How I got my 4 year old daughter to wear knickers

Here’s the catch: I didn’t. Nor did my husband.

She was the one that decided to change. Eventually. However, it was by putting our own baggage aside and supporting her properly that we helped her.

Morning traumas

In the middle of winter my almost 4 year old had a growth spurt and decided her knickers were ‘uncomfortable’. And socks. And trousers. And a lot of her leggings. She didn’t like mornings, we were about to move house and her baby sister was about to arrive. Mornings were frantic and pressured, stressed out by her difficult behaviour, my husband and I were usually exhausted even before we set off for work.

It was a catch 22, a self fulfilling prophecy – she didn’t like getting dressed and her delays made my husband and I all the more stressed, making her hate mornings all the more.


Even after we moved and the baby had arrived, to which our darling 4 year old was devoted, and things calmed down, it was still tricky. Getting dressed resulted in an all out battle of wills with bribery being the only way to have any chance of a smooth morning. The slightest thing could trigger fierce tears and a response that was more appropriate for the end of the world rather than an uncomfortable pair of knickers.

I had a lovely conversation with a friend who said that their daughter had been the same at her age. It was nice to know we weren’t alone but it didn’t give us a solution. Then I received a recommendation, a book by Dr Laura Markham called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. This was by no means a silver bullet. It just gave me and my husband a different angle. I thought I’d share it, if there is anyone out there with similar problems.


The bit I found most useful was the section on emotional intelligence. This example of ‘problem behaviour’ was a hiccup in us being able to raise an emotionally intelligent child. Our own baggage had got in the way and we couldn’t seem to shed it. Before seeing the book, I suspected that we had created the problem, or contributed to it, but it now was clear what was happening, and understanding is sometimes the first part of the solution. She had never been a fast mover, naturally she would prefer to be at home with us rather than go to nursery and us hurrying her and bringing our own stress to the situation had resulted in an ‘issue’.

Fostering emotional intelligence

Peaceful Parenting covers how to regulate yourself and foster connection (both section titles) but the really helpful bit about ’emotion coaching’ talks about teaching them how acknowledge and understand their own emotions so they aren’t ‘hijacked’ by these emotions. It  has seven steps to nurture emotional intelligence (p.128) and I have a book mark on that page:

  1. Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathise.
  2. Allow expression of emotion, even while limiting actions.
  3. Respond to the needs and feelings behind problem behaviour.
  4. When a desire can’t be granted, acknowledge it and grant it through “wish fulfillment” i.e. via imagination
  5. Tell the story so your child understands his emotional experience.
  6. Teach problem solving i.e. show them that they can have ideas of ways to dissipate emotional feelings.
  7. Play it out.

Neat. So to apply the above points to our issue, I can show you how it worked for us.


Coaching not coaxing

  1. The empathy is important to build a connection and engage her in the morning. We used to let her watch tv and try and stealth dress her but actually that isn’t helpful because she isn’t engaged and happy, she’s just distracted. Also talking to her in terms that show our empathy for her situation really helped e.g. “I realise that your xxx is uncomfortable, it’s OK, let’s take it off and we’ll pick something else.” My husband is really good at this. There had been a couple of times where I’d just said things like, “No, don’t you dare take it off. I can’t believe you’re doing this” etc etc. The empathy really helped undo this belief in our heads that she was doing it on purpose, and helped build her trust in us again. This was really the most important starting point for us, but the other points above also help because that certainly wasn’t the end of the story, she still has difficult days now.
  2. If she starts getting upset, we name it and help her see there’s a better way to express that feeling. “I can see you’re upset, why don’t you come and sit with me for a while and have a hug and we can talk about it instead.”
  3. Instead of scolding her, we try to address her feelings around getting dressed. e.g. “You’re having a hard time this morning and I know you want to be with Mummy/Daddy but nursery is fun and when we pick you up we’ll play together then. What would you like to play when you get home?”
  4. Getting her imagination going is also useful and can help lighten the mood, a smile or giggle can get her back on side. To be honest this one is harder with getting dressed, it is easier for other things or to focus on something in the periphery e.g. You wish you had more comfortable xxx, well next time we go shopping why don’t we buy some more, won’t that be nice.”
  5. Telling stories is one we used a lot both during the morning and afterwards. An example of a morning story would be something like, “Yesterday you wore xxx and when we got to nursery, your nursery carer said you looked so smart.” or (and this shows how far we have stooped) “Do you remember when you had to get dressed in the (open) boot of the car (in December!), it was cold wasn’t it, your clothes will help to keep you warm.
  6. This one is a good one for bonding together. e.g. “OK, I know you’re upset that your clothes are uncomfortable, let’s think about what we should do, do you have any ideas?”
  7. Play it out. I’ve tried races and competitions but nothing has worked more than once or twice, but I’ll take that! The other thing is to offer a certain amount of play time and then a goal of getting dressed, or even just one item of clothing. We would put on the timer for a time agreed with her and then she can play and then get dressed. She came up with the ‘play-dress-play-dress’ idea herself.

We found that we really have to leave plenty of time. Not just for her to get around to getting dressed but for us to feel more relaxed so we weren’t up against the clock. We leave 1 1/2 hrs – 2 hrs for her (and us) to get ready in the morning now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we have completely done away with dressing being a problem but it’s one that we all can manage better now.


Shaping up for Summer

Ah! I’ve suddenly realised how close it is to our summer holiday in June. An early summer holiday is good for cooler weather for the kids and for getting some sun (hopefully!) to kick start what will be a splendid English summer (ahem!) but it is not great for having your body back in shape for summer clothes and swimming cozzies!

To be honest I’m pretty lucky at being able to let the weight drop off, it doesn’t take too much effort to get so far. However, toning up is another thing altogether. It requires a bit of time and effort. I used to do yoga and running but even these I struggle with now I have a four month old baby and a four year old. By the end of the day I’m exhausted and often a glass of wine and hearty dinner and pudding is what I crave most. Since I’m so exhausted I feel I damn well deserve it too!

So back to getting that toned up body. Hmmm.

If I can’t summon up the energy in the evening when the kids are in bed, I have two options. Have a word and force myself out (tried that, not happening, I seem to be a bit too disobedient); or break it into manageable ‘bite-sized’ chunks. This I think I can do. And a positive attitude and belief in yourself at the beginning is an important part of making a start on a new habit and keeping it going.

My new habit

I can fit in yoga in 10, 20 or sometimes even 30 minute slots in the day. I grab my mat and start with sun salutations to warm up. If I then have time, I add on some further mat work. I also find times to weave exercise into my day.

Source: Yoga at home

Before my shower, I stretch my arms up, then link the hands together and bend to one side, sticking out the opposing hip, and then the other side. Putting my socks on means a count of four (or more if I can manage it) of holding my newly socked foot out with a straight leg in front of me to tone my gluts/thighs.

I’ve only been doing it for a week, so let me know if you have a routine you fit into your busy day, and I’ll report on how this goes. Fingers crossed!

Why am I not a Zen Mother?

I should be, I do yoga, I birthed both my babies using only self-hypnosis (hypnobirthing), I am a relaxed person (most of the time) if a little rushed sometimes, I’m self aware and try to be kind to myself (doesn’t always work)… hang on this list is getting less and less zen! No wonder! If I try to be a zen person and fail regularly, then of course being a zen mother is going to be difficult. I’ve recently decided to go on a little journey of self discovery (I’ve got a 4 month old so no journey is going to be that big, I haven’t got the brain power) to try to find out why my eldest daughter (DD1) has a problem with getting dressed in the morning.



Just to scope the problem for you, everything is stressful and upsetting. The socks are uncomfortable, the knickers are uncomfortable, the sleeves are uncomfortable and if my husband or I don’t immediately help remove the clothes it can escalate to serious upset and on to tantrum-dom. Not ideal when you’re trying to get out of the house to work.

And that I believe is the root of the problem. When I was at work (I am now on maternity leave), I would find getting out of the house stressful and I believe that I have passed this on to my DD1. So how can I undo this pressure point now, make sure I don’t reintroduce it when I go back to work, and also prevent it happening to DD2? Getting dressed won’t be an issue for every parent but every parent will have a child that tantrums, and if you don’t, bully for you, you can go away to being perfect somewhere else! Whatever form it takes many parents may struggle with how to work happily with their child to achieve mutual satisfaction, and the tantrums are a signal that it is not going quite as well as an apprentice Zen Mother would like.

Becoming the donkey

We have tried the carrot and the stick. Neither really works. The stick is horrible and painful. The carrot route is more successful but it just becomes an expected reward, and tantrums ensue if the reward isn’t given, which is usually because she hasn’t got dressed quick / well enough. What then?


I have been reading a book by Dr Laura Markham that talks about emotional coaching your child, and that is what I aspire to do as a qualified Zen Mother. It’s simple, recognise and deal with your own hang ups (you can spot these by the anger that washes over you at the time), connect with your child and then coach your child rather than controlling them. Hmmm.

This is going to take some time and practice. It does however, give me a map for how to navigate this treacherous part of life. And it is treacherous because as an apprentice Zen Mother you want to give your child the best start and give him/her the tools to navigate the complex human world.

Growing into the Zen Mother shoes

Now, when I get cross, I use it as a red flag for me to either stop myself shouting, or if it’s too late to recognise that that isn’t the right thing to do and show my DD1 that I can with my own emotions not by not having any but by marshalling them when they get out of hand. If I shout and then regain composure and apologise, that is a much better example for her than if I was always perfect. It’s also more achievable!

Now, when she starts acting up, I try to empathise, label her emotions, show her a mirror so that she can see how to manage her emotions. And hold her when they get the better of her, because they always will. I think I’m always going to struggle with this, it’s going to be a long learning curve with me because I just don’t have the natural patience.


Translating mum’s internet shortcuts

With my DD1 (see what I did there) it used to hugely frustrate me that these shortcuts were used so regularly with no explanation I could find. I work in marketing and we always start any written piece with the long form of something we are going to shorten so the reader knows what we are talking about, without that they could be lost. So, to help the uninitiated, here is a short post with the translations of the acronyms used around parenting and birth grouped by usage. Please feel free to make some suggestions and additions.


DD1 = Darling / Dear Daughter 1, or first born daughter

DS1 = Darling Son 1, or first born son

DD2 / DS2 etc = Darling Daughter / Son and the number detailing where in the brood they were born – first, second, third etc.

LO = Little one

YDD or YDS = Youngest Darling Daughter / Son

DH / DP / DW = Darling Husband / Partner / Wife

DSD / S = Darling Step Daughter / Son

MIL / BIL = Mother in Law / Brother in Law etc


BF = Breast Feeding

BM = Breast Milk / Bowel Movement (depending on context)

EBM = Expressed Breast Milk

FF = Formula Feeding

CIO = Cry it Out


BC = Before Children OR Birth Control (ha ha! hopefully the context will make this obvious)

IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

JJ / JK = Just Joking / Just Kidding

NMS = Not My Style

SAHP / SAHM / SAHD = Stay At Home Parent / Mum / Dad


L & D = Labour and Delivery

MC or M/C = Miscarriage

O = Ovulation

PG = Pregnant