Get creative when your toddler refuses to get dressed

I don’t know if all toddlers go through this phase of refusing to get dressed but my toddler definitely did. It started out gradually and then progressed to full-blown tantrums whenever it was time to put on clothes for the day. This article is about getting creative when your toddler refuses to get dressed.

Everything that everyone tells you about a toddler is so true. Sometimes, toddlers are downright confusing. I do enjoy this stage because there is a lot of interaction, play, learning, and development. It’s really cool to see my toddler’s personality emerging. On the other hand, some of the phases we go through are not fun.

When your toddler refuses to get dressed

When my toddler started refusing to get dressed, it started out small. She would wave her hand at a shirt and say ‘No, no, no, no!’ So, I would let her pick out another shirt and we would move on from there. No big deal, right? This was manageable.

Then, it started to happen every single morning. Soon thereafter, she didn’t want to put on a shirt or pants and didn’t want to wear anything in her closet. She would say ‘no’ to every item I pointed at. I kid you not, there were a couple of times that I pointed at every item in her closet.

toddler refuses to get dressed

Eventually, there were days when she had to wear clothes, like for daycare or family outings. Putting clothes on her would be a stressful event and result in a huge tantrum.

At some point, we were at our wit’s end. Putting on clothes in the mornings became stressful and I would try to avoid it as much as possible. On days that we didn’t have to go anywhere, I let her run around naked.

Eventually, I had to put my thinking cap on and get creative with our approach to getting our 21-month-old toddler dressed in the mornings.

So, here is what to do when your toddler refuses to get dressed, in no particular order.

1. Let your toddler choose her own clothes

My initial tactic of pointing at items in my daughter’s closet was a big fail because she simply said ‘no’ to everything. It became a game for her.

Instead, I started to pick out two items from the closet, put them close to her level, and let her choose. With two options, it was either one or the other.

Giving her the authority to choose worked out sometimes. I honestly think she realized what I was doing to get her to wear clothes, so she stopped feeding into it. It’s definitely worth trying to see if it works when your toddler refuses to get dressed.

2. Distraction

toddler refuses to get dressed

Hands down, distraction was a great way to get my young toddler dressed in the mornings. It’s probably not the best tip if you’re trying to get to the bottom of the issue, why is my toddler not getting dressed? But it worked really well for us and got us out the door fully-clothed.

I would give her a sippy cup of milk and gently start putting on her clothes while she was busy drinking. While her attention was on drinking milk, she was less focused on fighting and resisting me.

When the sippy cup of milk stopped working (I swear, my toddler is smart), I let her watch Sesame Street. This worked like a charm when we were in a rush and trying to get out the door. She would be really focused on Elmo and I would swiftly put on her clothes.

This may not work well for an older toddler who can see through the distraction but it worked on my 20-month-old.

3. Give yourself extra time to get ready

Eventually, we had to set aside extra time for getting dressed in the mornings. I would say a full 30 minutes because we really didn’t know how it would play out day by day. Some days, she was more compliant than others. If your toddler has a tantrum, you’ll need time for it to run its course.

When your toddler refuses to get dressed, setting aside extra time helps with your sanity and time management as well.

4. Lead by example

It may help to see mommy, daddy, or a sibling putting on their clothes. If I’m getting dressed in front of my toddler, I explain to her that I’m putting on a shirt and now I’m putting on my pants.

You can make it fun by singing your way through it or dancing! Make it seem like putting on clothes is the best thing you’ve ever done.

There’s a chance that your toddler may not be influenced by whether mommy or daddy wears clothes or not. But it’s worth a try.

5. Role play

Have your toddler put clothes on his or her favorite stuffed animal or doll. Explain to them that the stuffed animal enjoys wearing clothes and sometimes they need clothes for warmth in the winter.

My toddler is obsessed with her Elmo plush doll, so I would use phrases like, “Elmo says….put on your shirt!” If Elmo was wearing clothes, she might consider wearing clothes too.

6. Let them run around naked

On days that we didn’t have to go anywhere, I would let my daughter run around in a diaper. There’s only so much power struggle I could take on a daily basis. If she was happy with her nude status, then so be it.

Ultimately, I knew this was a developmental phase in her toddlerhood, so it would disappear eventually. One thing that I have learned as a parent is that it’s okay to give in to a power struggle here and there.

7. Be careful with forcing clothes

toddler refuses to get dressed

I know we get ourselves into situations where we really need to get out the door like five minutes ago and your toddler is just not cooperating. We’ve been there many times.

I’ve learned that putting clothes on your toddler while they are kicking and screaming is going to create an even worse tantrum. Calming down might even take longer than usual. As a parent, it’s also difficult to not get upset too.

So, during this phase, we tried to gain even the tiniest bit of cooperation from her, which goes a long way.

8. Rule out any sensory issues

When I did research on this topic online, many parents brought up sensory issues and skin sensitivities. The primary recommendation was to change laundry detergent or switch to different clothing fabric.

In our case, I don’t think it was a sensory or skin sensitivity issue. There were no recent changes in laundry detergent or clothing fabrics. She didn’t have any rashes or reactions on her body. I think I would have been more concerned about these issues if she had also refused to wear a diaper, which never happened.

In any event, it’s probably wise to consider these issues and rule them out.

How long did this phase last?

When your toddler consistently refuses to get dressed, you might wonder how long it will last. For us, it lasted about one month, which is actually a long time in a toddler’s life.

The worst part of it – tantrums every single day when getting dressed – lasted a week or so.

I know that toddlers go through developmental phases the same way that infants do. With infants, they call them mental leaps. (Source)

It’s a time where they are growing at a pretty rapid pace, so behavior tends to change quickly and confuse us. After this long period, my toddler simply raised her arms to put on a shirt, and that was that.

She is happily wearing clothes again.

Final thoughts

If your toddler refuses to get dressed, just remember that it’s most likely a temporary phase. Temporary for us meant an entire month.

We did have to get creative to get our daughter dressed in the mornings. Nothing worked consistently but the important thing is that we kept trying.

I hope this article provided valuable tips to use when your toddler refuses to get dressed.

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