27 answers

3 Year Old Will Only Wear the Same Clothes over and over...big Fights!

I have a 3 year old daughter who has always preferred to be in her underwear only. Now that we are entering the colder weather, the struggles to get dressed in the morning have escalated and it has become an all-out battle to get to preschool and work on time. She has favored a couple of skirts and shirts for the duration of the summer, and if I present these to her, she will happily comply, but now that I am presenting pants (always favoring tagless, zipperless, loose and soft over tight, stiff and constrictive) and socks (no seam across the toe please!) and new shoes (they are too tight!!!!) we are having world-class battles each day. I have presented her to the preschool disheveled and weepy, me with my hair standing straight up on my head and in tears myself with alternative clothes in her bag just in case she puts up a fight for them. I have tried giving her a choice of two outfits but I get an uproarious tantrum and running away. I have tried ultimatums- "you must wear appropriate clothes to school...it is too cold for shorts and tees and no Crocs are allowed". I have taken to just tackling her by the door moments before we have to leave and then physically manhandling her right to her carseat. This, I cannot do everyday. Please give me some advice on how to reason with this little dictator that is my daughter. My 5 year old stands by in horror, trying to coach me and reason with her sister, but we are all at the mercy of this crazy tot when it's time to get dressed. I can't stand it anymore.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Well it looks like you've got a ton of good advice here but I just had to write.
My 2 youngest had sensory issues and so we had clothing challenges. With the first we would find a pair of pull on knit pants and loose shirt that he could tolerate. Then I bought 5 pair of those pants in as many colors as possible and 5 or 6 shirts to match, no tags. Washed only in dye free detergent. When we found a pair of sneakers he liked I would buy 3 pair at a time in ascending sizes so we wouldn't run the risk of them being discontinued. He wasn't a fashion plate but he was happy.
The second child really took to a set of Superman pajamas (with cape) from J.C. Penney. He actually wore them for just over 2 years, everyday, really. I bought a half dozen, rotated them and it became "his thing".
I can tell you from experience that a having a clean, well rested, healthy child show up at school happy and ready to learn is MUCH more important than any outfit.
My oldest is now 12 and became a bit more flexible about the "feel" of his clothes at age 10. The youngest hung up the Superman costume the summer before first grade. They do grow out of this phase, some more slowly than others.
Hang in there L., I'm pulling for you!! :)

Maybe you can try putting the clothes on her the night before, and call them pajamas. If that works, you can later transition to picking out the clothes with her the night before. You may want to put away the old summer clothes too, so they aren't visible and will (hopefully!) fade from memory.

i say let her wear the clothes she wants with the clothes you wnat. put someleggings under her skirts and a sweater or thin hoodies over her summer shirts. as well as try th eother ideas below. Good luck. my 2 year old loves to be naked so any clothes on would be great here.

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Ya know - my daughter doesn't seem quite so bad, but I also have a determined little 3 year old that calls the shots when it's time to get dressed- into anything(including pajamas)
It bums me out when we're going some where and she insists on wearing her choice and almost never the sweet outfits that remain practically brand new in her drawers!
We have taken to picking out outfits the night before (some times). Then she can get herself dressed "All by herself! Like a real BIG girl!". We've done a little reverse psychology - "oh, you don't want to wear this? Should we just give it away to a little girl who will wear it?" (That usually turns into "no! it's mine!" "oh, ok - well then let's see if it will fit you anymore - it has been a long time since you've worn it")
We play dumb. Rather then respond to the fight - we try to agree with her. "Oh, ya - you're probably right. It's a little too chilly to wear this. Well, then what will be a better choice? something warmer?Because you're right this dress wouldn't be a good dress for school. Maybe this one?" Empowerment has been our best ticket. It means talking, talking, talking and patronizing and agreeing quickly, so that you remain in control of the conversation. We don't give her too much time to figure things out, but we praise her for her good idea, taste, how pretty she will be - "Oh, and I know let's do your hair like a princess! But we'll have to go really fast if you are going to look like a princess for school!" (this while pulling a shirt over her head) "Should you have a braid?""one or two?, ya b.c princesses do wear one braid"(Meanwhile the pants just went on)...
We change the direction of the conversation when she begins to object and don't ever let her see our frustration.
We have let her go outside and realize for herself that she IS hot/cold and 5 minutes later...Do you want those mittens? yup!

There are also ground rules that are absolute. We always wear sunhats to the beach/warm hats in winter. We don not go to school in Crocs, b/c that's the rule that all the kids have to follow and we promised "teacher so-n-so" that we would follow the rules.

So you know, I have stooped to putting out a box of animal crackers and looking the other way while she snuck one at a time and I did her hair. (we're past that, but it worked at some desperate moments!) I would also think giving really wonderful praise to her big sister for getting ready so quickly and perhaps some rewards in front of your 3 y.o. would be a powerful tool. Do it on days that you don't have to be somewhere. Announce a special treat for getting dressed quickly (maybe the 3 yo favorite clothes are all dirty in the laundry! - or better yet - pack away those post season clothes and that's that. "No, those were summer clothes and it's not summer any more"period. she'll get over it.)When her sister does it and she doesn't - get ready for that tantrum, let her know she'll have another shot tomorrow and send her to her room to throw her fit.

SO, basically I guess I'm suggesting killing her with kindness and praise AND being super strict!lol...

You'll work it out. It's also not the end of the world if she wears the same outfits. Let her help you buy clothes for herself. ( My daughter only likes pretty not cool clothes!) To be determined by her, of course.
Some things just aren't worth the battle.

Best of luck to you!

oh, one more thing...
My daughter is allowed to pick out one of the things she wears (top or bottom) and I help find the piece that coordinates (she knows this word). It has also been a good compromise keeping you in charge, but still empowering your little spit fire!
Be consistent and all this will be over soon.
You are the mama and she is the 3 year old!

1 mom found this helpful

Perhaps she can pick out some cozy things to wear at the store. Also, just let her only have clothes in her closet that she CAN wear to school. The other stuff put away so that she doesn't have access to them. She doesn't have to look cute she just needs to get to school dressed. Can she wear crocks with socks? Crocs are actually making some pretty good winter shoes lately. See if she will go to the store and pick out some comfy but decent looking clothes to wear like fleece pants and shirts. There must be something that she will wear out there somewhere. Good luck!

I would let her pick out her clothes as much as possible. My son is the same way & as long as it is mostly weather appropriate I allowed him to wear what he wants to. If it is cold & he is in a short sleeve shirt I pack a sweatshirt in his bag - in the summer if he wants to wear jeans on a hot day I allow it - eventually he starts dressing appropriately for the season. I have learned to pick my battles - he has been difficult to dress since he was in preschool (he now is 7) it gets easier. He now knows there are certain occasions that he must dress in clothes I help him pick out (picture day, family get togethers) other than that he can pick. When he was younger & it was more of a battle (no crocs allowed in school) he would have to stay in his room until he was dressed appropriately. I never had to, but as others have mentioned putting any out of season clothes out of sight may help. Good luck.

my sister was the same way, my mom would let her pick her own clothes at the store.. then go from there i'm sorry to tell you it doesnt get better my sister is still a total pain and she is 20..does she happen to be a red head?

i say let her wear the clothes she wants with the clothes you wnat. put someleggings under her skirts and a sweater or thin hoodies over her summer shirts. as well as try th eother ideas below. Good luck. my 2 year old loves to be naked so any clothes on would be great here.

Oh dear, I am way too tired to be answering this but I will try.
First, every fight you have with anyone, including husband and children, is all your fault. Does that statement make you feel a bit wrathy? It did me the first time I was the recipient.
But, it also is very true. If the second person ( you ) does not respond confrontationally, there is no discord. Now, how to turn that around? You will need to work it out for yourself. It was said to me when I had four teenagers with whom I daily (verbally) battled royal.
Perhaps a list of RULES...up by a certain time, dressed by a certain time, toys picked up,suppertime, bathtime , storytime.ect ect. If she has a rigid set of rules she may be more responsive.
I am writing primarily because I have a condition..it is called Sensory Defensiveness Symdrome and mine is with Burden Symdrom as well.
When I was three my Mum would dress me (in a dress , it was in the forties) satin bow in my hair, put me out to play, check on me ten minutes later and she would be LUCKY if I still had panties on LOL
This condition makes one super extremely sensitive to the feel of things. Mostly I wear cotton..I can do cotton with bit of spandex.
HUGE nono's are anything synthetic..polyester gives me creeps all over my body..acetate the same. Nylon can be quite soft and acceptable.
If I have a wrinkle, especially in a sock, I have to take off my shoes and sox and fix it. Some stretch sox with no toe seams work out. Best are socks I have knitted myself out of highend yarns.
If there is any sort of a crumb in my bed, even lint, it will wake me in the night and I have to search for it. Can be as small as a little fabric pill but it feels like boulder to me.
If there is a wrinkle in my sheets, it feels like a log and I have to get out of bed and sort it out.
I am NOT saying this is what ails your daughter, but that it is definately a possibility. My Mum did not have this and did not understand it, but bless her heart, she did all she could to see I was as comfortable as I could be.
The thing with three year old is to have expectations and be able to ignore the inbetweens.
If you were a teacher then you are probably familiar with the reward system. Everytime she accomplishes something on the rules list, give her ( and five year old) a star. Certain number of stars can be redeemed for a reward.
This can be an ice cream cone, a favorite book, neednt be expensive. A lot of stars perhaps an outing to park, or playground.
As far as clothes go..maybe you could take her shopping, let her feel the clothes, try them on..pick out the trousers..perhaps a soft cotton terry would suit her.
IF this symdrom is what ails her, believe me it is miserable to have, hard to find clothes that are comfortable. They have to fit just so too. Cant be sitting on seams which may be why she prefers her skirts. (what about skirts with leotards? do they still call them that? or are leotards the new leggings?)
On your tight schedule it will be very difficult to organize a time out for failure to follow the rules in the mornings, perhaps take back a star? When you are home a time out, one minute per year, or three minutes for her could be managed.
Three year olds are wearing. They are developing their personalities and characters and very headstrong. How you deal with her will make a great impression on her developement.
I have a three year old grandson who lives upstairs and spends a great deal of time with me. There are times when I have to send him to his parents and he is like your five year old, very well behaved.
They are so different ,one from the other. One cannot say, well the older child did or never did this or that.
I do not know how to establish if your child has this syndrom but it sure sounds suspicious to me!!!
And , if she does , then remember she is in a world full of people who do NOT have this condition...other than helping her to be as comfortable as possible, it would not be good to baby her because of it.
It must be very hard to mother two such small children in one's forties, comes a lot easier in twenties for sure.
I have seven children, first at 16 and last at nearly 34.
In some ways the last three were easier, but I noticed that I did not have the energy or stamina I had with the first four.
Well, this has turned into a real ramble on, hasnt it?
Best wishes dear and God bless.
Grandmother Lowell

Hi L.!
Sounds to me like she's having sensitivity issues with her skin. First of all I'd try using a perfume free/dye free detergent. Then when you're buying her clothes seek out things that are tagless, stitched seams and loose and baggy. Check for natural fibers as much as you can. Even Walmart now is stocking some organic cotton and bamboo clothing. There are socks out there that have different ways of sewing the toe seam so you'll have to experiment to find what she likes. Sweat pants are perfect for the cooler weather and you can get them in so many different colors now. As for the shoes you might need to take her shopping with you and have a discussion about what the school will allow her to wear and then have her look for something she'd like to try on within those parameters.

I know what you're going through. I have 2 sons with ADHD and both have sensitivity issues when it comes to clothing touching their bodies. When the oldest one was small it was a battle every day until I discovered what was going on. After that he pretty much lived in sweat pants and baggy t-shirts. Not the most fashion forward outfits but he was happy and I was happy not to have to battle with him. When the second one showed signs of the same things I didn't even bother trying anything else. They are 25 and 15 now still with issues but the 25 y/o is buying his own clothes now and I just automatically know what will fly and what won't with the other when I'm picking out clothes to buy for him.

Talk to your daughter about what it is she likes about those outfits she will wear and seek out other clothing like them. It's not worth the battle in the morning and starts everyone on the wrong foot for the day.

Have you tried asking her what it is about those clothes that she likes or about other clothes that she doesn't like? A three year old should be able to communicate that just fine, particularly if you ask her sometime when it's not really an issue -- a weekend when there is no rush or some time in the middle of the day. I know that my three year old always appreciates being asked her opinion, and having it taken into account. She also likes being naked, and will periodically ask for some "naked time." If it's a cold day, she doesn't ever stay naked long.

You got a lot of other good suggestions here, so I'm not going to repeat them.

Another great book that i didn't see mentioned here is How to Talk so You Kids Will Listen and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk. It's one of my childrearing bibles.

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