Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Shorts Thing (Or, Battles I Won't Pick)

It's cooooolllllllld here in Ohio, where it will stay—give or take twenty more degrees—for the next few months.  Ohio is all things during this time of year—mild and cloudy, wet and cloudy, or bone-cold and cloudy.  Sometimes all in the same day.

And it’s the time of year that the “shorts thing” gets talked about.

“I fight with my son every.single.morning about shorts,” a mother told me last week, her jaw clenched. “I tell him he needs to wear pants, a sweatshirt, hat and gloves and a winter coat… and he wants to wear shorts and a T-shirt.”

“Stop fighting with him,” I told her.  “It’s not worth it.”

“But he’ll get cold and sick,” she sputtered.  "It's... like.... zero degrees out there." 

“He may get cold, but being cold won’t make him sick.”  I mentioned how that whole getting-sick thing works.

“I know, I know,” she said.  “But…” I felt her truth bubbling up.  “What will other parents say?  They’ll judge me for letting him go outside dressed like that.”

Ahhh, I thought.  There it is.

“Let them judge,” I scoffed.

“So I should just let him wear shorts?”

“Yes,” I said.  “If he gets cold enough, he’ll wear long pants and his coat.”

*Important caveat:  When a child doesn’t have appropriate clothing for cold weather, that’s a different story.  If he doesn’t have a choice, I’ll find a solution.  I’ll go out and buy a full closet full of warm clothing before I’ll let a kid be cold.  Seriously.  That’s not what we’re talking about here.*

This conversation is about a child choosing not to wear warm clothing.

Not a battle worth picking, people.  Here’s why.

They can dress themselves correctly.  When kids are toddlers, they need help figuring out how to dress. But the older they get, the more equipped they are to make their own decisions about clothing.  Older kids can make good choices for themselves.  And they can handle the consequences of a bullheaded or poor clothing choice.

Decision-making is a skill to practice.  Kids need to be able to make decisions about their clothing.  It’s practice for making decisions about other stuff—bigger stuff.  When my children are getting ready for the day, they’ll ask, “How cold is it outside?”  I try to answer with a predicated degree range (“It’s supposed to be in the thirties today”) but I also recommend, “Go outside and see how it feels.  Then decide what kind of clothing to wear.”  Then I back off.  If they get it completely wrong, I’ll advise a change—otherwise, I let them go.  It is all part of letting kids take ownership and responsibility for themselves—and becoming independent problem solvers. 

Kids feel temperature differently.  No, really.  They do.  If I had a dime for every time I stand next to a 10-year-old who’s happy wearing shorts and a T-shirt, while I shiver in my 4-layer outfit and my ankle-length “recess coat,” I’d have my lake house by now.  Kids don’t get as cold.  It’s baffling and inexplicable—I know!  They’re little and teeny-tiny!—but super-true.   Just yesterday, I stood on the playground huddled against the wind and a fourth grader went whizzing by me, dribbling a soccer ball and bouncing like Tigger.  “Aren’t you cold?” I asked him when he came back around.  He scrunched up his eyebrows.  “I’m hot!” he said.  Sweat dripped down his temple.

Who am I to question a parent’s clothing decision?
I know a principal in another state who is fastidious about students wearing coats if it is under forty degrees, and she requires teachers to pull students from recess if they don’t follow that rule.  Um…. No. Besides the whole singling-out-a-student thing, I never want to trump protocol (or “house rules”) of another parent.  If parents are busy trying to teach their child self-sufficiency and decision-making, I’m not going to get in the way of it.  And on the other side of the coin, if a parent micromanages a child’s clothing choices and sends them off with a particular clothing plan, again, it’s not my place to second-guess.
Who am I to question a student’s clothing decision?  I don’t want to get in a battle of wills with a student over something as inconsequential as warm clothing.  Because, you know… there are…

Natural consequences.  You know what happens when I don’t wear a coat on a particularly cold day?  I’m cold.  And you know whose fault it is?  Mine. 
Same with kids.  If they choose not to dress warmly—?  Well, then.  They’ll be cold. 
They’ll either begin to prioritize… or not. 

And… gotta pick the right battles.  I’m thinking about student behaviors, their reading and writing strengths, their family dynamics, how to get sixteen buses in and out of a loop in less than five minutes.  Those things.  I can’t micromanage things at the coat-and-zipper level.  So.  I don’t. 

Not long ago, my family traipsed into the grocery store on a particularly brisk winter day.  My husband and I were dressed with our coats, hats, and gloves.  My son wore shorts.  We passed a friend in the produce aisle; he greeted us, then commented on the cold weather, then looked at my son.  “Where’s your coat, young man?”  My son shrugged, and our friend looked up at us.  My husband didn’t miss a beat.  I’m not cold,” he shrugged.  “And he’ll wear his coat when he feels he should.”  Done.  End of conversation.

We’d asked our son to put on his coat, and he chose not to.  We didn’t fight it.  He went out into the world half-dressed… and we let him deal with it.

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