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Leah Ariniello Headshot

My Son Refuses To Wear A Coat

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You'd think it was a straight jacket. The hyperventilating. The screaming, "no, no, no," so loudly that from our window I once noticed a jogger do a double-take. And the flailing. The flailing that was often followed by the stiff arm, then the grab and fling. (I'm at least grateful that a zipper has never taken my eye out). Starting at age four, my son would appear to fall into a seizure following any glimpse of a winter coat. One time, finally all bundled up, he glared at me and said, "When you're really old and you have a broken brain, I'm going to make you wear four sweaters! Four! In the summer!" On a side note: here's another reason to have more than one child.

But back to coats. Our battle on appropriate outdoor attire has continued every winter since. As he's grown older my son's distaste for outerwear has advanced to even include pants. He'll run downstairs in the morning, open the door and dismiss the frost on the grass, his smoky icicle breath and the chilly gust that blows the mail across the coffee table, only to declare, "It's going to be hot today! I'm wearing shorts!" Repeatedly, my nine-year-old argues that his inner furnace runs hotter than most. So much so that my daughter, age six, now provides the same stock commentary whenever she sees the fight start. A shoulder shrug, followed by, "Well, he's just hot-blooded, mommy."

I know I'm not the only one waging this war. Even last week a friend lamented that her middle schooler refused to wear her expensive ski jacket on a frigid morning claiming that it wouldn't fit in her locker. "Just kick all your crap in there like I used to do," she told her. Her daughter simply bolted with a thin fleece in hand.

So what's the solution? For years, I have been looking for a better strategy than threats and physical force. And then recently a friend told me that she went to a parenting talk where the counselor said that when it comes to coats, let your child make the decision. It's one of those things where it's their body and they should be in charge of it. Also if they make a bad decision, there are natural consequences. They'll feel cold and uncomfortable. But say nothing? Wouldn't I basically be encouraging my son to get sick? That seems like a bad parenting move.

Turns out, however, that shedding a coat will not make you sick, according to research. One study mentioned that it might even boost your immune system a bit. When you look to see what the CDC says about ways to prevent colds there's nothing about coats. The important thing when it comes to cold prevention is actually washing your hands. And on that front, my son is like a mini Matt Lauer, who comes home from school and reports in horror on how many kids do not wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. In a few years he'll probably be carrying around hand sanitizer to use after he greets someone with a hand shake.

So I've been thinking. Maybe he is just really, really hot. Maybe I'm naturally more affected by the cold. On frosty nights I'll cocoon in multiple blankets, my daughter will double up on pajamas, and then I'll check on my sleeping son and he'll be on top of his covers in boxers. When it's 40 degrees out and he's skipping along half dressed, I shiver under my coat, hat and scarf. My lips and fingers turn purple. Growing up, I remember hiding a hat shaped like Eeyore, but that was because I thought it made me look like a donkey, an ass. I never, ever, ditched my cozy coat.

This winter I decided to back off and mostly let my son, now in 4th grade, choose his attire. We walk almost a mile to and from school making a poor choice equal a pretty big consequence. So far Maryland has seen several blustery, cold days, with temps hitting below 19 degrees in the morning, and under this new plan although he has yet to wear a coat, just an Under Armour hoodie with maybe a hat, on many mornings he has chosen pants without a word from me. Instead of the open door check, he looks up the weather on an iPod touch and will generally wear pants if the temperature is below 40. Progress!

Then a few weeks ago, it was particularly cold and my son walked out of school at the end of the day in shorts. "Shorts?!" a parent exclaimed. Was this one of those parenting digs? Maybe, but I ignored it. I could have said, "I'm teaching a lesson here! It's cold. He'll suffer the consequences of his actions when we walk home." And then my son responded. "Well I wanted to wear pants, but all of them were in the wash."

Next dilemma: At what age should a child do his own laundry?