"It's pretty cold outside today," I warned my 11-year-old as he left for the school bus just after dawn this morning. "You might want to at least throw on a sweatshirt."
"Nah," he said, slinging his backpack over his light long-sleeved shirt. "I'll be OK."
Not long ago, I might have forced him to put on a heavy coat, which likely would have led to much grumbling and then, inevitably, the coat left in his middle school locker or simply lost. But I have come to the decision that, barring extreme cold or snow/rain, I am not picking the Battle of the Warm Clothes any more.
Why do so many kids hate coats, hats and gloves? As a person who hates the cold and has no problem bundling up under a ridiculous number of layers, I asked my boys for insights. They weren't a huge amount of help. Shorts and T-shirts, they told me, just feel better. "And they're easier if you have an itch," my 11-year-old added. "If you have an itch and you're wearing jeans, it's like impossible to reach it."
I imagine it's also a control thing, as in, I know my mom wants me to wear warm clothes so I don't want to, mixed with some peer pressure. I vaguely remember feeling that as a kid myself, even though I was a girl and didn't have to prove my toughness by exposing my skin to frigid air. I remember, too, how stuffy my classrooms tended to be and how good it felt to get outside in the cold air. And once they are outside, kids usually move around so much that maybe they don't feel the cold as much. Maybe they just have higher metabolisms. All I know is, my boys rarely seem to get cold (or at least admit to it).
Still, it's hard to be the parent whose kid strolls down the street in shorts and might end up shivering a bit at the bus stop. Do other parents think you're crazy, and borderline neglectful? How about the teachers at school?
Maybe so, but I have decided that's not a good enough reason to fight this battle. If I really thought my kids would be hurt by a lack of clothes, of course I'd make them wear whatever I chose. I am the parent, after all, and I'm not forgetting that. But if it's not weather that will lead to frostbite, I'm staying out of it. After all, studies have shown it's not cold weather that makes people sick -- it's germs, most often due to people being packed inside together.
I figure my kids will learn for themselves that it sometimes you need to put on more clothes to be comfortable. My friends who have older children say this does, in fact, actually happen, generally when they are in their late teens.
Meanwhile, here are some tips from other parents with experience in the Battle of the Warm Clothes:
Let them learn the consequences. Look at the temperature and make your clothing recommendations, but then let kids decide. If they freeze, maybe they'll make a different choice in the future.
Give them choices, part I. With younger children, put out two outfits, both featuring warm clothes. They'll feel some degree of control but will still be picking a weather-appropriate outfit. Older children probably won't buy this strategy, however. So...
Give them choices, part II. One of my kids hates jeans but has no problem with looser long khakis. The other doesn't like khakis and does better in jeans. Both of them prefer hooded sweatshirts and sweat jackets to bulky winter coats, which are more constrictive and, as a teacher friend tells me, difficult to store in small school lockers. Which brings us to...
Go with layers. Kids might prefer putting a long-sleeved shirt under a favorite T-shirt than wearing it over top. As long as the long sleeves are somewhere, who cares, right?
Take them shopping. Kids might be more likely to wear a coat, sweater or other warm item if they had a hand in choosing it. My boys seem to be happier wearing anything with a logo from a favorite sports team, for example.
Set some basic ground rules. One mother I know has a no-shorts policy if it's under 50 degrees. Another makes her kids wear coats only if it's snowing. Go over these rules with kids in the hopes of creating less arguing.
Have them at least carry warm clothes. Tell them to stash a sweatshirt or coat in their backpack so they'll have it if they come to regret their clothing choices.
Ask them to wear one warm thing. Either long pants or a long-sleeved shirt. At least you're a good parent to one part of their body.
Put out-of-season clothes away, in storage. If they don't have access to their shorts, they won't be able to wear them.
Meanwhile, back at my house, a recent near-miraculous moment appears to have bolstered our more hands-off approach of late. It happened when my boys went out to play basketball in the driveway in the late afternoon one weekend day. "It's really kind of cold," I said. "You might want to put on a coat, or some gloves or hat or something."
Of course not.
Yet about five minutes later, they were both inside. Son A wanted gloves, and son B put on a hat. No coats, but small steps. No gloating or "I told you so" from me, although I certainly was saying it to myself.
And while my 11-year-old may not have worn a coat today, at least he put on jeans. He wasn't the kid in shorts at the bus stop -- that was one of his friends who lives down the street. He didn't look cold, though.
I'm not judging.