Four year olds and getting dressed

Four year olds are gorgeous creatures, but they can come with challenges. For many parents getting a four year old dressed in a timely fashion can be a huge issue. In recent weeks I have received a number of questions from readers on any advice or tips I would have for making the getting dressed process for four year old easier.

Firstly if you are new to four year olds, it would really be worth reading this post if you haven’t done so already  – Characteristics of Four (and a half) Year Old Behaviour. Each stage of childhood has its own unique characteristics and in order to successfully manage them, you need to know what you are up against!

Our daughter is our third child and she taught me a great deal about preschoolers dressing themselves and about the type of emotions it can possibly evoke in me. With my daughter I had a picture in my head about how my daughter would dress. My daughter’s eclectic style did not match my picture at all. I fought it for awhile, trying to get her to wear clothes I wanted her to wear, but I soon realised this was not only futile, but a harmful approach to be taking.

I learned to let go of what I thought other people might be thinking about the clothes she was wearing. I learned to love that she was so independent and would dress herself in her own style. This was great training for our fourth child. He was completely fine with dressing himself, but when our fifth child came along we saw a streak of independence grow in him. For at least the first six months of his baby brother’s life, he pretty much wore only a rashie top and board shorts. I bought multiple of each item so washing wasn’t an issue, in fact they were easier in terms of washing because the dried so quickly and didn’t require ironing.

Four year olds and getting dressed

So I was quite experienced with preschooler dressing issues when they arose for our youngest when he turned four. He became super fussy about what he would wear. It would take ages for him to choose what to wear and then he put it on, he would complain or even cry because he didn’t like the way the clothes fitted or felt. I started reminding him to get dressed earlier in the morning so he wouldn’t impact the time we would leave to walk to kinder and school.

But it seemed like the more time I gave him, the more time it took. Even though he had decided on clothes the night before, he would have changed his mind in the morning and didn’t want to wear them. Out of desperation one morning I found him a pair of his sister’s old black leggings to try on. He put them on and loved them. We had least found something that he liked!

Realising I needed to change what was happening, I then spent the next couple of days working out what clothes were working for him. I worked out that he liked tight fitting clothing, so he and I went on a shopping trip.

We bought:

  • five pairs of leggings (three black pairs as he liked them best)
  • five long sleeve tops
  • seven pairs of socks that he liked
  • a small pair of tight fitting black slip on shoes

I then removed pretty much all of the other clothes in his wardrobe so it was super minimalist! I left some other clothes that I knew we would need at some point (hoodie, chino pants and going out shirt etc) but I put them to the very edge of his wardrobe so he couldn’t see them. I did the same thing with his drawers and simply boxed up all the other clothing until we could see if this new approach was going to work.

This minimalist approach worked a charm for him. He would happily dress himself as he liked all the items he could see. Four year olds can be overwhelmed by choice, so the simple act of eliminating clothes from his wardrobe and limiting choice really helped. The clothes that were in there he liked and would be happy to wear, but as you can see from the photo collage above he only wore about half of them, preferring to wear a few things very often.

To be honest, I would have preferred if he wore the cute jeans, Vans shoes and gorgeous hoody I bought him when I was in the US that year, but that would have made him miserable. Wearing his leggings and his long sleeve t-shirts, he was happy, he got himself dressed without fuss and was comfortable with what he wore and that was much more important that aesthetics!

The photos in the collage are taken over a period of about six months which included our trip to Japan. We did buy him a t-shirt there that became a staple in his wardrobe. The last photo with me in the bottom right hand corner was taken on his last day of four year old kinder and you can see he had happily moved onto shorts, but was still sticking with the top, socks and shoes he had been wearing all year (the shoes had been replaced for a bigger size though).

Moving into a school uniform did require some adjustment for the four year old, as it was a very large size compared to what he had been wearing, but we wore it for short periods over the summer holidays to help him get used to it. He didn’t love the uniform, but as he turned five he began coping better with these emotions and it didn’t cause issues in the morning. Weekends though he would still go to his favourite clothes!

Do you have or did you have a four year old who had issues with getting dressed? How are you or how did you manage it?

Comments 5

  1. I couldn’t believe it when I read the article: streamline your wardrobe and your four year old’s. This is my life right now!

    I am going through this right now. So many arguments about not wanting to wear pants and clothes feeling itchy or “hating” some articles of clothing. Not wanting to wear a jumper, not wanting particular socks or wanting a specific pair of undies with the “stars” on them. Often she wants to wear a fairy or princess costume for the day including to park/shops…I often let her do this. I have a few dresses that I think she will wear, this varies at times….sometimes she will wear it, other times not want to! I explain that she in fact wore it yesterday to convince her that the item is acceptable/wearable. Sometimes we give her a choice between two things to wear so she feels like she has more decision making power. My daughter just turned four 1 week ago but has been carrying about what to wear for about two months into the kindy year…seeing what other kids wear. I reasoned with her that other kids at kindy wear leggings. Sometimes I distract her, when she is doing something interesting I will put on her leggings without her paying as much attention to notice.

    1. Post

      It is always nice to now that you are not alone with these issues! I recommend taking anything out of the wardrobe that you don’t want her to wear and to cut down the amount of clothes she needs to choose from – good luck with it, it does get better!

  2. This article has given me an ‘a-ha’ moment, even though my 2 boys are well beyond 4 years old. The older one has always hated jeans, says they are stiff and hurt to wear, so a few years ago, I bundled them all up and stored them until the younger was big enough. Same with knitted jumpers. I know to just buy him extra trackies and long sleeve tops for everyday, and now with both in primary school, we shop for ‘nice’ clothes together. With their input, we have going out outfits that look good and feel comfortable. They know that when I say they need to put on the nice clothes, there’s a reason, and (usually) do so with a minimum of fuss. Otherwise, they pick their clothes out themselves.
    It really pays to consider what the cause of the ‘morning miseries’ is instead of just trying to get them to conform to your expectations. Happier days ensue!

  3. Oh my goodness…. last year my (then 4 yr old) boy wore shorts right thru winter!!!! Point blank refused to wear long pants, if we tried it he would insist in them being pushed or rolled up above his knees. At least he was fine with warm tops and jumpers to keep him warm. Or he would wear pjs with legging type bottoms. Very much a sensory processing issue. This year with a lot of encouragement he is fine in long pants as long as they are ‘nice and soft’… so trackies are ok, no jeans. Unfortunately I have heaps of cute pairs of jeans from hos older brother which look like they will never be worn, but at least he is keeping warm. Of course, he insisted on wearing a jumper for half of summer…. you cant win them all, pick your battles and just go with it!! 😂

  4. My daughter is 5 years old now and still I have the same drama each morning about getting dressed. She flips from wanting me to get her dressed to – ‘I can do it myself!’ I always thought I was going to worry about clothes matching but no – whatever is going to mean she gets dressed with minimal fuss (so long as she is warm now that it is Winter). Can’t wait to read more of your articles too – I’ve just discovered your website – thank you 🙂

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