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Toddlers and Clothes: Why They Get So Picky

So your kid is insisting on wearing that Winnie the Pooh shirt...for the ninth day in a row. Here’s why, and what you can do.

Relax, it’s normal! "Toddlers get fixated on certain clothes because it’s their way of having some control and consistency in this world of giants who run the show—us!" says Heather Wittenberg, a Hawaii-based psychologist, parenting expert, and mom of four. "So it’s important for us to have sympathy with them—and to humor them."

This is about trust, too. Your toddler is a smarty-pants—and she’s testing you. "She wants to see if you ‘get’ what’s important to her," says Wittenberg. That’s right: She wants you to respect the shirt. So it’s extra-important that you don’t try to sneak away her favorite piece of clothing, as tempting as it might be. "There was a Hello Kitty shirt that my daughter would simply not part with," says Lily Donovan, a mom of three in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "We all got so sick of looking at that cat’s face. But we let her wear it whenever she needed to because we knew the phase would pass. And it did."

By all means, get an extra shirt/pants/whatever. "Put the duplicate into circulation so that the object of obsession can disappear for washing," Wittenberg says. "That way she’s always holding onto something clean, non-stinky, and non-germy."

Make trades, as necessary. "Our 21-month-old insists on wearing only red or purple socks," says Sarah Rozensky Alcorn, a mom of one in Washington, DC. "If there are only white available, she shakes her head and says, ‘None pretty,’ and won’t wear them. So we’ve learned to lure her into the white socks with the promise that she can wear her red sunglasses instead!"

Realize it’s a good lesson for her—in laundry and in life. "You might explain ‘Winnie the Pooh gets a bath just like you do,’" Wittenberg says. "Involve her. Show her the shirt going into the washing machine and have her help put it in the dryer. The more power you give her over relatively minor things like this, the better. Then you can choose your parenting battles and save them for big stuff, like safety and manners."

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