How to get your toddler to wear winter clothes

"No mittens! No hat!" Having trouble bundling up your toddler? Kids will see the benefit in cozy gear, but it could take a while.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Tears well up in his eyes as you zip up his snowsuit. You put on his mittens; he flings them across the room. You put on his hat; he yanks it off and tries to run out the door.

Toddlers and winter clothes just don’t seem to be a good mix.

“It’s hard for them to understand,” says Natalie Nuys, mom of nine-year-old Isabella, five-year-old William and one-year-old Christopher. “It’s warm in the house. It makes no sense to them that we’re stuffing them into these hot clothes.”

As each of her kids became more verbal, Nuys tried to explain about needing to dress warmly. But her approach has been not to push it: “If they say, ‘No mittens,’ we go outside with their hands bare,” she says. She brings the mittens with her. “Inevitably, they start to feel cold and get upset. Then I quickly come to the rescue.” The next time they head out on a wintry day, Nuys will say, “Remember last time when you cried because your hands got so cold? That’s how it is again today.” Role modelling always helps—Nuys finds it’s easier to persuade her kids to wear a hat when she ignores what it does to her hair and puts one on herself.

When Beth McMillan worked at an Ottawa daycare, she found the toddlers she looked after frequently pulled off their winter wear. One little boy took his boots off every time they went outside. “One day he stood in the snow with one bare foot and began to walk toward me,” says McMillan. By the time he crossed the five feet of snowy ground, he was crying.
But she didn’t stop him. Instead, she made a fuss over his cold feet, warmed them up and helped him put his boot back on. He didn’t take the boots off again—that day.

If it’s cold enough, most toddlers will come to see the benefit of cozy clothing. McMillan also worked in an Iqaluit daycare, where the children had to be very well wrapped up before heading outside. “Many wore traditional-style Inuit clothing and had fur-lined mitts and fur on their parka hoods. While getting them ready was sometimes a challenge, I don’t remember any of them ever removing hats or mittens once we got outside,” says McMillan. Good thing too: The daycare’s rule was that kids played outside if the temperature was higher than -20C.

More tips from McMillan and Nuys for getting toddlers ready for fun in the snow:
• Look for mittens that go up to the child’s elbow. They keep arms warmer and are harder to remove.
• No long mittens? Try using knee socks. Cut a hole at the end for the thumb and put the socks on over the mittens.
• Are hats the problem? Balaclavas (a hat that covers the neck and face, with holes for the eyes and mouth) are harder to take off and they keep more of the face and neck protected from the cold.
• For a hat that does up under the chin, a Velcro or snap attachment is faster to put on than one with strings. It’s also safer if the child gets it caught on something.
• Make getting ready to go outside fun. McMillan says: “We sang songs about getting dressed, and we’d always put things on in the same order.”

“It helps to not let it become a power struggle,” adds Nuys. “I try to be patient. Once they better understand the concept of cold weather, mittens and hats become less of a problem.”

Read more:
What to know when teaching your toddler to ice skate
How to handle a screaming toddler
5 tips for dealing with toddler frustration

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