3 Alternatives to a win-lose situation with your child

So, my daughter has opinions on what she wants to wear.

I’m good with that. In fact, I encourage it. I’d much rather she made her own choices and honestly, she’s usually so scruffy by the end of the day that it really doesn’t matter!

However, days are getting colder and for reasons unknown to me, she has decided that wearing a jumper is a hard no.

This is frustrating.

Because it’s cold, right? And she’ll get cold and then sick. (I’m not even really sure if that’s true but it’s common mum knowledge).

And total strangers will look at me like I’m a crazy person while she loops around in the park with only her t-shirt on.

One particularly cold day last week, I dug my heels in.

‘Jumper on’, I insisted, arms outstretched ready to pop it over her head.

Oh dear.

(I should really remember to take my own advice)

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Anyone who lives with a three-year-old can guess what happened next.

A small undignified wrestling match in which I was the loser. A crumpled jumper and a sobbing little human.

It’s kind of embarrassing to write it down because I know what happened.

In a state of temporary madness, I had decided that as the adult I was RIGHT and that I needed to WIN the battle.


This approach never works.

I know this.

Because as soon as there is a win-lose mentality it all goes downhill.


If I win. She loses.

If she wins. I lose.


Someone always ends up feeling bad and the rest of the day is no fun anyway.

If I want her to be in charge of her own choices, my actions have to match my words.


So, what do I need to do?

I've been reading Calm Parents, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham.

Markham proposes a model where we coach our children rather than trying to control them. Because the truth is that we aren't always going to be there to help our kids make good decisions, and so our job is to help them develop in such a way that they're able to make them for themselves. 

I could have employed any of the below tactics with more likely success. 


I could have offered her a choice of jumper - as above she's more likely to cooperate if she feels a sense of control in the situation. This can make for some interesting colour combinations but that isn't really an issue for me so it's all good. 

I use this a lot and actually it works in most situations. This makes sense to me because when you're 3 years old people make a lot of decisions for you - who wouldn't want a little control?

Get her thinking

I could have tried to engage her rational brain. We know that a small person's brain doesn't work in quite the same as ours. Instead of getting entrenched in the argument I could have helped her to think about what she needed.

There have been times before when we've gone to the window and talked about what the weather looks like, even opened it and stuck our arms out to feel the temperature. Instead of telling her what she needs to wear, I'll ask, 'What clothes do we need to wear on cold days?'

She's usually so pleased to have figured out the answer that she'll happily get dressed in something sensible. 

Let it go

This one is hard for me but I could just pack up the jumper and let her know she can have it as soon as she feels cold (which will probably be 0.4 seconds after we get outside). Again this is more successful because it allows her to make the choice.

The real challenge is to hold in the 'I told you so', that's dying to pop out when she puts it on!

This also relates to the old pick your battles adage - if you treat everything as life or death then you probably sound like a parent who does nothing but nag (a trap I work hard to avoid!) 

I also know I get more inflexible when I'm feeling stressed or in a rush which never helps. That's really up to me to manage, not her. 

Save your energy for the real non-negotiables. 

I want to be a coach, not a drill sergeant.

Win-win for everyone