It seems to be a universal toddler rule to resist tasks such as getting dressed!

It can cause a lot of stress for parents, so let’s look at why this is so common and what we can do about it.

I always like to start with trying to see life from our toddlers perspective.

It seems to be a universal toddler rule to resist tasks such as getting dressed!

It can cause a lot of stress for parents, so let’s look at why this is so common and what we can do about it.

I always like to start with trying to see life from our toddlers perspective.

Firstly they have only just learnt to walk, run and move their bodies in different ways like doing copious amounts of rolie polies and their brain is pretty much urging them to do these things on repeat!

Their urge to move is strong!

Things like getting on a nappy or pants and shoes often mean being still for more than a second…so this doesn’t interest them!

Secondly, these tasks involve them cooperating. This means submitting their newly emerging will to a task they don’t see as valuable.

Thirdly they are in a phase of development where their job is to push boundaries & push against you to establish themselves as separate from you.

And finally, often getting dressed is a step in the process of transitions to leave the house and go somewhere else. Sometimes care, where they will part with you and sometimes somewhere like the park. Either way, toddlers can find transitions hard (one reason car seats can be a struggle, too!). They aren’t huge fans of the unknown, so parting with one part of their day and moving to the next is less exciting or comfortable for them.

So what do we do? Let them spend toddlerhood in a nappy (if we are lucky) and one sock?

Nope! There is hope. You ‘go to’s’ to help with these tasks include:

1. Make these tasks a time of connection

I know how easy it is to try to rush these times to get them out of the way as quickly as possible (especially if they have become challenging), but carving out time in the morning schedule to do these things with them in a less rushed way can help.

You can try:

  • Contain – Make the area where you get ready a contained, consistent space. For example their room with the door closed.
  • Get on their level – Sometimes we can call out ‘get your shoes on’ while we are dashing around too. This often results in us calling it out 100× and in the end feeling frustrated and still needing to do it for them!

2. PLAY your way through

The language of toddlerhood is play.

You can try:

  • When you are in the contained space, start by sitting and letting them show you a few things or do something together even just for a few minutes.
  • Drawing attention to their bodies rather than distracting them from their bodies. Toddlers do love to get involved. This could be asking them to pass the wipes during a nappy change or counting their toes before putting on a sock. It could be singing ‘this is the way we…’ as you brush hair or playing ‘jump jump sugar lump’ as you jump them into their pants. I’m sure this is one reason ‘this little piggy’ & ’round the garden’ songs were created!

3. Provide some freedoms

The good old offering a choice can work a treat and really invite cooperation.

‘It’s time to put on your shoes. Will you wear your sneakers or boots?’

This can sometimes be enough to get them involved without any protests.
However, depending on temperament and age, for example, as they are near 3 years old, you may find the answer is a flat out ‘No shoes!’

This can sometimes stop us in our tracks, and we can then feel locked in a power struggle. This leads us to our final suggestion…

4. Project confidence and get it done

There 100% will be times where none of the above suggestions seem to be cutting it! This is where ‘confident parent leadership’ comes in.

You can:

  • Acknowledge- ‘You are having a hard time getting dressed or choosing your shoes’
  • Communicate the boundary ‘it is time to put shoes on, and it looks like you need my help today! I will help you!’
  • With empathy and certainty go ahead with the task. ‘I know you are very sad, and upset, you are crying. You really don’t want me to put them on. It’s ok to be sad.’

While you are saying these things – keep on doing the task.

Confidence is different to force. If you act early and ‘keep the limit, before you are at your limit’, they feel a calm leadership they can rest in. Whereas when we nag, beg, bargain with and yet still need to get the shoes on in the end… but by that time, we are at our wit’s end, and they feel that.

It is far better to let them rest in your confident leadership, and typically toddlers will melt into it. Research shows that the confidence of the parent has predicted the response from the child.

Have a go and let us know!!

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About the author

Mandy Richardson is a qualified Early Childhood Educator and also holds a Masters in Childhood Studies. She is currently completing her PhD in Respectful Parenting Methods. She is passionate about promoting a positive parent-child relationship and a natural, slow paced, peaceful and fulfilling childhood.

Past Posts


The Regulation Station


Toddler Temperaments 101


Saying Goodbye to the Dummy

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