elementary schoolersparenting

My 5 Year Old Won’t Dress Himself

Reader Frustrated Mommy writes,

My 5 year old son is normal and healthy and even pretty smart.  Yet, he will not dress himself.  I don’t want to be one of those moms who does everything for their kid and fosters a lack of independence.  However, my mornings are stressful and nervewracking because he refuses to dress himself.  I don’t just mean shoes, I mean even putting on a shirt over his head.  He will follow me naked from room to room until I lose my temper and dress him myself. I know he can physically put on clothes because he plays dress up all the time…. ironically.  What can I do here before I go out of my mind?

Dear FM,

I also have a five year old boy!  Here you see him about to go into the pool.  Do you know who undressed him?  Me!  That’s because he’s my third and last baby so I would also spoon feed him if he would let me, because when he grows up I have no more babies and I have to stop pretending that I’m a young mom.  Anyway, back to you.

You have a whole slew of options here.  Here’s some off the top of my head, since I have raised three children who have all been irritating about one thing or another:

  1. Use the infernal sticker chart that everyone else on Earth recommends.  One sticker every time he dresses himself and when he gets five you buy him some damn Lego thing or whatever he likes.
  2. Make him get dressed before something really cool or you don’t go.  Like a monster truck rally which my son would really like and I would do if I didn’t hate noise so much.  Or Disney.  Or like, the park.
  3. Talk a lot about being a big boy and what privileges big boys get and how when he dresses himself he will be able to get those privileges.  This is kind of like the first two suggestions, only you don’t need to buy stickers or leave your house.
  4. Dress him forever because who even cares, if he can dress himself for dress up then there’s no sensory issues so chillax and relish his young childhood.  And practically speaking, it takes you 30 seconds to dress him and it will take him 15 hours so it’s not like him dressing himself is going to be a walk down Stress-Free Lane.

As with anything in life, either proactively change it or reframe it.  Remember, he is not TRYING to be difficult.  Children just ARE difficult.  For whatever reason he finds it impossible to conceive of dressing himself.  No 5 year old WANTS to drive their mother to the brink of insanity, but their brains are all wonky and freshly hatched and he could be acting this way for a zillion different reasons, none of which are “I want to see Mommy get committed to the insane asylum.”

One more suggestion: it seems like you guys are fighting a lot over this, so if you want to execute one of the first three plans, try a week of you just dressing him and cuddling with him a lot first, so you can start the New Regime on a positive foot.  Lots of special time and cuddles and praise never hurt anything, and can help your mornings suck less, irrespective of whether he dresses himself.

Thanks for writing in and don’t worry, it would be a rare 8 year old boy who wants his Mommy to dress him, so you only have like three more years of this, max.  Wait, that wasn’t reassuring?  Whoops!  Anyway, keep me posted, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, My Son Dresses Himself And It’s Not As Magical As You Think, Between The Outfit Choices And The Backwards Pants.

Order Dr. Rodman’s newest book, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and order her first book: How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person

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