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Dressing Children for the Weather – Without the Argument

There’s something pure and exciting about the first smells of spring, isn’t there? The changing of the seasons is a lovely time. It can also cause some trouble for parents who are trying to dress their children appropriately for the weather as temperatures change. Whether you have an infant, a toddler, or a teen, it’s important for them to feel comfortable. So, let’s talk about some tips and tricks to make sure our babies – big and small – are not too hot and not too cold on their adventures.

Dressing Infants and Toddlers

The rule of thumb for making sure that babies are dressed appropriately is to put them in one more layer than what you’re wearing. So, for example, if you are feeling alright in a t-shirt and jeans, your baby may need long-sleeved footed pajamas, or a onesie, pants, socks, and sweatshirt.

In general, dressing kids in layers is a good way to account for any unexpected temperature changes. This way, you can always adjust their outfits on the go. It is also a good idea to pack back-up clothing options in case of spills, spit-ups, and other accidents. Opt for cotton-blend fabrics that dry fast and don’t irritate skin.

Skip the argument: if your little one is old enough to start taking interest in what they are wearing, present them with two parent-approved options for their outfit that day. This helps them take pride and a sense of independence in dressing themselves AND they have a choice between two things you’d agree on anyway.

If the weather is cold, put petroleum jelly on your little one’s face to create a protective layer that will keep the bare skin warm. This is a neat trick you can employ with kids of all ages and even try out yourself!

Dressing Young Kids

The older children get, the more they will be able to regulate their own bodies and make sound choices about what to wear. However, when they are still figuring this out, be sure to help them learn bodily self-awareness by regularly asking them how they feel, teaching them about temperature and thermometers, and modeling sound dressing choices.

As kids get more mobile and start participating in various activities, their clothing choices may need to change to accommodate new routines. Keep this in mind when purchasing or picking their outfits and help them be aware of the occasionality of clothing as well. For instance, you can say “Hey, remember that you have swim practice after school today, and it’s starting to get chilly at night. Please grab an extra sweater in case you get cold!” or “Let’s buy this jacket to keep in your backpack for when you need an extra layer”.

“Dressing” Tweens and Teenagers

Of course, once kids get to a certain age, picking out their outfits is no longer an option in most households. And while this may make some parents nervous, it’s a natural part of growing up.

A good metric to gauge kids’ readiness to choose what they wear is having the ability to sense temperature and the wisdom to adjust accordingly. For instance, if a child goes outside in a t-shirt, feels the chill, and decides to come back inside for a hoodie – this is an indication that they are ready to be trusted to dress themselves independently. If they’re still figuring it out, suggest keeping additional pieces of clothing (like a sweatshirt or a pair of shorts) in their backpack or locker for those days when the temperature drastically changes from morning to afternoon.

As children reach adolescence, they are less and less likely to truly have cold injuries. So, don’t worry too much about your middle schooler wearing shorts in less-than-balmy weather or your high schooler fighting that winter coat. Encourage them to make wise clothing choices and make weather-appropriate options available for them, but don’t stress out if they dress unconventionally. Remember, natural consequences are the way to learn!

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About the Expert

headshot of Dr. Christina Johns

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board-certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!