of the kid who doesn’t get frostbite when the car breaks down, listen up!
Babies are a special category, so I’ll discuss them first.
I don’t know if it was Dr. Spock or T. Berry Brazelton, but some silly man came up with the patently false idea that babies’ feet don’t need to be covered… something about their circulation being undeveloped so their feet will feel cold to you, so why bother doing anything about it. When I passed along this bit of nonsense to my mom, she sensibly pointed out that if their circulation isn’t good, maybe you should put socks on their little feet.
The main thing to remember about babies is that when you completely undress them you let out all the body heat. So when the air is cooler, you need to be careful when changing a baby’s diaper to keep his middle covered. Did you ever wonder if the reason he cries when being changed is that the cold is like a knife on his skin? Bring on the frigid wipes!
Also, an underwear shirt is for keeping the warmth in. Don’t change it all the time unless you have to! Keep the undershirt on and just change the outer layer. Undershirts are so the skin isn’t exposed needlessly to the cold air.
When your baby has that mottled look — like tea-dyed eggs — on his arms and legs, his little body is too cool! That’s how you tell, ladies. That’s how I can tell your baby is cold, even though you don’t feel cold yourself.
Even if you are overheated from your nursing hormones or your exertions chasing down toddlers, even if that brisk wind feels heavenly to you, you can tell baby’s temperature by how his limbs look. Many a baby portrait has been spoiled for me by seeing that mottled skin! Those little purple veins! I know that baby isn’t warm!
Now it’s true that some silly moms overdress their infants to the point of smothering. I guess that’s what those baby doctors were addressing. You have to use your common sense. If he’s pink and fussy, he’s too hot, but don’t suddenly expose him to a breeze. Just remove a layer, take off the hat, or loosen the wrappings.
If he’s blotchy and a little paler than normal, he’s too cold! But just wrapping him up won’t help. You have to warm him up first, which is why a chilly baby is a fretful baby, seeming to want to nurse more than usual. It’s his survival mechanism, trying to get warmth from you. The problem is that when you put him down again, he gets chilly again.You might be okay with constantly holding him, but he may be losing valuable energy for other activities just staying warm!
So first change him to a dry diaper, put on a onesie, then a soft warm outfit and socks, and for an infant, a little cap. Then nurse him with a blanket covering both of you. Don’t let the heat warming his belly escape from his back!
When you switch him from one side to the other or put him down in the cradle, don’t lift the blanket completely off to re-position it. Just sort of slither him around under it so that the warmth doesn’t get lost.
Always have a blanket near by. When I see a mom out with a baby and no blanket, I get an anxiety attack.
What about air conditioning? What about sudden changes in the weather? What if he gets his outfit wet? As he sleeps he is gradually losing body heat. What if he takes an unexpected nap? Even in the warmest weather a baby needs a blanket handy just in case (this kind is so useful for an all purpose layer). But in cold weather it’s a must.
|Do you remember Rosie and Philip’s wedding quilt? I got it basted and have started the quilting.|
Now on to the older children…
The most important principle to insist on is that of layering. I’m not a big fan of bulky sweaters and sweatshirts for young children. First, as a child whose skin was exquisitely sensitive to wool and anything oddly textured, I sympathize with the tactile issues of that kind. I also happen to hate acrylic sweaters. They are not particularly warm and get strangely stiff and pilled as soon as they are washed. That sad, tired, pilled look makes the child look unattractive. You aren’t doing him any favors by making him look dreary.
And an unsupervised child will put a sweatshirt on over his bare skin to warm up in the morning. Later, when it gets too hot for it, he can’t take it off or he’ll be naked! So he overheats.
No, a child, girl or boy, should wear an undershirt and a shirt (long-sleeved once the weather starts to freeze). Girls should wear tights or leggings and skirts or jumpers or socks and pants. Boys should wear socks and pants.
Pants, skirts, and jumpers should be twill or corduroy or denim or velveteen (for girls). Shirts should be knit or broadcloth or flannel. I’m partial to turtlenecks myself but understand that children hate them. I give it a try, though, and usually a toddler doesn’t know enough to complain!
Leggings are fine but never allow a daughter of yours to sport the egregious fashion of leggings in place of pants. First, they are drastically immodest. Second, they are not warm enough alone. If the top is shorter than a tunic coming just above the knee, the child needs something proper on her nether regions.
If it’s really cold, they should wear a thin sweater, vest, or sweatshirt. I believe in taking stock of the temperature and then insisting that they put that thin third layer on if it’s something you would wear a sweater for.
Later, if they want to, they can take it off (but have to put it away! That’s a good disincentive to indiscriminate stripping). But they have to start with it on. Usually though, the undershirt and shirt are enough for a child aged 2 to about 10.
Now, the same principle applies to children as to babies. Help them understand that the undershirt is the layer beneath which they don’t go unless bathing. Keep the undershirt on when changing from pajamas to dress clothes, say. That way you stay warm and getting dressed in the morning isn’t such a shock!
It’s your job to make sure that your child is dressed appropriate to the situation. It’s not good enough to think that you told them to dress warmly and then accept it when they don’t. A child can’t foresee that although he feels warm now, he will be cold on that walk in the wind. And you aren’t seeing him later, unable to function because he’s only wearing one thin layer.
It’s even worse for girls who love to wear pretty dresses but don’t have the habit of putting on an undershirt first. It’s fine when they are running around the warm house or in the warm car, but later the chilled air goes right up their front! They end up huddled with their skinny arms inside their dresses…
Now, a word about the imaginative child who isn’t so much getting dressed as entering an alternate reality.
Believe me, I am very familiar with army guys who can’t part with their cammies or princess fairies who don’t feel comfy without their tulle. My affinity for superheroes knows no bounds! I also understand that child who, for whatever reason, just feels more himself wearing that certain outfit.
But just as you wouldn’t let a child eat cake rather than dinner or gummie bears for breakfast, so you have to do what’s best for a cowboy who is going on a hike and just won’t make it in tight boots and no socks, or a ballerina who needs to brave the snow banks. And a child’s self-image will only improve when he finds that he stays the same person even in a different pair of pants.
Don’t tell me “she just won’t wear tights” or “he hates undershirts.” That’s not good enough, and I’ll tell you why.
If your child learns now to obey your thoughtful, reasonable guidelines for dressing, they will be ready when the day comes at age 15 to obey you when you say the dress is too short or the pants are too baggy.
When the battle seems too much for you and your combatant is three, think what it will be like when he’s 17! If you can’t talk him into a t-shirt now, how will you tell him that his old ripped jeans are no good for Mass then?
One reason this does seem like warfare is that we have succumbed to the “choices” school of child-rearing. But I don’t buy it. There is no reason a child should shoulder the responsibility of figuring out so much stuff. It’s hard enough to know to brush your teeth without throwing meteorological variables in the mix.
Children love to be told, “This is how we do it.” Notice that they allow themselves to be buckled into a confining car seat each and every time you take a trip! That’s because you are afraid of the police.
But you need the confidence — without the arm of the law backing you up — in other areas too. You need to be the grownup who simply presents a fact: this is how we dress in cold weather. You have to take the time with your toddler who is learning how to dress to say, “First clean undies, then a t-shirt, then a shirt….”
You have to have the guts to send someone back upstairs to get something warmer on.
|I can’t believe I found this backing fabric!|
And let me tell you a perfectly valid reason to insist: Do it because it makes other people comfortable! Other people can’t be happy if you are wearing shorts in the middle of winter! Other people won’t relax if you have bare legs when it’s freezing!
You don’t have to dress as warmly as the coldest person in the room, but you do have to take others’ peace of mind into account. And that means wearing seasonal clothes!
Once it’s below 40 or so, break out the mittens, hats, and scarves. Make sure the jacket zips. Teach them to put their gloves in their pockets. I hate seeing children with frozen, red, chapped hands and chattering teeth! If we weren’t so reliant on our warm cars we’d be more careful… and yet, who is to say that the car will always function, or that you won’t find yourself somewhere exposed to the elements?
You also need to be flexible enough to allow the fringed vest with each and every outfit, or the tutu over the skirt. When you go grocery shopping, you will care very much if your child can’t make it through the parking lot because he’s too cold, but not at all if he’s wearing a fireman’s helmet. So don’t sweat it. Then, when it comes time to going to church, you just inform him, “We’ll leave the army boots here and get them when we get back.”
Much of what passes for fashion is actually arrested development. It’s young people, especially girls, acting out a role rather than presenting themselves in a reasonably attractive and appropriate manner.
I believe that it’s the little girls who were allowed to totter around in dress-ups no matter what the occasion who then have no realistic idea of what to wear later, and who also haven’t had the experience of being required to abandon their self-consciousness in favor of practicality. When you are five you just accept the reality you are presented. When you are 14 it’s hard to do if you don’t have practice.
I have noticed that parents think they can put off demanding things of their child until some undetermined time when that child is “more reasonable.” But in fact, your child will be reasonable later on if you quietly present him with opportunities — in the area of food, dress, sleep, and behavior — now in which to obey and meet your standards.
Do you worry that your teenager won’t respect your authority? That your daughter will be immodest? That your son will be slovenly? Start now and you won’t have trouble later.
And by the way, it doesn’t hurt for you to have the proper tights, shoes, gloves, and hat either!