Saturday, July 25, 2009


Why don't parents dress their children properly? I know I sound old-fashioned, but honestly, I nearly bit my lip off trying not to have words with a mother the other day, when I saw two little girls dressed in sleeveless tops at a playground in the middle of winter.

It was sunny, sure, but it was FREEZING. Munchkin was in a hat, winter coat and woolen layers top and bottom. I was in my winter coat and cursing having left my hat at home. And here were these little ones running around in barely anything.

Waldorf teachers will all tell you the same thing ... keep your children warm! Young children might not feel the cold, so its our job as mothers to dress them properly. Warm means layers of natural fibres ... think cotton and wool underwear, slippers inside and shoes, hats and jackets outside. (cotton hats inside too for babies ... they are usually practically bald afterall). Children who are warm play better, grow better and behave better.

Warmth is probably one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
Not only the warmth as love but the physical warmth of their body.
Children are developing their bodies especially during the first 7 years of their lives.
An infant and a young child will always feel warm unless they are on the verge of hypothermia because they have an accelerated metabolic rate. If we don't
provide them with the layers of cotton and wool to insulate their bodies, then they must use
some of their potential "growth" energy to heat their bodies. This same
energy would be better utilized in further developing their brain, heart, liver, lungs etc.
In addition, being cold decreases our immunity. We are all more susceptible to
the germs and viruses that are always around us when we are wet
and cold. When our body has to expend extra energy to keep warm
then less energy is available to "fight" off infections.
Susan R. Johnson MD, The Importance of Warmth

Being in the middle of winter here, everywhere I go in Steiner circles this message about keeping children warm is being hammered home. In particular, the teachers stress the importance of keeping feet and heads warm ... this means woolen socks and woolen hats. Also long singlets or bodysuits so tummies and backs are kept covered ... gosh I sound like my grandma!

I know how hard it is to get, and keep, warm clothes on young children. I'm the first to admit I haven't always been perfect at this myself. But, as mothers we manage to keep our children from running on the road, climbing on wobbling bookshelves, eating lollies all day ... in other words we manage to enforce the limits we really believe in.

In our house, getting Munchkin to wear slippers is a constant battle. But, with wooden floors wearing them is non-negotiable. We are making some progress, but honestly I think she is the kind of child who would prefer to go barefoot all winter. What I have had some success with is this - when the slippers come off, mum won't do anything until they are back on ... its kind of like playing that game statues where everyone freezes!

A good friend of mine manages to keep her girls in sunhats outside all summer ...a task many have said is impossible (including me at one time!). Her approach is simply this ... if the hat comes off the child goes inside until the hat comes back on. I heard someone else comment how 'hardline' she is ... but its about keeping your child safe and healthy ... these things are really worth insisting on!

Donna Simmons relates her experience getting her boys to wear hats here ... I found this post quite motivational!

I'd love to hear other mums stories about winning the warmth battle ... let me know how you do it!


Sharonnz said...

My kids are still at the stage where they LOVE Mum's handknitting. So a new hat (gnome hats this winter), handknitted socks and fluffy sheepskin slippers keeps them snuggled up;-)

sarah haliwell said...

I'm right with you on this one. I was dressing my baby in hats even before I came to know the Waldorf philosophy. It just made sense. I hate to see little babies out hatless in this bitter winter cold. My dd has always had to wear one, winter and summer (the latter mainly for protection from the sun, of course).

Only now that she is ten she refuses to do it any more and I find it wearying to constantly argue with her about it. And if I do, she puts up her jacket hood or something equally dreadful!!

Mary said...

I'm glad you didn't have words with that mother! Maybe she was parenting by natural consequences that day "if you wear that to the playground, you will get cold". Child gets cold and understands why Mum wants him/her dressed in a certain way, thus preventing future battles...

I try and introduce such things as part of our routine (not that we have routines as such...) so that to the child, it's just what we do (rather than something introduced later). Modeling is good too - I'm a hat and sunhat kinda woman!

At what stage do you allow a child more say in what they wear (in terms of recognising their autonomy?). Trick question, as of course there is not a single answer. Some children will have stronger needs in this area than others though. There's always "do you want the red hat or blue hat", but even my two year old might say "No hat" when presented with that choice!

Gypsy said...

But Mary - do you really think that littlies (I'm talking under 2s in this case, but I would generalise under 7s at least) know when they are cold ... look at how long they will stay in the water for in summer when they are blue! So they won't 'suffer' consciously to learn a lesson, but they will suffer! IMHO ;) .... and btw I would NEVER accuse another mother in public, you never know what could be going on for them ... better just to vent in virtual anonymity of course!!!!

Nikki said...

LOL, just as well you don't see us at the park (or in the paddling pool during winter albeit even for 1minute because they realise it actually was a bad idea and it is cold)! :) My kids have recognised they're cold from an early age - I do actually attribute this to being able to learn the natural consequence on their own rather than me telling them when to dress warm or when they can take a layer off. My ds seems to be a very warm kid and will actually strip off a layer down to a t-shirt and I'll be wearing 2 wool layers myself (he has always done this). He will then equally go and put it on again once he feels he needs it. I just couldn't imagine making him go against his own natural instinct with something like this.

nova_j said...

lol we have a major struggle to keep any clothes on lexi at all! and it looks like eli is going the same way ;)and not because of heat either, she'll be half naked, complaining of the cold, but won't put clothes on! i just play the persistence card - keep putting clothes on if i think it is necessary, keep offering regularly i it seems borderline... currently knitting some felted slippers for lexi too :D

Anonymous said...

Good to know this isn't a problem only in the US :-)

My kids wore wool underwear all year except summer when they were infants. They still do, for the most part.

Do you have "slipper socks" there? Maybe your daughter would accept those more than full slippers. You can make your own by putting dots of puffy fabric paint on the soles of some warm socks to keep them from being too slippery on wood floors.

Every year I crochet winter hats for my kids. It's a tradition now, and they love them!

I've been lucky that my kids like to stay warm and don't mind hats, so there haven't been too many struggles. However when we moved to Idaho, I noticed kids still wearing shorts to school even when it was almost freezing at night in the fall! Must be that hardy, Western cowboy thing or something. My son wondered why he had to start wearing long sleeves and pants and long underwear when they still had shorts on.

I just told him, "It's what we do. I think it's best for you to be warm. Isn't being warm more yummy than being all cold?" He did fine with that!

GrowingBump said...

Well as you know Gypsy my DDs wear sunhats and sunscreen in summer and warm hats and warm jackets or ponchos (courtesy your lovely MIL) in winter. They rarely leave the house without a hat on due to our "hardline" approach on this early on. For us, its just become a ritual for when we go out (DD1 has been known to wear her hat all day long - with pjs in the morning, in the bath in the evening and into bed!)

I'm interested though that you're thinking that it takes until the child is 7+ to really know when they need warmth. I think at nearly 4YO DD1 has a bit of an idea about that, and of course in a non-Steiner upbringing, she'll be at school at 5YO and making the decisions about whether to have her jumper (etc) on largely by herself - so I probably have to believe she will have the capability!

Then there's my concern that I want my DDs to comprehend that their bodies are their own and be able to make some of their own decisions about them... while protecting them from dire consequences like skin cancer... Of course we make all kinds of decisions about our children's bodies and I wonder about this often. But that's a whole other conversation ;-)

I'm also interested in the shoe wearing aspect of all this... some of my best childhood memories include going barefoot. As an adult its been recommended to me that a little more time walking barefoot would greatly help me to become less "in my head"... Is there room do you think for recognising being barefoot as a valid and important sensory experience for children??

Dawn said...

Yes, this is important. I have the hardest time keeping shoes and socks on my son at any time of the year. ;)
This is a good reminder. I need to get started on buying the long wool underwear we need for the family now, even though it's hot here- one set every couple of weeks until fall, so that I'm not stuck buying so many sets all at once.