I am regularly called on to arbitrate in the on-going dispute between 8-year-old daughter and her mother about how many layers to wear when going outside in the cold. Mum* says "More", daughter says "I'm not cold".

From what age should you just let them get on with it?

(Is there ever an age when you shouldn't?)

*As one particularly self-aware father once said: "Put your coat on, I'm cold!"

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    Let her choose that choice for a few times, then maybe stop?
    – user21400
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 18:49
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    For what it's worth, as a child, I was notorious for the "i'm not cold" argument. My parents had to finally concede that I meant it when I went to college in New York, as one of two people at the school who wore shorts and a t-shirt the entire winter. No frostbite. I started wearing warmer clothes when I started getting cold... around 28 years old.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 21:25
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    This is the first Stack Exchange post in six years that I'm on the network that I'm forwarding to the wife.
    – dotancohen
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 16:45
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    Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.” ― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:09
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    I would rather have my kid get cold and learn responsibility than worry about fighting with them over clothing. You may have to deal with some inconvenience, but that's what parenting is about. I routinely try to curb my wife's protectionism, because its a part of balanced parenting. Dads should definitely try to carve out areas like this where their influence is felt (barefoot in the store day, why not).
    – Ian
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 0:30

11 Answers 11


You should listen to your child as soon as they are able to offer an opinion. This is true even if the child is wrong. (Note that listening to a child is not the same as following the child's wishes.)

Here it sounds like there's some argument between the child and a parent. The parent knows it's cold outside, and tells the child to put a coat on. The child is in a warm home, and so doesn't see the need for a coat. In this situation the parent can just take the coat with them, and offer it to the child when they're outside and the child realises how cold it is and that they need a coat. This makes life easier for everyone. It encourages the child to make their own decisions. It respects the rights of the child. It avoids arguments.

In these kinds of situations - where the decision is easy to change; where harm is unlikely; where other people aren't being disrupted - there's no good reason to ignore the child's wishes.

  • 19
    @Benjol The same still applies, though. Carry the coat, and either she'll change her mind or not. Unless it's freezing, cold isn't actively harmful - at worst, she may get tired somewhat quicker, but from personal experience, that is rarely the case even for long walks (the walking itself is a much bigger drain, and works to warm you up quite effectively). If it is freezing, it's a bit more complicated - you may need protection even if you don't feel cold, to prevent tissue damage.
    – Luaan
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 13:16
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    @Benjol so she doesn't feel cold - isn't that a good thing? :-) Keep in mind that in my experience, children just plain move more than adults, and sweating under a heavy coat isn't much fun.
    – YviDe
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 13:55
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    @corsiKa - you don't need to make tough choices. You allow your child to make those choices. If it's freezing outside the child will soon ask for a coat.
    – user19912
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:18
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    @Luaan Check the back of the neck, or the back (if you can reach it). Fingers probably will get cold, so encourage (but don't force) the child to put gloves on.
    – user19912
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:20
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    @corsiKa Or you can respect that they are intelligent (if immature/still developing/inexperienced/etc) beings able to learn from experience and let them do so. When you say "go outside without a coat and you will get cold" that's abstract, especially when you never let it happen. When you say that and then they feel it then they may learn (after a few times) that maybe you are speaking wisdom. Growing up is making mistakes and learning from them, assuming we're talking "a bit chilly" not "frostbite in seconds" here then it's a safe mistake that will do them no harm and let them learn.
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:41

This is an almost universal dispute between mothers and children. Children are terrible judges of appropriate clothing; they frequently resist bringing adequate layers.

My policy is to let them make that bad choice a few times, and they will naturally self-correct after being cold and miserable.

Update Don't overthink it everyone. Yes, child can get hypothermia in very cold, or restful setting (sleeping in very cold environment outside of sleeping bag, waiting for bus in very cold weather). But playing or walking outside in moderately cold, even slightly freezing temperature, core temperature will remain elevated due to physical activity. And if their core temperature starts to lower or even even extremities (arms) start to get cold, they are very likely to ask to put coat back on -- especially if it is close by / outside with them.

Note: if child is falling asleep, or waiting calmly at bus stop in cold, of course you urge or insist that they put coat on. That's a different situation

Rationale The reason I like this approach is because it removes unnecessary conflict. Instead of child resisting purely because power struggle emerges as you try to force them to put coat on when they don't feel cold in the moment (you can't make me!), it lets them put coat on when they get cold as they slow down / stop running around. And over time, they will associate coat with comfort, not conflict. Self-solving problem as long as you don't make it a habitual conflict.

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    Being out in the cold does not contribute to the common cold.
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 11:06
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    Cold and flu are caused by viruses, not by fluctuations in body surface temperature. Studies have repeatedly shown that short term exposure to cold temperatures in inadequate clothing does not increase likelihood of contracting viral illness in humans -- even when deliberately exposed to rhinovirus (although it can stress some animals or inhibit their immune response under certain conditions). Humans catch cold in cold weather because they tend to cluster together inside, thus making transmission easier, not because they go outside without a coat. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 11:16
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    From nature: "Colds are most common in winter, and researchers have known for decades that many rhinoviruses thrive in low temperatures" and also "Foxman says that the data suggest that these temperature-dependent immune reactions help to explain rhinoviruses' success at lower temperatures" so not sure I agree with your assertion that temperature doesn't change the chance of getting a cold. nature.com/news/… Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 12:23
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    Rhinovirus is transmitted in two ways: aerosolized droplets (e.g. Coughing / sneezing) and contact with contaminated surfaces (sharing cups, etc). Both of these vectors have nothing to do with clothing layers, and everything to do with proximity to infected humans. when an infected person sneezes, the virus must persist in exposed air until another person breathes it in. The virus does better in colder ambient AIR temperature, but it makes no difference if the person is bundled up, or stark naked. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 12:37
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    I bet the stress of arguing about clothing will probably contribute to a weakened immune system more so than the lack of clothing.
    – Nelson
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 13:58

I agree with the answers given, for the most part. At 8, the child is probably not under-dressing to make a fashion statement. The worst thing that might happen is someone is left lugging around an extra layer (isn't that partly what parents are for? ;)) and everyone learns. Eventually stop lugging around the layers.

It's important to respect a child's decisions. If she was mistaken and wants her coat back, and you point it out to her, you should consider applying the same principle to yourself and admit when she was right. That's one way of showing respect. (If you don't point out her mistakes, you can give yourself the same slack for minor things.)

Finally, the worst thing that might happen is not a cold or pneumonia. People might be uncomfortable when chilled, but it doesn't make them ill. This is an old old-wives tale, taking many forms: don't go out into the cold while it's raining, or without a hat, with wet hair, without a warm coat or scarf, without boots, etc., "or you'll catch your death of cold."

If this is why your wife wants more layers, not less, you can tell her the following:

This has been studied extensively. A New York Times article describes one such uncomfortable-sounding study:

In the 1950's, Chicago researchers repeated the experiment on a larger scale with several hundred volunteers sitting in their socks and underwear in a 60-degree room before being inoculated with infectious mucus. Others, in coats, hats and gloves, spent two hours in a large freezer. The conclusion: all 253 chilled volunteers caught cold at exactly the same rate as 175 members of a warm control group.

In other words, being cold had no effect on catching a cold.

A 1968 experiment studied the effect of (among other methods of chilling) a cold water bath at several stages during and after inoculation with rhinovirus (one of the many viruses responsible for the common cold). No effect.

Yet the studies continue, because anything shown to decrease the incidence of the common cold would be beneficial to the sufferers, as in the US alone, 75 to 100 million physician visits are due to the common cold, and millions of days are lost from school and work.

But what has never been proven is that getting chilled in any way causes one to come down with a cold.

'You'll Catch Your Death!' An Old Wives' Tale? Well...
Exposure to Cold Environment and Rhinovirus Common Cold — Failure to Demonstrate Effect
Acute cooling of the body surface and the common cold

  • 3
    @AdamDavis And yet, it is an awesome answer: covering why it isn't harmful for the child to be a bit cold is important to justifying why the child should be allowed to be a bit cold. Saying "let the child be a bit cold" without justification is a worse answer than saying why it is acceptable.
    – Yakk
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 15:30
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    It's important to respect a child's decisions.... Actually it's the other way around... it's important for the child to respect the parent's decisions. That's no excuse for the parent offering bad advice, etc. but I find that today's parents put way too much stock in letting their children make bad decisions. Having said that, my general rule is you can wear whatever you want but you better not complain about being cold (and I'm not carrying your coat around in case you change your mind). :) I generally try to let my kids make their own decisions until they prove to me they can't.
    – JeffC
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:22
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    @JeffC - I think historically the expectation has been as you say, and of course this should happen. However, historically it has not always been a two-way street, and I think that has resulted in some significant damage. I don't think we're in wildly differing camps. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:52
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    @JeffC: Unless you can explain to them in a way that makes sense why they should respect the parent's decisions but not somebody else's arbitrary decisions, that's setting them up to be harmed by others who assert authority. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 2:07
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    I'd both agree and disagree with @JeffC. The most difficult and important thing is to get a child to respect your decisions and the most effective way to do it (as well as not over-arguing with them when the decision is made) is, I think, to respect theirs when it doesn't really matter so much (like here). That way, not only do they start to think of it as a two-way street, but they also understand when you flat-out reject something that it's important, and not just fussing (which I think kids are quite good at detecting). Mutuality and emotional-range, I reckon, are the things I find useful.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 3:05

I used to get into this argument with my 8 year old, especially when dressing for school. My argument was, "Just take the coat. If you don't need it, you don't have to wear it." Under cross-examination, it emerged that the school had a policy of requiring the children to wear any outdoor clothing they brought with them. This caused the children to underdress for fear of being too warm at lunchtime. (In Canada, you often get a big temperature rise at noon, especially in the spring and fall).

So sometimes there is a reason for the refusal.

With toddlers, I would let them not wear the coat, but bring it along for the inevitable moment when they realized how cold it was. If it's sunny, dry and there is no wind, you can step outside into -25 weather and not realize how cold it is. Not at first, anyway .... One only needs to do this once or twice before they figure it out.

  • 1
    "Under cross-examination, it emerged that the school had a policy of requiring the children to wear any outdoor clothing they brought with them. " That sounds like an absurd and utterly ridiculous policy. Why would this exist?
    – user21436
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 6:16
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    Such a policy would exist to prevent children from losing said clothing. I'm not endorsing or defending it, but I do understand it. Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:59
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    Such a policy would also stop angry calls from parents: I sent little Jimmy to school with a coat; why the hell wasn't he wearing it? Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 17:44
  • This is a true report. I was asked to send WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS to a kindergarten teacher that my four year old was capable of deciding whether or not a scarf should be tied across her face holding her hood tight to her head. "You send it, we send them home in it" said the teacher with apparently no idea that 8am and 3pm are typically not the same temperature. I wrote the note. I was the odd parent, not for the last time.
    – Chrys
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 13:22

The rule at my house was "You don't have to wear them, but you have to bring them with you." This started in grade one or two. My boys abided by this, and often changed their minds about wearing them en route. This was a low consequence decision that set the standard for snow pants, touques, winter boots, etc.


In short: from the time that your child can argue "Putting on more clothes makes me feel discomfort ".

As long as the argument is only of the category "I cannot be bothered" your concern for their well-being trumps their argument that they "just dont wanna". But from the time they say "Seriously mom/dad, I'm overheating and sweat because of all this!", then you are obligated to take it into consideration.

When they can argue their case, you should listen and weigh it in.


Backing your wife up is much more significant than whether your child wears a coat. Be a team. Don't set yourselves up as alternative sources of truth.

Your wife may be right or wrong about whether the child needs more clothes, but since it's not life-or-death, once she's voiced the opinion the best thing you can do is to back her up. Say to the child "I think your mum is right, it is cold, so a coat is a good idea", or "I think your mum is right, you should eat your dinner", or "I think your mum is right, you should get into your car seat".

  • 1
    I'd probably agree about the alternate sources of truth - although possibly learning to choose who to ask to get the desired answer is important for child development too.
    – Phil Lello
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 18:26
  • This is probably worth another question, but one I'd need to ask anonymously :)
    – Benjol
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 5:55

Even as an adult, I find it hard to select the right amount to wear outside, especially if I take a long walk. Even in cold weather, I can go out for a few minutes to take out the trash, for example, without starting to get cold. When I go out for a long walk on a cold day I may be comfortable at first in warm outerwear and then after a while start to overheat from exertion and get sweaty.

So children and adults may feel fine for the first few minutes outside in inside clothing. Then they may start to feel cold and want warmer outerwear. Then after playing for a while they may start to overheat and want to take off their outer layer of clothing. But if they already sweat before they take off the outer clothing their sweat may start to freeze on their skin. So ideally people who go outside for a while may need to plan for all three or four stages (and maybe later stages) of reacting to cold temperatures.

So perhaps adults could remind older children that how comfortable they feel playing outside is going to change as they spend longer time outdoors.

And if a kid says they feel comfortable and warm now, tell them that of course they feel comfortable and warm now because they are in the warm house, and they won't feel that comfortable and warm once they are outside for a few minutes and cool off.


I am a terrible judge of warmth because I have thyroid issues. So I tend to personally run hotter or colder than those around me. As such, once a child can talk I trust them to tell me how they feel because I can't assess it for anyone else. Half the time I even change so that I can go from feeling excessively cold to excessively hot in a relatively short time. Sometimes I will bring along other clothing if traveling, other times, if I know that leaving is possible, I do not, so they can learn that if they don't bring a jacket, it may mean we go home. By the time mine have hit about age 5 I am done policing this for them. My youngest is 3 so I still have clothing in the car for her at all times. I even do this simply because she is prone to having other accidents (like spilling a whole drink on herself), so keeping warm clothes & a change of clothes in the car is just something I do until they are about 4yrs old or so.

I can recall my mother saying "Put some clothes on, you make me cold just looking at you" since I was very young. That logic made no sense to me. I wasn't cold. I allow my kids to dress as they please & then I find they sort out how to self regulate. When it comes to being cold, I find kids are often less cold than adults because they are so much more active than we are & just like we may have a jacket on when we start yard work & then remove it as we get hot from the exertion, I think kids are almost always exerting more than we are and it likely is why they are seldom as chilly as we are. I see this like I see trusting them that they eat enough. I have had some children that eat all day long it seams & others that eat like birds & all ran about the same weight. I think they know themselves if we don't interfere.

As for when it is very very cold here (which happens), I haven't so far run into children that will not listen to me about how warm to dress (like when we go sledding). Perhaps because I have allowed them to wear as they wish the rest of the time, they trust me when I tell them that it will be too cold & we will have to leave early if they don't dress adequately. You can always remove a scarf or your hat to cool down, you cannot make those items appear out of thin air if you left them home & are now far too cold to enjoy yourself.


There's no cutoff age. It depends on the child.

Two things to bear in mind:

Firstly, children have a wide a variety of intellectual and emotional differences. If you're 16-year-old refuses to demonstrate a working knowledge of cold-induced conditions and their symptoms, his opinion is largely irrelevant. Defer to your own opinion as the adult.

But, if your 8-year-old can comprehend and demonstrate a working knowledge of the effects and symptoms of being too cold (e.g., frostbite and hypothermia symptoms), you can trust them to an extent. Just bear in mind, children have a particular high tendency to hyper-focus on their play and fail to notice their bodily signals. You'll often need to pay attention for them.

If your child hasn't yet demonstrated an ability to keep track of their bodily signals (cold hands, blue lips, shivering), you need to be calling the shots -- and probably checking on them with regularity proportional to the coldness.

There's no defined age-cutoff at which a person is suddenly intellectually and emotionally mature enough to understand what "too cold" is. Lots of "adults" get frostbite and hypothermia every winter. And lots of young children manage not to.

Secondly, cold tolerance differs greatly between people. From "how long does it take to get frostbite or hypothermia" (Business Insider):

Surprisingly, hypothermia can occur at any temperature lower than normal body temperature. Factors like body fat, age, alcohol consumption, and especially wetness can affect how long hypothermia takes to strike.

Emphasis is mine.

Whether you feel or don't feel cold can be pretty irrelevant to whether your child is OK. This applies to being too cold and too warm. You really need to keep an eye on the signs and learn your child's tolerances. And, per the first point, you need to be responsible for the monitoring activity until your child demonstrates they're able to.

Anecdotally, my oldest son, can play outside on calm, 40-ish (F) degree days and come back feeling fine, with incredibly warm hands, lips, face, etc.. My oldest daughter, has a higher metabolism and is much leaner and seemingly more muscular. If it's below 60 F., she generally needs to wear a jacket or she'll come back in with freezing hands and blue lips.

But, neither one of them consistently recognize the need for a jacket.

  • Why the downvotes?
    – svidgen
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 13:53

I live in the Northeast so winter clothing is something I take very seriously. My daughter is currently in the sixth grade, and has to walk over a half an hour to get to school. Every winter she tried to fight me on winter clothing and every winter I hold firm. The lows have already hit the 30s so we've been having to bundle up. We've been wearing our winter coats, warm boots, scarves, hats, etc. In the winter snowpants are a must for my daughter if she's outside for a long time. I also make her wear her hood up and add several heavier layers.

She thinks it's cool to be underdressed so naturally shes against all this winter clothing. As long as she lives under my roof I will be making sure she is dressed properly for the cold weather.

  • I'm not sure this totally answers the question though. I understand where you're coming from; however, this question is more addressing when (at what age) that complaint should be listened to.
    – L.B.
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 13:05

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