Winter Coats: What To Do When Your Kids Refuse To Bundle Up

Dear Susan,

Where we live, it gets cold -- down into the 20's and below, and I have the hardest time getting my 10-year-old to wear her coat or warm socks. She throws a fit, and says she isn't cold. How can I get her to dress appropriately?


Dear Snowmom,

If I were doing a phone coaching session with you, my first question would be this: How would you rate the overall connection between you and your daughter? Is she generally cooperative, or does she resist every request you make?

If your daughter routinely refuses to do what you ask, I'd be looking at parenting strategies beyond just getting her to bundle up. But if she usually goes along with what you ask, then you have a different problem: Your daughter may not register cold the way you do.

I'm not necessarily telling you to give up on the jacket. It goes against every parental instinct we have to send a child out into chilly weather when they aren't dressed warmly.

But there are kids who are extremely tolerant of cold weather. Is your daughter the kind of child who seems immune to whatever bug is going around school? If she runs warmer than other kids or her health is impervious to the affect of cold weather, than you may want to adjust the point at which you insist she wear a jacket.

Have her go outside in the morning to register the temperature; being inside a heated home can make her think it's warmer outside than it actually is. If she's convinced that she doesn't need her heavy coat, don't make it a battle. I'm not suggesting you let her head off to the school bus in flip flops and a tank top when it's snowing, but try saying something like this: "You can wear your jacket or put it in your backpack so it's there if you get cold. Which would you rather do?" Believe me, if she gets chilly -- and you haven't turned this into a battle of wills -- she'll put on her coat.

On the other hand, if your daughter does get sick routinely, you'll have to require that she wear her coat and warm socks. Start by letting her know you understand her reluctance and give voice to her point of view, even if you don't agree with it. Say things like:

I know it doesn't seem cold to you...

I understand the coat is really uncomfortable...

I can appreciate that you think the coat makes you look “dorky”, or that it covers up the cool outfit you're wearing...

Then, let your daughter know that if the weather report indicates temperatures of x degrees or lower (you'll have to pick your number, based on wind chill and so on), jacket-wearing is not optional. Let her vent, get mad and be upset. Resist the urge to talk her out of her feelings. The more decisive -- and brief -- you are, the better this will go. As you clearly establish a ritual of coat-wearing when the temperature drops below X, this will become less of a daily negotiation.

If your daughter digs in her heels and refuses to get in the car wearing a jacket, let her know that you understand how strongly she feels about it, but it's not optional. If necessary, walk with her into her classroom and tell her teacher that she isn't to go outside at recess and lunch unless she's wearing her coat.

But keep in mind that as your daughter moves into adolescence, she may well turn the jacket-issue into a major power struggle if she thinks you're too invested. The more you can support her in learning to make healthy choices for herself, the better off she'll be.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.