Ask Miriam | Constant Coat Question Irks Reader

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Dear Miriam,

What is the appropriate response when someone at school or a playground or just in a parking lot sees my child without a coat and says, “Isn’t he cold?” I always have the coat with us and give it as an option, but I don’t force my son to wear it. We’re both tiring of the “helpful strangers,” with a lot more winter to go.

Signed,


Coat Not Required

Dear Coat,

Last week’s question was another one about winter gear, but it was also about equity between siblings. Your question is about a coat, too, but it’s also about dealing with people, bodily autonomy and societal expectations. Life is complicated.

If your son is capable and confident in his position and his communication skills, then you should let him field the questions. A simple, “I’m not cold,” from a child to a stranger should be enough to stop further questions. If it’s not, hopefully a parking lot transaction is short enough that you can just walk away. If it’s somewhere like school drop off with parents you see every day, eventually even the nosiest of folks will get tired of hearing the same exact answer.

If you or your son would prefer the answer comes from you, you can handle it the same way. “He’s not cold, and I trust him to tell me when he is,” exudes confidence in your parenting and your ability to respond to your child’s needs. Try not to apologize for not forcing a coat on your child, and avoid arguments about whether he’s going to get sick because of this transgression. Your responsibility is to your child and not to the other people who love to say, “I’m shivering just looking at him,” or whatever it is.

At school, there may be a requirement that kids have to have a coat on to go outside. If this is the case, you have the opportunity to discuss with your son why there are sometimes different rules with different sets of grown-ups, and how he can advocate for himself. You can also talk about when it’s worth standing up for himself and his lack of coat wearing, and when it’s probably easier just to put it on. Talking through those scenarios is a life skill that will way beyond this winter, and it will also help in the short term.

It’s also worth discussing with your son the difference between a 40-degree day and a 14-degree day, and it’s reasonable for you to have different rules depending on the temperature as well. Even if he says he doesn’t feel cold, you can say something like, “When the temperature drops below a certain point, even if you don’t feel cold, it’s not safe for your skin to be exposed.” Most likely, on a day like today, even the hottest of hot-blooded kid will welcome a jacket.

Finally, at a non-stressful, indoor time, you may want to pose this question to your son: “Is there another reason you don’t like wearing your coat?” While he may truly experience temperature differently from some of us thin-skinned adults, he may have another answer, too. There may be an itchy tag inside or the zipper might be tricky or it might make a funny sound when he runs.

Just in case there’s an answer that you haven’t thought of, it’s worth asking a few more questions. This, too, in the parental realm of keeping communications open, is a process that will serve you well beyond the cold temperatures.

Be well,

Miriam

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