10 ways to dress your kid in the morning

Parenting small children is basically an episode of Naked Survivor. You win if you manage to coerce the small children into wearing clothes. Without killing them (or yourself) in the process – that’s the survivor part.

I’m in the thick of it right now, with two little ones under the age of 5. Survival is such the right word. Because, man, getting them dressed requires major mom ninja moves. Because the trick you used yesterday, ain’t gonna work today.


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Unfortunately, unlike TV-land and actual Naked Survivor, the real world preaches “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” (Undies and pants are optional, huh? Best news ever for my boys.) So we mommas gotta rally the troops and dress ’em up real nice before we kick ’em out the door.

In case you’re like me, and mornings aren’t your strong suit, here are TEN WAYS to dress your kid in the morning. And, fingers crossed, I’m hoping these tips and tricks work til mine leave for college. (Bless you, lady, if your cutie resists ALL of these.)

1. Give ’em a choice.
You pick out two shirts and let little cutie choose his favorite. Sometimes the response is “none of the above.” Which translates to “Mom gets to pick.” This is usually met with compliance or annoyance. If annoyance, double down and repeat the original directive: Here are two shirts you can wear today. Which one do you pick?

2. Tell the tiny tyrant to dress herself.
Ha ha ha ha!!!!! Does this ever work? When I do my best cheerleader impersonation and chant about how my little guy can pick out his clothes on his own, he looks at me bored and picks out a book to read instead.


3. Stop hording clothes.

Buy your kid 7 shirts and THAT’S IT. If your MIL gifts some amazing monogrammed thingy for your kiddo’s birthday, then take one of the other 7 shirts to Goodwill. The less shirts the better. Because tips #1 and #2 above are so much easier if there’s only ever 7 shirts to pick from – depending on how often you do laundry.

Otherwise, you run into this…

Scenario A. Child rummages through 20 shirts. Child gets overwhelmed and throws 20 shirts on ground. Child runs screaming out of room.

Scenario B. You rummage through 20 shirts. You show child each shirt until child picks out one to wear. Only, it goes more like this:

Me: Do you want to wear this shirt?
Small child: No, that’s not a school shirt.
Me: Ok, what about this one?
Small child: No, that’s a Science Center shirt.
Me: Um, what? Well, what about this one?
Small child: No, that’s a jammie shirt.
Me: Uh, then what about this one?
Small child: No, my bear doesn’t like it.
Me: Does you bear like this other one?
Small child: No, but he likes your shirt. So I’m gonna wear it. Take it off, mommy.


4. Delay like hell.
When #2 above leads to the whole I’m gonna read this book now, buh-bye, smile graciously (as if) and say, “Ok, when you’re finished reading, it’s time to put on your shirt.” Your kid’s sudden desire to read Shakespeare is validated and you get to stalk him a few minutes later with a clean, pressed shirt.

5. Kick butt with a little empathy.
But what if you’re running late? No time for such delightful delay games? Tell her that you know it’s SO FUN TO READ! And that you guys can read the book when you get home later. In fact, she can leave the book on the kitchen table to remind you when you IMMEDIATELY walk in the door. Then strike a power pose, summon all the spirits in Heaven and announce that IT’S TIME TO GET DRESSED.

When you get home later, first things first: READ THE BOOK. You get sweet cuddle time. She learns you keep promises. Plus, who doesn’t love a good book? (Don’t get me started on Richard Scarry. I’ve gotta a love-hate relationship with that guy. The longest books ever….)


6. Hire a clown.

To distract the dear one while you dress her. Or stick her in front of the iPad where she can zone out on Daniel Tiger reruns. When she emerges from her TV-coma, she’ll be amazed to discover she’s suddenly wearing a sundress, sandles, undies, and matching bow.

7. Stop with the matchy-matchy.
I get it, you want the pink shirt to go with the to-die-for Lilly Pulitzer shorts. So you’ve safety-pinned all the clothes combos together for ease. (Ease for whom? Kiddo can’t manipulate the spikey little devils. Which means you’ve just given yourself another morning chore – bravo!)

Momma, believe me, pumpkin will look just as darling wearing a 1970’s mustard-yellow shirt with those cutesy shorts. And, if your darling goes to preschool with my boys, you want her to wear the hideous top. Because she’s going to come home covered in red clay or puke-green fingerpaint (because she HAD to have ALL the colors) or remnants of black-eyed peas from lunch.

This goes for socks, too. Matching socks are overrated. (You can read how to foster independence by encouraging Little Miss to pick out her own socks – in this post.)

Dude, enforcing the matchy-matchy rule, socks or otherwise, only leads to one place: POWER STRUGGLE CENTRAL. Nobody wants to go there. Especially if you have to leave the house in, oh, 20 minutes.

8. Lay it out the night before.
Ok, fine, you refuse to follow #7 above. To achieve matchy-matchy perfection, here’s my tip.

Casually pull out all the clothes for the morning the night before and set them out where your little darling can see them. He has time to get used to the fact that, yes, he is going to wear the black shirt with the green turtle on it, the jean shorts with matching green turtles and Batman underwear. In the morning, he knows what to expect: black shirt, jean shorts, super hero magic.

Or just put him to bed in this get up. Pray he doesn’t wet the bed (or his pants) and then he’s ALREADY DRESSED for the next morning!

9. Count to FIVE.
Warn little cuteness that it’s almost time to get dressed. Then tell her you’re going to count to FIVE. And when you get to FIVE, it’s all hands on deck! CLOTHES TIME! Bonus: you get to teach math skills.

A kitchen timer works, too. Bonus: you get to do mom stuff (instead of breathing down your kid’s neck while you count.)


10. Man-handle the child.

When all else fails, corner her in the family room or sit on her. She will cry. She will hate you. She will be dressed. And you will win Naked Survivor!


Share your morning dressing tips below or on Facebook at MothersRest.


Photo credit: Vanessa Serpas from


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Also, check out these fabulous tips mommas shared on Facebook:

I let my kids have a choice on their clothes. There’s a time limit (I go potty, pour a cup of coffee, etc). My 6yo is expected to totally dress himself or ask for help if he needs it. My 3yo is expected to pick her clothes and get undressed and panties changed on her own, totally dressed is a bonus. My 2yo gets changed on the changing table, sometimes I let him pick his shirt. If they don’t make the time limit I get to choose clothes and they have a consequence coming.
–Angela, mom of 3 youngins under the age of 7


Bribes…it’s all about bribes in our house. 👌🏽 Anywhere from “you wanna go outside?” to “you want some fruit snacks/quinoa/fav food of the day” to “you wanna go clean up that spill/sweep the floor?” He loves cleaning…

But the bribing really works! Find what work for your kid and it doesn’t have to be junk or anything really all that bad. Could be just the “but don’t you wanna go to the park later?” type stuff.
–Daniella, mom of a cleaning ninja, aka “he purposely spills liquids on the floor so he can clean it up”

I have tried everything but the clown. With three kiddos, each one has a preferred way of delaying the dressing process, and I have a preferred way of dealing with it.

Child 1 (age 5), a.k.a. Ms. Strong-willed, Fashionista – MUST pick her own clothes and is actually very good at coming up with outfits. However she has been known to scream, while staring at at least 20 different outfits, that she has nothing to wear. I pick…

Child 2 (age 5) – Almost all of his clothes are easy mix and match. Most days he is the first dressed and waiting in front of the TV watching “Wild Kratts.” However, recently he was given a pair of maroon sweatpants and wanted to wear them…

Child 3 (age 4) – Has no fashion sense. Her outfits are in baggies (when I do laundry I put them together.) I give her two or three outfits to choose from in the morning. She fusses, I walk away, she is usually dressed shortly thereafter.

I started the baggies when I was packing for her to go on a trip, but it really was practical as so many of her clothes came as outfits that only have certain matches. It really has been quite easy to use. I just collect the empty bags from her room when I do laundry.
–Joy, mom of 3 and foster mom of many more

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