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How to Get Your Toddler Dressed

How to Train a Fashionista (or Just Get Your Preschooler Dressed Without a Fight)

Of all the battles parents fight every day (please eat, please brush your teeth, please go the f*ck to sleep), in my mind, the clothing debate is the worst. Nothing raises my frustration level to DEFCON 5 faster than my 3-year-old daughter's refusal to put on one of her endless sweet and stylish — not to mention pricey — wardrobe options. At this point, I'd even be happy if she'd agree to wear a pair of leggings that aren't two sizes too small or a shirt without a giant stain on it (her love of clashing clothing is only matched by her love of spaghetti sauce, ketchup, and red popsicles).

Right now, I am most definitely losing our style wars. My faux fashionista has spent the last two weeks wearing a pink ombré tutu every single day and sleeping in it every night. She concedes to wearing it over pants and tops in public but really prefers rocking it all on its own (no shirt, no shoes, and definitely no undergarments).

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as she's not the first obsessive dresser in my family. My 31-year-old brother still gets teased for his preschool outfit of choice: a black college sweatshirt and old-school athletic sweatpants tucked into cowboy boots. My poor mother had to wash that lovely outfit every night.

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Trying to avoid that sad reality, I've tried many different tactics to get my daughter dressed without one or both of us ending up screaming or in tears. Here are the tactics that have worked best.

  1. Limited choices. For quite some time, my little lady was quite content to pick from one of three outfits I laid out for her each morning. I got to edit out the worst of her wardrobe, and she felt like she had some control over putting together her look. Win, win. Unfortunately, she eventually decided all of my picks were the worst ("hideous," she'd scream) and started violently flinging any wearable item I might suggest across the room.
  2. Choose your own clothing adventure. My next plan was a risk, but for a while at least, it worked. I let her look in her closet and pick one item she wanted to wear. Most of the time, she chose a piece that wasn't totally atrocious, and she let me fill in the gaps with matching items. And then she found that pink tutu, and I was out of luck.
  3. The pretend dress code. My daughter currently thinks tutus are banned at preschool, my gym's childcare center, and multiple parks. "If I wear my tutu to the park, other kids will get jealous and rip if off me, and then I'll be naked," she recently told me. I swear I just said the skirt wasn't allowed — not that she might be stripped down — but you know, "whatever works" is my parenting philosophy.
  4. The sneak attack. My latest strategy takes some stealth and employs the art of distraction. Put on some cartoons or give her a favorite breakfast, then while she's happily enjoying her strawberries or Sofia the First, I sneak up behind her, throw a shirt over her head, and before she has time to complain, start pulling on her pants. I'm sure it will keep working, that is as long as she also gets to wear her tutu . . . and maybe a pink cowboy hat.

Photo: Katharine Stahl

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