Dear Aunt Juniper,

Advice please – our generally delightful 4 year old is a nightmare when it comes to getting dressed/undressed/putting his shoes on. It takes FOREVER and frequently ends in one or other of us shouting at him – to absolutely no effect, I should add.

I don’t think he’s wilfully ignoring us, he’s just *very* easily distracted. Have tried sending his big brother out of the room in the hope the external distractions will be less, but to no avail. I suspect there are just far more exciting things going on in his brain than the appliance of clothing. His hearing is fine.

Any top tips so we can leave the house before Christmas?

From, Still Waiting.


Dear Still Waiting,

Let’s see if we can get you out of the house reasonably stress free!

It could well be that your son is getting distracted by his own thought processes. He will be beginning to have a better concept of time and things such as past, present and future. Therefore, he may be distracted by thinking of events that are about to happen or things that are happening now. He may feel he is missing out by having to get dressed, put shoes on, etc.

If this is the case, then I would try to focus his attention on the job in hand. Explain that a trip to the park, watching a film, going to school will still happen but he needs to get ready first. Explain that him co-operating with you will make the whole process quicker.

It can also be a control thing – these children are cleverer than we often give them credit for! By refusing to cooperate and holding things up, he is controlling the pace of the day and your daily routine. (I babysit for 2 boys – the 3 year old climbs in the baby’s cot as he cannot get back out and knows Mummy or Daddy will come up!).

In this case, I would suggest getting a timer of some description: egg timer, digital clock if he knows his numbers. Set a time limit for the task. I would suggest a reward chart style system but have a jar with pennies – pennies go in when he co-operates but are removed when he doesn’t. At the end of the week/month, he gets to spend the pennies he has earned. This works by giving him a visual example of how he can earn pennies but also lose them.

I wonder if this is happening all of the time, or just for particular events, i.e., going to school or bed time? If he is particularly bad at specific events, then speak with him and ask if he has any worries/fears about school/bedtime, etc. It could be his way of expressing some upset or reluctance at something in particular.

If it is all the time, then I think you just need to be consistent. Lay out his clothes/shoes/PJs and explain that you are going to help him get ready. Try not to get wound up, stay calm, do not get involved in verbal arguments and reasoning with him. Just explain in a calm voice that he needs to get dressed for school/bed etc.

A mantra I swear by is: ‘pick your battles’. Obviously, there will be occasions where you need to insist he gets dressed promptly, i.e., going to school/nursery, going out to the shops or a day trip, etc. But, on other occasions: if you are just going to Nanny’s house, are doing an errand in the car where he doesn’t need to get out the car, it’s a weekend evening, etc. – does it matter if he isn’t dressed properly, doesn’t have his shoes or PJs on – does it really matter?

Ultimately, try to stay calm and not get involved in battles. You lose your authority when you start arguing and reasoning with your child. Be short and strict with your instructions.

Best of luck

Lots of Love,

Aunt Juniper* xx


*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Helen Charlesworth.

Helen is a child-minder with 20 years experience and 2 teenagers of her own.




‘I have a similar problem with my 6yr old – the only thing that has helped at all is setting a timer to run on our phones so it becomes a ‘race’ with herself – this seems to create the focus required!’

‘Build on their natural competitiveness. My son has to get his coat and shoes on before Mummy.’

‘I have exactly the same with my 4-year-old. We tend to have a lot of competitions!!!’

‘I use games/ books- e.g a page of her favourite story for each item of clothing/ a verse of a song/ a turn in a game. It works well with my daughter but she’s only 2 and 8 months.’

‘More direct simple instructions may help ann like ‘shoes please!’, rather than a ‘can you please put your shoes on because etc.’ as he will have lost attention . Also don’t expect too much as all children are different. Two of mine could dress themselves at 2 but one just wouldn’t so I often just grabbed him and put his shoes and clothes on at the last minute. He’s 7 now and he’s doing it all himself, but I was doing it for years!’

‘Sometimes, I find bribery with a sweet the only way.’

‘I have the same problem sometimes with my soon to be 3year old. ….. the race game seems to work but only sometimes. ….. if I lose my temper that makes my son worse so keeping calm is the key but as busy mums this is often not the case – at least you’re not alone we all seem to be going through it.’

‘I find the ‘let’s hurry because’ is more effective than directing instructions at them. It does get easier.’

‘Another idea is a visual timetable (once a speech therapist always a speech therapist!!) with Velcro’d picture/ photo steps of what needs doing to get out the house and a star or sticker once completed then perhaps a reward at the end of a week…’

‘My 4.5 yo responds well to races, too. Also lots of talking about what is going to happen so he can turn it over in his head! I.e. “after mummy brushes her teeth and gets (his sister) ready we’ll put down your toys and get dressed”. I’m also considering a reward chart as he responds well to those.’

‘Plan what he wants to wear the night before make it a game by laying out the clothing as if it’s a boy on the floor add a head of a favourite toy. They will find it hilarious and will be willing to wear the outfit.’

‘We have a ‘trail’ of clothes & shoes which have to be found & put on… I usually put clues on post it notes of the next hidden item. It takes about 5 minutes to set up but is quicker in the long run….Good luck!!’


Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.

Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.



Founder of MGF, Helen is a mum of four who spends way too much time on the interweb and not enough time in bed. She loves wearing her dressing gown, car boot sales and watching TV programmes featuring food. Her specialist subjects include 'how to overfill your car boot' and 'how to avoid dusting'. Follow her at Twitter: @Ginfund, Facebook: @MGFund, Instagram: @mummysginfund and online:

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