My son is about to turn 2 and is getting to the stage where he has strong feelings over what he does and doesn't want to do.

One of the issues we have is with clothing. I'm happy to give him some limited choice about what he wears but sometimes he doesn't want to wear a sweater when I or his Dad feel he should or he doesn't want to wear a hat or gloves on a cold day. He understands that if he's cold, wearing warm clothes will make him feel better.

I'm keen to encourage him to learn from his own experience as much as possible but he's still very small and I'm not sure at what age he should be able to make some reasonable decisions about how much warm clothing he needs to wear.

I'm not going to do anything extreme like let him out in a T-shirt when it's freezing outside but for more minor situations, when should I start to let him take some responsibility for this kind of thing? For example, the other day, he didn't want to wear his gloves so I didn't force him to but then I felt his hands and they were cold. He knows that gloves would have made his hands warmer so I can only assume that he didn't mind having cold hands. Also, he often doesn't want to wear a sweater in the house on a cold morning. Should we be allowing him to make decisions on this kind of thing, within reason, or should we still be deciding what's best?

  • 4
    He understands that if he's cold, wearing warm clothes will make him feel better -- This is actually a good thing. One of my sons insisted for years that coats made him colder (because putting on a coat led to going outside in the cold, logical in its way) and fought over wearing weather-appropriate gear constantly.
    – Acire
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 12:16
  • 1
    Also keep in mind that some kids just run hot. Our 3 yo son can go for a 20 minute walk at 35° F, without gloves, and have no problem. His hands are cold to the touch, but they don't bother him. Only if he spends the whole time eating snow do his hands get cold enough that he asks for gloves.
    – Drew
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:55

5 Answers 5


My rule of thumb is simple:

My children are free to make informed decisions about themselves that will not cause extended suffering or a trip to the ER/doctor or worse.

So, if it's freezing outside, I won't allow them to risk frostbite. If we're going to be out for a while, I won't allow them to risk hypothermia. If we're going to the car, then into a shop, they're welcome to be very cold on the way in and out. I'll certainly warn them about the expected outcome of their decision, but if they understand and are being petulant, a few minutes of Very Cold serves as a natural consequence. If they really don't mind the cold, then that's ok, too.

Nice thing about that rule is that it works in lots of situations. It doesn't apply, though when the behaviour inconveniences others. In fact, if your previous decision not to store your coat properly threatens to inconvenience everyone by making them late, then you may find yourself without it (unless such would threaten health or extended suffering, of course).

But yeah, it covers deciding what to eat or not eat, what to wear or not wear, what activities to join or not join, and so on. They're tiny little humans, they have to practice being human or they'll never get good at it.

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    I came here to write pretty much exactly this, and I would give it 100 upvotes if I could. Very welcome to a like-minded parent.
    – sbi
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 7:21

This is entirely up to you. I allowed my kids to choose their clothing from a very early age, but to cover off the particular after issue around cold weather, if they decided not to wear gloves or a hat etc and I thought they would be necessary, I'd take them along with me so that when they got cold they could ask for them, and I'd suggest that next time they brought them along.

The good thing is that this has led to my kids being mostly weather indifferent (they typically have gone out in the snow or rain in shorts when they want) but also they know that if that is uncomfortable for them they should take warmer clothes.

Now the eldest two are teenagers, they are starting to wear clothes their peer group wear, but are more than happy to choose something entirely different with little challenge from their parents, as they know it is up to them. In summary - let them choose; it is good for independence and responsibility; but initially take along gloves/hats etc just to be a 'safety net' in case they haven't quite understood the weather.

  • 1
    +1 One thing this "I recommend, you decide" policy has done for my children is that it has taught them to heed parental recommendations. If my youngest says "I don't want to wear that scarf", I say "I think it's too cold outside to go without a scarf, but it's up to you" – which almost inevitably leads to her wearing the scarf. (Plus, we do not get to argue about the scarf at all.) When they were very young (2yo), I would take the scarf to kindergarten in my pocket, and only produce it if/when they would moan about being cold. Nowadays I don't, because they rarely fail to take the advice.
    – sbi
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 7:25

I think I would differentiate between "Warm clothes" and the often-uncomfortable outside layer (gloves, hats, scarves, coats). Warm non-outerwear is harder to change later; warm outerwear is easier. Since kids at that age have a hard time planning for future difficulty, I tend to give more flexibility with the outerwear than the non-outerwear.

For us, 4 and 2, we largely require our children to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, and when below freezing a second layer below that (long underwear or cotton PJs). This is for the purpose of setting them up to be warm, regardless of their choices beyond that.

However, when it comes to outerwear, we largely encourage them to choose - go outside and feel, etc. We certainly bring along the entire outerwear set, but if they don't feel like gloves right then, that's fine. Since they have a warm base layer, we're not worried about them being "too cold", and they have a great degree of independence. And they're used to the base layers, so the only question we get in the morning is "Daddy, how cold is it outside?", and when I say "28", they know to put on two layers.

When they're a bit older we'll give them that choice as well - our oldest runs 'warmer' and our youngest 'cooler', so they'll probably make slightly different choices even for the base layer; but at 4 and 2 they're not old enough to understand and plan for long-term effects.

  • Your 4 year old knows that '28' is colder than.... eg '50' ? That's quite impressive :-)
    – MontyBom
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 15:27

That depends upon what you are trying to teach your child.

Are you trying to get them to make decisions based only upon their own experiences?

Or, do you want them to engage in optimization behavior - where they build upon the prior knowledge of others?

In the former case, you do what others have suggested - let them experience the cold or hot and then let them decide how to adjust (assuming no medical risk, of course). In this case, after some experimentation they'll eventually find a right fit for themselves.

In the latter case, you dress them optimally for the weather. After going outside, if they feel they have a better idea, then let them try it themselves.

This approach gives them two additional options: (1) they have your baseline to compare to, which means they have something to "tweak" rather than reinvent (2) priority control - if they really would prefer to be playing rather than spending time picking out clothes, they have the option of simply taking your original clothing solution "as-is".

I prefer the latter case as it still permits experimentation if they so desire, but also permits something not offered in the former - the choice to build upon the ideas/work of others - including just accepting another's solution "as-is" if the child has other priorities.


I remember even in jr. high I wanted to go to school in shorts when it was winter..

Maybe ask them to try their decision first and see if it suits the weather outside ( couple min break to go step outside and see if they feel terrible ). Maybe get their critical thinking going instead of what they feel like wearing without context. Depending on how young they are, you could guide their thought process "see, it's raining, you need to wear a raincoat". Older kids might need to make the connection themself.

experience: my exasperated mom of stubborn jr high student, challenging me to stand outside for a few minutes to see if I still think it's a good idea. plot twist: it usually wasn't. But if it was I got my way.

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