The secret to getting your kid dressed in the morning without a meltdown

Has getting out the door become harder than ever? Do you dread even the suggestion of getting your kid dressed in the morning? They hate everything in their closet. They only want to wear that ripped shoestring strap sundress in the middle of winter or the SAME dress or cardigan or jumper EVERY SINGLE DAY. Or the thing they liked last week they apparently HATE today because…wait for it… YOU suggested it. Sound familiar? You’re so not alone.

As a feminist, I hate to generalise about gender. But as a mother to a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy – and a sister, cousin and friend to many other parents of girls and boys – my experience tells me that ‘big feelings’ around getting dressed in the morning tend to be more of a girl issue than a boy issue. (But I’m happy to be proven wrong!) The age this fussiness begins to rear its head can start as early as 2 and go until as late as 7 or 8. I’d say it’s really intense by about 4. Yup, we’re in for a looong ride…!

The severity and consistency of my daughter’s morning meltdowns around getting dressed not only nearly broke me – if you know you know, they also lead me to a brilliant solution.

Over the last few years, I found myself offloading my woes to mum friends, desperate for a lifeline (when I say my daughter nearly broke me, I mean she nearly broke me). ‘How is anyone meant to get anywhere on time in the morning when a 5-minute wardrobe exercise turns into a 60 minute hurricane? And she’s STILL not dressed!!!’ (Yes, I’m totally gender-ising!)

I’d have friends tell me to just ‘let go’ and ‘let her wear whatever she wants’. Ha! I tried that. I really did. The result would most often be a 4-year-old dressed in a ripped tutu over yesterday’s spaghetti bolognese-stained top (that’s 2 sizes too small) and open-toe sandals in 9 degree weather.

I mean, I’m all for child agency. But there’s a reason children need adults to care for, guide and assist them. It’s my responsibility as Vienna’s mum to make sure she’s warm and dry. Just like it’s my responsibility that she’s fed a nutritious diet. I remember responding to one very pro child-led mum who was trying to convince me of the merits of letting a child decide on what and when they ate, ‘If I left it up to my kids, they’d eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner’.

In saying that, I also don’t advocate manhandling your child, thereby stripping them of agency and telling them that they are not the boss of their body. In weaker moments, we’ve probably all stooped to this. But when doing it, we also knew deep down it didn’t feel right. Right?

The good news is there is a happy in-between that actually works. And it’s going to change your life. It’s so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start doing it a year ago. Ready for it?

Get your child involved in choosing their outfit the night before. Tell them, ‘Choosing what to wear in the morning feels really hard. Instead, we’re going to start choosing what to wear at nighttime.’ Then take them to their wardrobe and offer them 2-to-3 weather-appropriate, clean outfit options. ‘You can wear this, this or this. You choose’. Narrowing down the choice will allow your child to stay focused and reduce the chance of overwhelm. It also provides you, the parent, the opportunity to maintain boundaries and provide options that you deem appropriate. The ‘you choice’ part hands over agency to your kid.

Once decided on, say, ‘Great. So that’s what you’re going to wear tomorrow. We’re going to neatly hang your outfit right here so it’s waiting for you in the morning.’ You can even get them involved in learning to hang their clothes on a hanger. Then hang the chosen outfit somewhere in the bedroom so it’s visible and on display. It’s OK to repeat a few times, ‘So, we’ve agreed that this is what you’re going to wear tomorrow. Great job, darling.’ Make sure they really feel like an accomplice in this decision.

(the 25-year-old me would have been thrilled to know that this would be the kind of material that will one day keep me up at night! ;-))

Voila. It’s that easy. Chances are your child will wake up in the next morning and want to get themselves dressed in their 'chosen' outfit before brekky.

Getting your kid dressed in the morning can be one of the hardest parts of the day. And can be the reason you’re too often late for preschool, kinder or school drop off, playdates, events – or even work. But by involving your kid in their wardrobe choice the night before, providing them with just a few options, will solve all your problems.