Help, Morning Dressing Is a Struggle!

Updated on January 30, 2010
P.K. asks from Mission Viejo, CA
23 answers

I need some advise, ideas, anything! It is such a struggle to get my 3 1/2 yr old daughter dressed in the mornings. I know some of this is normal but come on 45+ mins is too long. If I just dress her she whines or cry and wants to do it herself (which I want to encourage. We pick our her clothes the night before but in the morning it's always something, she doesn't like her pants,her sox hurt, she just wants to snuggle, or will do it herself and then nothing happens. I try rewards if she gets dressed she can watch Elmo, etc. She is strong willed but I feel like this is a bit much. Help! I'm always late for work and I can't take this struggle anymore.

Meanwhile my daughter is running around with her shirt, panties and sox on as I write this...LOL or Cry?!

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So What Happened?

Wow, Thanks so much for all your great suggestions, and most of all your positive support! It's good to know that I am not alone and that other moms go through these things as well.

I got my kitchen time and made a progress chart and I'll start using those next week. I'm also going to do the race to get dressed idea, I know she will love that. What a good idea to pick out the clothes for the whole week. I love the suggestions about taking her to school (if needed) in her PJs, but with my little one she might like that! LOL Also a great idea to dress her the night before, I'll keep that one in my back pocket for later.

Again Ladies, thanks so much for taking the time to respond and for your support and fantastic ideas!

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answers from Los Angeles on

is this truly a health or safety issue? A fresh outfit every day is actually more of a fashion issue or a parental preference issue.
At the same age, we called my daughter "homeostasis girl." Instead of fighting in the morning, I would dress her in comfy clothes the night before -- OK to sleep in, OK for preschool. Saved a lot of tears and struggles.



answers from Los Angeles on

I kn ow this will sound nasty but maybe it will work iinsist she where watever she decided the night be for if she dosent dressherself as you ask grab her a little foughly and dress her alittle roughly she will soon see ahe atvantage of doing it herself the problems is she jusst wants attention love her and spend as much fun time with her as you can good luck A. raised 4 and now have 8 grandchildren no hills

More Answers


answers from Williamsport on

I haven't read other responses, and mine may be way off, because usually people offer up games and ways around tricking her into liking to do it, etc. But the bottom line is, you should treat it like any other rule and be firm. Don't be afraid to enforce discipline if she is refusing to listen to you when you tell her to get dressed (or anything)numerous times. My daughter is now 4, and dressing wonderfully, but around 3 when she was starting to do it herself, she started the game playing and disobeying which is totally normal. Since we are consistent in enforcing our requests, it took her no time at all to learn she has one warning before a consequence, so just gets dressed. She also never whines about clothes, also not allowed. We pick her clothes together. Sometimes with more time to burn, we do some rethinking or goofing off and dress up, but if she starts any trouble, she gets one warning to get dressed. It's extremely nice not to have the battles and games, and not to always have to plan ahead so far etc. She needs to get dressed, every day, that's the facts. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I just wanted to second the person that suggested there may be sensory issues. Check with your doctor. My daughter has sensory issues, she's now 7 but we only figured it out last year. I ended up crying one morning in the princples office at school. We were 1/2 hour late to school had been dressed and undressed 4 times and to make matters worse my at the time 1 year old was beginning to copy his sister. I'd put pants on one and the other would take them off, tons of screaming and crying, etc. long story short things are MUCH better this year. She's been going to occupational therapy for almost a year now. She now dresses herself and most days sticks with what she picked out. By the way we use Smartknit kids socks- they are a miracle. They are expensive but wonderful. You can get them at Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

While reading your What Happened it reminded me of a child that was brought to school in pj's and then had to go to the counselor's office to get clothes to get dressed in. If you have to resort to that just let the teacher and nurse or counselor know and they will have some of his/her clothes to put on at school. Just an idea.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I didn't read everything posted but another idea is to set a timer. Give her 15 minutes or whatever is enough time to do it herself and if she is not dressed then dress her yourself (or take her in PJs). I do put a clean shirt on my almost 4 year old son the night before since he rarely cares about fashion and just wants to be comfy. I am sure he could dress himself if he wanted but so far he just doesn't care.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hello Pat.

Here's what I'm thinking:

1. Perhaps you can start with a mini shopping spree where you let her pick a couple of inexpensive outfits.

2. Buy a bright colored kitchen timer, perferably one shaped like an animal or something fun.

3. Play the "Beat the Clock" dressing game each morning where YOU and her race to get your clothes on before the time goes off. Make sure you do it with her so it really feels like a game.

Your morning stress just might turn into a bonding and fun time with your daughter.

Her draggin her feet could be acting out from knowing you are heading to work without her.

Best of luck



answers from Los Angeles on

i recently responded to something like this. if you don't mind searching through some of my responses, it might be a strategy that you might consider for your situation. i've only posted it in the last month. The title of the subject was, "CRYING" by Erika A. I had suggested a book called "Positive Discipline" (but it's not what you think).

Maybe it's worth a try.




answers from Honolulu on

Okay yes, that happens especially at this age.
Getting ready in the morning is sort of overwhelming for a child sometimes. SO many things for them to think about... and they don't yet know how to "organize" themselves or do "time-management" yet.
And they don't have a concrete concept of time yet either. So 5 minutes versus 10 minutes, versus 1 minute is no different to them, tangibly.

For me, I just give a head's up to my kids WAY ahead of time... of when we have to leave for somewhere. Kids do not like to be "rushed" and it just makes them fussier.
Even telling them the day BEFORE can help... and then organize everything the evening before the next day... AND putting everything you will need in the car, already, the night before.

And yes, kids change their minds about what to wear every single second sometimes. So, what many parents do, is you just leave anyway, and if they are in their pajamas, then so be it. I see MANY kids, in their PJ's, out and about... with their Moms giving you the knowing look. I have even done that with my girl a few times. And after that, she got the point.

Also, it doesn't matter if their clothes matches or not, or if the outfit is perfectly wrinkle-free or perfectly put together. The main thing, is that they are dressed. At this age, its fine. (heck, not even adults walk out the door with a perfect matching outfit everyday.) LOL

ALSO, what you can do is, and what I do is: In the car, put back-up items. Like, clothes/socks/shoes/underwear etc. THEN that way, you always have something "ready." Despite. I do that and let me tell you, it REALLY comes in handy!

And, put on an egg-timer. When it rings, that's it. You tell her that. Then out the door no matter what.

And just something to laugh about and put it in perspective: some ADULTS take forever to get ready too. My Husband... no matter what, takes so long to get ready. LONGER than me or my daughter! LOL

All the best,



answers from Los Angeles on

If your daughter still won't cooperate after all these great suggestions, how about having her get dressed the night before? I know it sounds silly, but if she is warm enough, then after her bath she can really take her time getting dressed. If she is the kind of little girl who wants things just so, then she may not want to wear her clothes overnight, but then you can just tell her that until she speeds things up in the morning, she will practice getting dressed at night when there is more time. This is only temporary of course. I only suggest this because I have friends who dressed their kids the night before for very early morning flights so they won't have to go through what you are going through! Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

LoL! Are her panties on her head too?

Okay, my son is only 2.3 yrs old, but we go through this too. As the other moms have said, this is a developmental stage where kids want their independence. I know my son is younger, but what I've been doing, plus what his preschool teacher and pediatrician have been recommending to do is to allow your child to be independent and have choices, within limits.

For my son, that means if he doesn't like what's laid out to wear, I pick out 2 items and say, "Ok, then you can wear this shirt or this one. You decide for yourself,” or, "Ok, then, quick, quick, you pick out your shirt yourself." Of course, the third option he'll sometimes pick is none of the above, but that's not the option I'm asking him to decide (or he'll even stand there and ask, "Why?"). If he doesn't pick or starts to play, I'll remind him that it’s time to get ready for school, and he can pick his shirt or Mommy will (he hates that and always says, "I do it!!") That’s the first battle. Then we move on to his undies, then his pull-ups (oops, I bought 2 different brands to add to the chaos), then his pants, then his socks, then his shoes, intermixing that with actually putting them on. He can put his undies on himself, or Mommy will do it (or even worse, I’ll get a diaper!), etc. He'll even say he's putting his undies on, when he really isn't. If he starts playing with a toy, I tell him I'll have to put the toy away and he can have it back after getting dressed. If he starts running around, I’ll grab him and put him in my lap and start dressing him. These moves usually make him really miserable, and he'll sit there pseudo-crying but dressing himself. He mostly just pouts now, but he does dress quickly to get his toy back.

This took a long time at first (yes, 45 min!), and some days he would just dawdle and stall so I’d end up sitting on him to dress him while he's crying at me (yes, I have to work too!). But, I'll remind him it was his choice. I haven't had to sit on him for a few weeks now, and we’re down to about15 minutes. Just the thought of me dressing him instead of him getting to do it himself is enough now.

In desperation, I've considered rewards (chocolate for the chocoholic) and praise for him getting dressed, going potty, going to bed, eating, etc. but he's kind of a praise addict, so his preschool teacher actually is trying to wean him off of praise and says that some kids can start to expect rewards and praise for everything and that you want them to want to do the task themselves rather than just to get a reward. So, sometimes I'll still calmly say, "Good job," or "Oh look, you got dressed so quickly. That's great." but I'll run it into another sentence like, "Ok, it's breakfast time. What shall we have?" or "Ok, go get into the car so we can go to school."

This sounds so idealistic, but over the long run, he's learning independence without being a tyrant. And yes, he's only this rebellious with me. And, I'm no angel. I have yelled at him a few times, which does work immediately, but it's far from ideal or appropriate. And today, he went to the potty and dressed himself with no prompting at all. He just did it…. Ok, he chose to wear his brand new fire engine pj's. Whatever. He dressed himself, quickly. But, I did tell him he needed to wear a sweater and sweats over his pj's because it was cold.

Good luck and much patience to you!



answers from Las Vegas on

Hi, Pat,

I know that getting a younger child dressed and out the door on time can be a struggle. I have been there (3 times).

Here is my honest suggestion, as I have done this with each of my girls, and believe me when I say that it does work.

Tell your daughter, "It is time to get dressed now. AFTER you are finished, THEN you may ___ (watch Elmo, play with toys, or whatever) until it is time to leave. If you are not ready on time, then you will just have to wear whatever you have on."

NOTE: It is very important to use the words AFTER/THEN - and in that exact order. AFTER you ____, THEN you may ____. Children learn in specific order. Put the directions in the order you want them done.

Then follow through. When/if she is ready on time, then give her the promised reward. If she is not ready on time, then pick her up, pick up her remaining clothing, and put them all in the car. Take her to the sitters or daycare in whatever she is wearing, and drop her off as is with the remaining clothing. She can then choose to put the clothing on for herself at the sitters or daycare, or the sitter or teacher can take care of it, or she can just be half-dressed all day.

Remember, rather than making it a power struggle, just keep control. You are the adult, she is the child, and she needs to learn that YOU are in charge - NOT her. There is no need for yelling, crying, being angry, or frustration. Simply tell her what you expect, tell her what she can get when she does what is expected, and also tell her what the consequence will be if she does not do what is expected.

This technique can work for anything that you want her to do (clean up her toys, eat her dinner, brush her teeth). Just tell her what you need her to do, tell her what she can get/do after, and tell her what will happen if she does not do it.

Good luck - I know this will work for you. It may take a few tries, but just hang in there, and be consistent.



answers from San Diego on

Haha! Yes, I think we ALL have this struggle, and I think the consistent recommendation that you're getting (and that I have used too), is setting a time limit and then going out the door no matter what. Neither of my daughters (2 and 4) has been willing to go to school in PJ's so, this has been pretty effective.

I also found that I had to do more than just pick out clothes the night before. We'd get into issues with not having the right pants clean to to with the right shirt at the end of the week. A couple of weeks ago I found a small shelving unit at Target with 3x5 cubbies. Each girl has a row with 5 cubbies labeled M-F. We pick out everything on Sunday night so that all of the outfits are matched up how they want them. They really like getting up and going to the cubbie for that day and getting their clothes. Thus far, it has eliminated all clothing debate.

Good luck. And, it's ok to let her know that Mommy made a promise to be at work at a certain time and that you need to keep that promise. In order to do so, you have to leave at a certain time, regardless of what she is wearing.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Does she seem to have any sensory issues? Softness of clothing? Scratchy tags? She may have a sensory disorder that can be helped. If you think it's an issue of being stubborn, I have heard of moms that send their kid to school/daycare in their p.j.'s! I still have to help my 6 yo son get dressed. He CAN do it, he just likes ME to do it.



answers from Los Angeles on

Ah honest, if you could run around naked or in your PJs all day wouldn't you? I know I would (actually that is one of the big reasons I started working from home...not to be naked but to not have to dress until i was ready.)

There are many reasons why she puts up a struggle, gets your attention, more time with you, likes to "play". See which it is for her and then address it.

You already do the "take them out the night before" but as you can see that doesn't always work.

Here are some suggestions that my clients have used:

Make a game out of it. One day when you have a lot of time pull out a bunch of her outfits. Then time her getting dressed into them. Take her picture, then post that picture with that outfit in her closet with the time. Then when she chooses that outfit time her again, see if she can beat her time.

Set a timer. Give her 15 mins to get dressed. Whatever she is wearing at the end of that 15 mins is what she is wearing. No questions asked. Stick with it (unless it is freezing and she is still in her underwear then you will have to put a coat on and take her as is)

Let her sleep in her chosen clothes.

Pat, this will pass. Right now, you will have to work with what you have. And what you have is the opportunity to learn patience, understanding and have some fun with your 3 year old.

BTW - my 10 year old always stalls about brushing her teeth before bed. So we say ready set go and we run upstairs (usually we tackle each other on the landing) hold each other back, then fall into the bathroom laughing and we brush our teeth together. We have been doing that for about 3 years now. It gets her to brush her teeth when I want her to AND she gets some special attention from it. It is a win win.

Family Success Coach



answers from Honolulu on

I have let my kids get dressed by themselves as soon as they can. That means picking out mismatched clothes, wearing velvet long sleeves on a 90 degree day, boots with princess dresses and shirts on backwards. I don't care. They go to preschool like that, and their teachers say "did get dressed all by yourself today?" and they beam with pride. Yes, it takes longer, so it may be less frustrating, but you will have to wake up earlier.

Another friend who ran into battles just took her kid in the car without her clothes on and got dressed at their destination. By the time they were out of the car, the little girl was so anxious to get to day care that she just let her mom dress her without comment or opinion. You might try something like that. good luck



answers from Las Vegas on

My daughter did the same thing, and boy was she strong willed. She mad her brothers late for school countless times and finally one morning I had enough and told her if she was not ready on time the next day she was going to pre school in a blanket, naked underneath!!!!! Well lo and behold ahe wasn't ready so I wrapped up a screaming 4 year old stapper her in her car seat, dropped off her brothers and pulled into the parking lot of the pre school and just happened to have her clothes in my bag that day and dressed her in the car. She is now the first one ready and always helping everyone else get ready, and of course letting them know they will get to go naked if they are not ready on time!!!!!



answers from San Diego on

Something that works for me and my son, who just turned 5, is using a kitchen timer. I give him 20 minutes on the timer and make a game of it.



answers from Los Angeles on

it might not really be about dressing. At this age, a lot of it is seesawing back and forth (wanting to be independent but still needing you). Also, I went through this (and continue to do so sometimes). What I tell him now is he dresses himself before we're out the door for school or he's going the way he (full jammies or half jammies or whatever). This got him going. Good luck!



answers from Honolulu on

I'm an organization hound so I love quirky gadgets that streamline processes. There are a couple of things you might make or check out online.
The first is a life size cardboard cutout (can't remember where I saw this idea but I can't take credit for it) with a picture of kiddo's face. In the evening, she "dresses" the cardboard of herself with the clothes she want - including shoes, hairbobs and jewelry if she chooses - using clothes pins. Maybe seeing how good it looks all put together on herself *might* cut down on the tug of war? (I have boys and neither they nor I care about what they wear so can't say I have a sucess story to tell. Just an idea...)
The other idea I saw online, it's a little on the pricey side but maybe you can find a deal. (or are willing to shell out for the peace of mind if it works!) There are several gadget-y types of timers for kids - I saw some cool idea timers on amazon. One was like a regular rotary type timer but the kiddo can carry it around and you can picture-label blocks of time up to the "ding" with various tasks (getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, etc.) Maybe you could rig something like that with a regular timer and a CD label or something. For a better idea what I was describing:
Hope this helps!



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi Pat,
It sounds like you're doing a lot of things right already! Picking out clothes the night before is a great idea, however I can completely relate that a 3 1/2 year old girl will often change their minds from the night before!
My recommendations - my daughter loves to do things by herself so I use this to my advantage as much as possible in the morning routine. I give her the list of things she needs to do (get dressed, brush teeth, get lunch from fridge, get shoes on, etc). Then I allow her (with encouragement) to complete the tasks on her own. I use lots of praise for a job well done. Also for the I don't want to wear what I picked out issue - I'll allow her to change her mind and pick something new in the morning but she has to do that on her own. She has to go to her drawers and find something else and put back what she doesn't want to wear. What we've been talking about but haven't had a chance to do yet is to get her her own alarm clock (she's been asking for one) and then she will get up on her own and get ready on her own - I will make her a chart with pictures of all of the tasks she needs to complete.
We also have a rewards system that if she has good behavior both before and after school she gets a "buck" that she can trade in for rewards such as a trip to buy a toy, going to see of movie, etc. On mornings that she gets ready all by herself she actually can earn an extra "buck". The positive reinforcement really makes a huge difference for her.
Also for us my rule is no TV in the mornings regardless of how quickly she gets ready. I feel like it makes for an unnecessary distraction, but this is just what works in our house.
And what to do on those mornings that nothing else works? I've threatened and thankfully it's never reached that point, however I am fully prepared to follow through on my threat - to take her to school in her PJs or with messy hair, etc. I think that all it would take would be for her to have to go to school one morning in her PJs and see all of her friends dressed for the day for her to realize the mornings is not the time to mess around.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi Pat. I'm so sorry, I know how your struggling, but I gotta tell you I was LOL at your last comment. The picture in my head made me laugh so hard. Thank you for that. A really good way to start the day. But I do know what your going through. My daughter still does this at 5 and a half. Some days are better than others but she is the same way. Only she can do it or it's a total meltdown but it takes her 90 hours to do it. SO frustrating! I don't have any advice, I'm sorry. I'm interested too in the advice you get. We need to find an easier way! :) Just wanted to share, and good luck. Let me know if you find something that works!

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