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Your Kid Doesn’t Want to Wear a Coat Outside? Don’t Make Them!

Photograph by Twenty20

I’m at the playground with my 4-year-old. It’s a crisp fall day, sunny, but with a notable chill in the air. I tighten my sweater around myself, and slip my cold hands into my pockets. I’m looking around for my son, who was last seen flying down a slide, when I hear a mother shout to her daughter, “PUT YOUR COAT ON! Just because other kids don’t have coats on, doesn’t mean you can skip it.”

Of course, she is referring to my child, the one kid on the playground who isn’t wearing a coat. We brought a coat to the playground. I convinced my kid to wear it on the walk over, but as soon as he started to run around the playground, he threw the coat back into my arms, telling me he didn’t need it.

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And I believe him.

I trust him to know when he’s warm enough to take his coat off. I’m a runner and when I go out for a run on a winter day and start sweating and heating up, I’ll readily peel off a layer or two. Why shouldn’t I trust my child to do the same?

I mean, I totally get it. Kids are not the most trustworthy creatures in the world. The things my kids will do to get extra dessert truly boggles the mind (no, eating three bites of dinner doesn’t mean you’re absolutely full and have room for two pieces of chocolate cake!) And I certainly can’t trust either of my kids to assess whether they're being careful enough as they bounce around our house “play-fighting,” and performing all manners of martial arts.

Childhood has far too many restrictions as it is.

Regarding wearing a coat, I understand that parents aren’t just concerned about their child obeying their orders or assimilating into the crowd, but they're genuinely concerned about the possibility of their kid getting sick—or in extreme circumstances—experiencing hypothermia.

Getting sick is a valid concern. I think we can all agree that no one wants a sick kid, whether it’s a mild illness or something more extreme. I’m definitely a germophobe to the max—and I’ll make my kid wash his hands as soon as he gets home from the park. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that viruses cause illness, not cold weather.

While science has proven that the common cold virus (rhinovirus) is more likely to replicate if one’s body temperature drops, this hasn’t been proven about other viruses like influenza, and just doesn’t feel like a valid enough reason to get into a fight with a child over a coat.

As for hypothermia, I just simply can’t fathom that a child would refuse to be bundled up in weather frigid enough to cause hypothermia. Really, when would that ever happen? And if it got even remotely close to happening, I would certainly intervene and force warm clothing on my child.

But as far as I’m concerned, there are very few instances where it makes sense for me to dictate what my child must wear, and as much as possible, I’d like to keep that an area that they have some say in.

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Childhood has far too many restrictions as it is. I have no choice but to make sure my kids stay away from danger, that they eat healthfully, get enough sleep, and are kind to others. They have to be corrected often enough for me to make all this happen. “No!” is something I hear coming about of my mouth more than I’d like to admit.

And what clothing they wear is a form of self-expression. It’s also about body comfort, and body autonomy, both of which I want them to feel control over as much as possible. I want them to know that what they do with their body is their choice, and their choice only. No one gets to choose how they clothe their bodies, and no one can tell them how they get to feel about any garment of clothing that they must drape over it.

Think about it: Winter gear can be restrictive and bulky, and kids just want to live and move in their bodies with freedom. Why not let them have it?

At the end of the day, it's very much about picking your battles. And whether my kids wear coats outside is just one battle I don’t think is worth my time.

As for everyone else? I’m sorry if my kid sets a bad example, but maybe you should take my child’s uncoated presence as an opportunity to reevaluate your own coat policy. If you think about it with an open mind, you might realize that most kids can simply be trusted when it comes to whether or not they want to wear a coat, and it’s not something you need to force upon them.

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