Dressing children for the cold

vedazuDecember 17, 2006

I was in the supermarket tonight, and observed a young mother with a toddler--a young one--sitting in the cart. He had on a partially zipped light windbreaker with a little flannel lining, and NO SHIRT! No T-shirt, NO SHIRT! The temperature outside was roughly 40 degrees. I teach collegiate and pre-college piano students, and routinely, they arrive in the middle of winter in short-sleeved t-shirts, sandals, no stockings. Their parents are wearing their warm sweaters, and the kids are shivering. I realized, after the supermarket incident, that I haven't seen a little kid with an undershirt under his sweater or shirt for a long time. Maybe because I grew up in a very cold region, we all wore undershirts until it was time for training bras.

I have many times wanted to stop a young mother in the store and gently tell her that babies need hats, summer and winter. That they need socks when the weather gets cold. I jump right in with my own students: "Don't you know it is winter? Put on some long sleeves and wear stockings!" Their parents are sitting right there and I don't care--no wonder they've got the sniffles and sick days non-stop.

Part of the problem is that very few children wear wool these days--everything is cotton knit, spring, summer, fall and winter. Not too many people knitting for the grandkids.

I also remember that old Russian tradition of putting a belt around your coat, to keep the warm air from rising up to your chest. Keeps your tushie warm. If the kids just tucked in their shirts, it would serve the same function and they would be more warm.

I feel like an ancient crone, but my heart goes out to little ones who don't even know why they are uncomfortable, and can't express themselves.

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There is no excuse for small children being dressed like that. The parents are negligent. However, I think the college and high school students are a different story. I see the girls in skinny strap tops, bellies exposed, light weight jackets (with Ugg boots, go figure) all winter. I had Thanksgiving at my house this year, and my 15 year old niece was wearing a spagetti strap tank top and no socks or shoes (she arrived in ballet flats, we don't wear shoes in the house. I offered socks or slippers, she declined). Never mind that I wouldn't have been allowed out of the house IN THE SUMMER in a top like that (skinny straps = no bra), she didn't care that she was cold. In fact, she denied she was cold (which I found incredulous since everyone else was in sweaters and not complaining about being hot). I see high school boys wearing long shorts (NBA style nylon) outside during the winter IN MAINE. The kids are choosing to dress like that. I guess the parents are picking their battles. If those teenagers are cold it is their own fault. But a toddler, that is a different story.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2006 at 9:28PM
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I think some of the younger mothers are only a few years older than the teenagers wandering around in the snow in their spaghetti straps. Who helps them to know what to do with their children these days? Things like baby showers actually served a good function, didn't they--brought a lot of experienced mothers together to make gifts of standard items that children need. And it is almost as bad in the summer. People forget how sensitive children are to the sun, and rarely do you see a little bonnet or cap on the babies now. They're not just cute decoration, they protect their bodies.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2006 at 11:25PM
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Being a devil's advocate here - is it possible that the boy spilled something on his shirt earlier in their outing? I'm just thinking back to the day when my son (then 10 months, and it was December) totally EXPLODED from his diaper soiling his pants, his shirt (it was an up-the-back deal), everything. We were in a bookstore and in the bathroom I stripped him down. Not having anything else to change him into in the store (extra clothes I kept in the car) I walked him out of the store and across the parking lot to the car, wearing a diaper only. Granted, it was December, but we live in Southern California, and it was cold, but not THAT cold. Some old lady approached me as I was exiting the store saying that I really should dress my child, in a very nasty tone. I ignored her, but I was a bit put off by that - she didn't know the whole story.

I agree though about older kids and teenagers. They dress like that, they may learn their lesson with being shivery.

But colds are caused by viruses and germs, not cold air.

I wore an undershirt as a kid but I don't make my daughter wear one. My parents grew up in New York, I grew up in So. Cal, so I guess I just don't see the necessity like they did. My daughter voluntarily wears an undershirt when her shirt has some kind of embroidery or applique that bothers her. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't even own any. My son doesn't wear one at all. He does own some that he sometimes wears to bed with sweat shorts (at 11, he's "too cool" for regular pajamas).

It was 40 degrees tonight when I was out walking a client's dog (I own a pet sitting business). I was wearing a long sleeved shirt, a thick sweatshirt, capri pants, and flip flops. It was what I was wearing earlier in the day (which was fine, it was in the 60's) and we just never went home after that. Yeah, I was COLD. But I did learn my lesson. I will probably keep my Uggs in the car for next time that might happen. That is usually my cold-weather dog-walking attire.

We don't live in snow country but when we do go to the snow (about an hour away), we find that we usually overdress and overheat. I guess it's a fine balance that takes a while to master.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 6:40AM
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Vedazu, I lived in Norway for two years and learned how to dress not only myself, but my children, for cold weather. My young teen would not be caught dead wearing spaghetti straps in the winter, and when colder temperatures come through she will wear a thermal top. I think it's simply a matter of not knowing how to dress their chidren for winter weather.

It's very interesting that parents would dress warmly and dress their children in 'summery' wear. I've seen that a lot. There are way too many parents dragging their kids out under-dressed to be an 'accident.'

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 9:16AM
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Some kids just run hot, too. When DD was little (up until 6 years old or so) she was always hot. She'd be perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt outside when the temps were in the 50s and 60s. We'd dress her in sweaters and jackets but they'd come off the instant she got to school. It was frankly a little embarrassing as we got those "looks" when it was (relatively) cold, but we knew she was fine. She still runs a little hot, but not nearly to the degree she used to.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 9:47AM
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Wow, pretty judgmental of someone you don't know. Just to provide a different perspective, I am a not-so-young mother of two young children who might frequently appear underdressed by your standards. I grew up in cold climates and was taught how to dress warmly. I have never worn undershirts, never wear a hat, and rarely zip my coat, if I'm even wearing one, unless it is extremely cold (i.e. below 20 degrees or so). I don't particularly like being all zipped up, being a bit cold doesn't bother me too much, and I haven't been sick in years.

As for my kids, when my DS was a baby and toddler, he always ran hot. Whenever he was zipped up in a coat, with hat, mittens, etc., he would be sweaty and uncomfortable in no time. I often dressed him much more lightly than I dressed myself because he was clearly more comfortable that way. He was rarely sick. Now, at 6 he prefers to dress more warmly, so he usually does wear coat, hat and gloves.

My daughter, who is 3, HATES to wear a coat. She also doesn't like to wear long sleeves or long pants, but I do not let her wear shorts in the winter. As far as the coat (hat and mittens too), though, it is not worth the battle to get out of the house to make her put a coat on. If she is actually going to be spending time outside, I will do it, but if we are just going from house to car to parking lot to school/store/etc., then I let her go coat free. If she gets cold, she'll ask for the coat and I'll put it on, but otherwise she's coat-free and if you saw us in a parking lot, it would probably disturb you. The only time she's been sick in over a year is a little stomach bug that she picked up at daycare, not from being cold.

In general, people do not get sick merely from being a little cold for short periods of time. Most places inside are warm enough to be comfortable in relatively light clothing. If it doesn't bother the people who are cold, why should it bother you?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 9:49AM
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This thread reminds me of my grandmother who would literally say, "Put a sweater on, I'm cold." and she MEANT it!

My son HATES coats, and is always hot. When he was smaller, I'd force him to wear a coat to school, just so that I'd look like the dutiful mother. He promptly removed it once at school, and every year, I'd donate barely used jackets to charity.

I quit fighting it. Now his "winter coat" is a thin "hoodie" sweatshirt, even in (what I consider to be bitter) cold. That's fine with him, and he's never sick.

Me? I'm chilled ALL the time. I think I must be an ectotherm! I have sweaters and jackets for year round use. (In fact I'm wearing my thick, down filled coat as I type this, because I'm still cold from taking my kids to school over an hour ago!)

I too think it's a tad judgemental to say that parents don't know how to dress their children. You never know the story behind it, and I too have had moments like Snookums mentioned.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 10:19AM
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Sorry--anyone who takes their 1 to 2 year old child without any shirt to a supermarket in 40 degree weather so that you can see his entire bare torso is not dressing their child properly. Is that judgmental? If nothing else, his skin has no protection from any accidental events--spilled liquid, falls and the like. I wasn't talking about plus or minus one layer--there weren't ANY layers!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 10:28AM
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It is increasingly frequent for public buildings to lower their thermostats in an effort to save money on heating. It could be that over the years we got complacent about having 72 degree heat in schools and universities. That's changed a lot, and perhaps parents haven't reacted to that.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 10:32AM
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I'm just agreeing with Snookums that we, as observers of others, may not be seeing the whole picture. I've had my kids out similarly dressed for various reasons. I'm sure I've looked horrid to onlookers. But I can say that *several* reasons could be found for a young mother having her kids out like that. Sure, some are just undereducated on how to properly care for kids, but often, it's accidents at the last stop or something like that, that would cause a kid to have no shirt on.

I once had the kids at the zoo on a particularly chilly day. Kid #1 had an accident, and when I went to grab the bag of extra clothes, I realized that I left the house with the wrong bag. All I had with me was an old t-shirt. No socks, no shoes, no pants to replace those that got wet. So I had kid #1 in a stroller in *nothing* but a big t-shirt, with their little feet all bare and everything. Because the stroller was huge and heavy (double stroller), and because the zoo had tons of hills, I was rather slowly pushing it back to the car. We got *quite* a few looks. I'm sure it looked like I just didn't care, or didn't know how to dress my kid, and I'm sure it looked like we were just meandering around, but the fact was, I was doing my best to get back to the car.

I also have a few friends that are single moms, and if they have to pick up milk from the store, and one of the kids gets sick and soils a shirt, they have to take the kid in with them, as there would be no one else to pick the milk up later.

I'm just saying not everything is as it appears. I for one have been confronted in public by casual onlookers, and I can say that categorically, they've commented on something that they don't know the whole story about.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 12:01PM
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I remember hearing a joke once that a sweater is something you put on when your mother feels cold. That's funny, but true!

Living in Arizona, it's rare to see kids with shoes on except in the colder winter months. I grew up in NY, and can't imagine not ever wearing shoes! For that matter I don't do well with flip flops either. But here I've seen lots of people wearing shorts and flipflops and a long sleeved heavy sweatshirt. It's just the way people dress here.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 1:51PM
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When it warms up around here, I have to turn my head away from babies who don't have hats on their heads, because it drives me nuts. I also feel upset when I see little ones who aren't wearing enough in the cold, and can only hope there are extenuating circumstances, as above. I do know some babies snatch hats off and I guess I was lucky that my dd's didn't do this. Having said that, they are now older teens, will only wear a hat while skiing, wear spaghetti-strap tops, and thin sweatshirts as "coats". We argue and argue, but at some point they have to be responsible for themselves. (We do live in Northern California.)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 4:37PM
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I sort of feel like many people are jumping all over the OP for what SHE THOUGHT. She didn't say anything to the mother. I think it is perfectly natural to think "what is wrong with her! She should put clothes on that baby!". Isn't that normal?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 6:30PM
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As a mom of 3 1/3 year old twins, I must confess I have raised my brow at people underdressing their kids, sputtering to myslelf.
Please note I don't think the OP was judgemental at all, I am using this as an opportunity to share a mom moment amongst those who I believe would appreciate it.
My kids were about 36 hours out from the 24 hour stomach flu so we finally went grocery shopping for something other than 7 up and chicken soup. I bought them some string cheese and gave them each some to buy myself some peace through the produce isle when....blehhhh. My DS lost his cookies, or rather cheese, all the way down his shirt. Many helpful people came with paper towels, wipes etc. (Little did I know he would be lactose intolerant for another 6 weeks). I stripped his shirt off and put my sweater on him. He looked like YODA..tee, hee. In the remaining 1 isle to check out I got MANY disapproving glance. Needless to say I learned something about judging the situation, and I will always remember how sweet my little guy looked dressed like yoda. Cheers.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 5:26PM
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I don't believe that ALL of the people we see out there with kids under dressed have similar stories. There are folks who have no clue how to dress young children. I've seen it all the time in schools where teachers have to bring extra sweaters for the little ones who are taken outside to play during recess.

If it happened one or two times I would say that maybe there was an accident, but when children turn up to school continually under-dressed during winter then that's how they normally dress.

The OP started a topic and whether we agree or not, this person has a right to share their feelings.

Besides, can some of you say with honesty that you've never judged anyone?

    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 8:38PM
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I totally admit to the fact that I had been judgemental purposefully and unintentionally at times. I learned a messy lesson....one of many to come in my ever dimming dream at being a wonder mom. :))))

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 12:15AM
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Nobody's bashing vedazu, we're sharing personal anecdotes and opinions. Is it wrong to offer a personal story that runs counter to someone else's opinion? I think this forum is about sharing diverse experiences and opinions in a non-confrontational manner.

In fact, I bet if we took a show of hands on parents who shared their under-dressed kids' stories, everyone would agree that sometimes vedazu's observation/opinion is correct (i.e. that some parents under-dress their kids out of ignorance or lack of caring). I'll raise my hand - I think vedazu is correct in some cases. Just not all, and it's hard to tell which.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 10:35AM
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Kptwin, I hear you on that, lol :-)

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 5:22PM
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This thread brought up a family memory.

Long ago, when DD2 was an infant, I loaded everyone up to do some last minute mall shopping for MIL's birthday. I pulled DivaD1 away from the My Little Ponies, called DS out of a tree , packed the baby bag and the baby and buckled everyone in. A major undertaking, as you all know.

While walking this zoo into the mall, I noticed DS had 'something' in his hair and realized, horrified, that it was bird poop. It was also down one side of his t-shirt. We headed straight for the bathroom, where I told him I was taking off his shirt and washing his hair. If I hadn't made a big deal about it he wouldn't have freaked out, but I guess I hadn't been the mother of 3 long enough to shrug it off. He's crying, DivaD1 is screaming because 'it is SO GROSS' and of course that sets the baby off. I march 3 screaming children, one half naked and dripping, to the nearest store where I try to buy him a t-shirt and realize my purse is at home.

Thank God nobody stopped me to tell me my son was not appropriately dressed. I don't think I could've been responsible for my actions!!!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2006 at 10:19PM
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I've been busy and haven't checked in--lots of reaction! A little girl from a very well-to-do family showed up for a lesson today. Cold out. Pulled off her boots, and no socks! In this case, the mother was mortified, because the children are always wonderfully and appropriately dressed. I told her, "If my father were alive, he would say, "Gabrielle, when I was little, only the poor kids went to school with no socks in their boots." The children laughed uproariously!

Actually, I'm not a "dirty-looks" kind of person--quite the opposite. When I see children I want them to know I am happy to see them; lots of anti-children sentiment in the world these days. I did give some thought to very gently mentioning something to the mother, but that urge passed quickly.

By the way, I did check with some doctor friends and asked, "Of course we know that viruses cause illness, not cold, but why should we dress warmly, then?" The answer is that cold causes stress, which makes it more difficult for the body to fight infection. So put some clothes on the babies! (That evening, I was wearing a thick wool sweater and a wool coat. I hustled past the frozen food section because it chilled me. There were no bare-chested adults around.) Happy Holidays to all--stay warm!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2006 at 8:56PM
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