I Do Not Force My Kids To Wear a Coat
Updated: Jan 3, 2022
It's the beginning of November in Northern California, and there is a crispy chill in the air. I have been bundled up under my favorite furry sweater and a cozy blanket. My children, on the other hand, have been parading around in shorts, tank-tops, and underwear as if they are in some never-ending summer heatwave. I allow it for many reasons but the most important is that they are not me. Here are the reasons I believe in allowing them to choose when to wear a coat.
Autonomy is defined as "the quality or state of being self-governing." So body autonomy is the belief that what happens to someone's body is largely their decision. If a coat on their body is unwanted I respect that because- it's not my body. Who am I to tell them they are cold? They are not idiots, they know if they are cold.
It was a beautiful day in my parenting career when I learned consent is taught from infancy. It happens when we connect with eye contact then a gentle heads up, "I'm going to change your shirt now." If your baby protests through a squirm or rigid arched back, you stop and figure out why they are "saying" no. Are they in the middle of looking at something? Are they cold? Do they love how their current shirt feels? After a "No", ask yourself "Can I honor their "no" or do I need to continue for their safety and wellbeing?" Most of the time you can honor their "no" or at least give them a few minutes to accept what is about to happen if it must. "You've got spit up on your shirt, that can give your skin a rash. I can see you don't want to change now. I will go sweep the floor and when I get back we can change it."
The same idea of consent applies to my toddlers. "It's cold outside let's put our coats on." "NOO! I don't a coat." "Okay, I will bring it in case you get cold."
For more on this topic visit: Visible Child and Resources for Infant Educators (RIE)
We are Teaching Healthy Boundaries
When you think about it, it's not a far leap from an unwanted coat forced on you by a parent, to an unwanted encounter with someone else. Today it's a coat forced on your body by someone bigger and stronger. In the future, it's pressure from a friend to be mean when they don't want to, an abusive boss at work, or even an unwanted sexual encounter. "I don't want this coat, but I have to." fast-forward to future life can be, "I don't like being touched by this person, but I have to." "I'm being taken advantage of at work, they ask too much of me, but I have to." "These friends are doing things I'm uncomfortable with, but I have to."
Obviously, if the only time in childhood they are forced to do something is their coat, of course, the coat is no big deal. The problem is all the things children are made to do over time adds up. "I don't want to have a bath, brushing teeth, brushing hair, getting in this car seat, on and on, but I have to."
We are teaching that you are supposed to do things you do not want to do. No! You're NOT supposed to do things you don't want to do. We need to teach children their voice matters, their preferences matter, their bodies are their own. When something doesn't feel right it's probably because it isn't. You can't let them go without car seat buckles, so why not choose to let them go without a coat?
Everyone is Different
Everyone is different with temperature and sensory preferences. We also have different metabolisms that regulate body temperature. My husband runs hot, he never wears a coat and would prefer if we kept the AC at 62 all day long. I am sensory sensitive- I need clothes to fit just right and have the textures feel cozy.
Our children are still learning about their bodies and preferences. We have discovered my oldest follows my sensory sensitivities. If a coat is tight in the wrong place or itchy, he absolutely cannot tolerate it. He would rather be cold than itchy, fair enough man. My youngest seems to have a fast and hot metabolism. He's in constant motion and always warm to the touch. When I put a coat on him he gets hot and cranky. I choose to honor these differences to send a message to the kids, "I trust you. I see you. The way you are is fine by me."
If I forced them into a coat the message would be, "Your body signals do not matter. Your preferences are useless. You do not know what you need, I do."
Independence and Confidence
When we allow a child to learn their body, and make decisions for themselves we are fostering independence and confidence. They learn that they can be in charge and capable of taking care of themselves. How beautiful is it when a child confidently can say, "I know what I need, and I am capable of meeting my own needs." Isn't that what we want? Children who can be confident about themselves and how to manage their needs?
I know that being in 55-degree temperatures without a coat will not harm them. I also know that as soon as they are cold and uncomfortable they will come running, "Mommy, I'm cold! I need a coat!", "Sure! Here ya go."
Do you know what will harm them? Being told what they like or feel has no value. Receiving the message, "when someone is bigger and stronger than you they get to decide for you." Nope, YOU decide for you, my babies. Always.