My kid doesn’t have to wear a coat.

I’m an easily chilled sort of person. I like to feel warm and cozy, and being cold upsets me. In any given weather conditions, I’m usually wearing at least as many garments as the average person, often more.

My son Nicholas seems to feel warm most of the time. He’s often quite calm and comfortable in very cold temperatures. He has a decent sense of modesty and won’t run around undressed in public–he doesn’t even like to go shirtless–but he’ll happily wear a light jacket or no jacket, bare feet or flip-flops, one layer of short-sleeved shirt, in conditions where I think that isn’t nearly enough.

I decided a long time ago not to fight about this. I do advise him when the weather has gotten colder since the last time he was outside, or when the forecast calls for a 20-degree drop during the day. I occasionally insist that he bring along appropriate garments in case he wants them later. But I don’t force him to wear a coat, or zip it up, or keep the hood on.

Nicholas started teaching me about this a few days after he was born. Everything I had read about baby care said that your baby should wear as many layers as you are wearing yourself, plus a hat. He was born in December, so on our first day home from the hospital, I was wearing a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top over a nursing bra, jeans over cotton leggings, and three pairs of socks. It was a bit confusing to extrapolate the equivalent from his wardrobe, but I swaddled him in a flannel blanket over a long-sleeved knit jumpsuit over a T-shirt and diaper, knitted booties over socks, plus a knitted hat.

His face seemed very pink. He was grouchy.

“I think he’s hot,” said his grandmother.

I explained that he was appropriately dressed according to the instruction manual, and that I was a bit chilly myself.

His grandmother felt his neck. “He’s very sweaty,” she said.

I skeptically agreed to experiment with adjusting his layers. Nicholas sighed with relief. He liked being swaddled in a blanket, but he was much happier when he was wearing just the T-shirt and diaper under it, and no hat. He liked a hat when we went outside, and I fastened my coat around the outside of the baby carrier, but he didn’t need his own coat. Even the next winter, when he was bigger and rode outside my coat, he just wore a hooded wool sweater. He didn’t have a winter coat until he was walking on his own. Most winters, he has chosen to wear a hooded sweatshirt most days, choosing the “puffy coat” only for sub-zero days and snowstorms.

He also doesn’t mind having wet shoes. It’s incomprehensible to me–not only do wet shoes make your feet cold, but they chafe and just feel yucky! When he was a toddler and preschooler, I routinely said, “I advise you not to step in the puddles. We didn’t bring any dry clothes.” He usually stepped in the puddles anyway.

The crucial thing is: He doesn’t complain. If he chose to wear short sleeves and a light jacket and then whined about being cold, that would be a problem. If he chose to soak his sneakers and socks in a puddle and then refused to walk on wet feet, that would be a problem. But these things hardly ever happen. When they do–like the day last November when he insisted on wearing flip-flops to church but realized his feet were too cold when we were half a block from home–I let him correct the situation if at all possible, like by letting him run back to the house to change shoes. The few times we have been caught far from home with inadequate clothing for his comfort, I’ve restrained myself to saying once, “You’d be warmer in long pants,” or whatever. Haranguing on and on about how he should’ve had the basic common sense to wear long pants in February is not going to make either of us feel better. I can see that he learns from these experiences, and the next time I say, “There’s snow on the ground. This is not good weather for shorts,” he pays more attention!

The other crucial thing is: He’s not hurting himself. He may be allowing himself to get colder and wetter than I would like to be, but he’s not getting frostbite or severe blisters. He does seem to have enough sense to avoid putting himself at serious risk.

So, if you see me in my knee-length down parka, fleece ear-warmer, heavy jeans, and fuzz-lined boots, accompanied by a happy nine-year-old dressed in an unzipped cotton hoodie, T-shirt, thin pants, and wet sneakers, it’s not because I’m a negligent mother. It’s because we are two people who are each being responsible for our own comfort.

It works for me!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

6 Responses to My kid doesn’t have to wear a coat.

  1. Your description of your son reminds me so much of my brother. I live in a warm area, but on the cold days, my son–like his uncle–favors shorts and short sleeves. We fought the battle a few times when he was littler, but now accept that he is not us. He knows what works for him, and in a case like this where he’s not hurting himself, it doesn’t seem worth the sweat. So to speak. :)

  2. That’s very interesting, because when I was in elementary school, I knew a few kids who in deep Michigan winter went around wearing shorts and a T-shirt and seemed OK. Body metabolisms and sensitivity simply differ, it seems.

    • 'Becca says:

      Yes. I had a friend in college who always wore shorts except to church. When we had the serious cold snap at the beginning of 1994, one of the signs of just how cold it was was that Mark was wearing his church pants on a weekday!

      My grandfather used to say, “Where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling!” to explain how such people can stand the cold. He was the easily chilled type, too! But I think “Different people experience warmth and cold differently,” is a more charitable view of the situation.

  3. mind over matter mom says:

    I’m with you on this!! Everyone is different and comfort levels vary. I am a person who gets hot very very easily, so I never wear long sleeves – I will wear a zip up sweatshirt but always have a tank top underneath (so I can be comfy if I get hot!!) I went to visit my grandmother in sunny AZ when I wad 5 years old. Coming from NY and getting hot easily combines made the weather unbearably hot to me. She forced me to wear a sweatshirt and zip it up and wear the hood – I was dying and so very sweaty!! Both my son’s are like me – get too hot easily – probably even more so than me. So I do not force them to wear pants or coats or jackets at all. My oldest wore shorts to school everyday, all year round for many years. I am against forcing kids to do things in general. Eating is a big one!! I cringe when I see parents forcing their children to “finish their plate” or “take 5 more bites” – they have internal cues and they need to learn to follow them

    • 'Becca says:

      Yeah, I mostly agree about eating, too. I will sometimes insist that he finish a certain amount of vegetable or protein if he’s saying he’s done with dinner but wants dessert. If he just says he’s full, though, he can stop eating.

  4. Pingback: Interesting Question. - Mothering Forums

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