Should I force my son to wear boots?

Smart love - January 2006


The Piepers

Q: My 2-year-old son refuses to wear boots. I don’t care so much when it’s raining in the summer, but in the winter when it’s really cold, I don’t think it’s good for him to have wet feet for hours. But if I insist he put on his boots, he throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming. We are at an impasse. What should I do?

L.T., Highland Park

A: For health and safety reasons, you need to protect your son from his immaturity. Just as you don’t start the car if he is not in his car seat, when it’s cold and wet out, he needs to wear boots so his feet stay dry. Explain to him that if he wants to play outside and walk in puddles when it is cold, he must wear his boots to stay healthy. If he says "no," bring his boots outside with you. His desire to walk in puddles may be great enough that he will put his boots on.

Once outside, you can also point out that all the other children are wearing boots—that can be a persuasive argument with 2-year-olds. If he still won’t put his boots on, think of something fun to do where it is dry, such as going to a museum.

If he melts down, pick him up gently but firmly, try to comfort him and direct his attention elsewhere.

How do I handle preschool pressure?

Q: My 3-year-old daughter’s preschool expects her to learn her colors, numbers and letters and begin to do simple math and word recognition. My daughter is not big on sitting still and hates the worksheets. The teachers say she is falling behind.

I don’t really see how a 3-year-old can be "behind," but if all the other kids are learning these things, I worry my daughter will start to feel stupid. And when I sit my daughter down and try to teach her, she puts her hands over her ears. What do you recommend?

P.W., Northbrook

A: We increasingly hear about schools pressuring children to learn reading and math at a young age. The problem is many normal 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds are not ready to sit and do worksheets like older children. When these children fall behind, they are often put in remedial classes, even though they are normal by the older, more reasonable standard of starting reading and math in first grade. You might consider looking for a less competitive preschool.

You can also help at home. Reassure your daughter that kids learn reading and math at different ages, just as they learn to walk and talk at different times. Explain she has plenty of time to master these skills and you are confident she will.

At home, try to make learning fun. Ask how many raisins your daughter wants and then count them out for her. Leave a note on her door every day saying "I love you" and help her read it. Ask her whether you should wear your blue shirt or your yellow shirt. When you read to her, encourage her to point out words she knows. Play car games such as finding certain words on a billboard.

Making learning fun will preserve your daughter’s curiosity and enthusiasm and prepare her for school.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.


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