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Why your toddler is obsessed with being naked

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When you get a toddler dressed without too much fanfare and freaking out, it’s pretty fantastic. Even when there’s a lot of fanfare and freaking out, it’s still fantastic in the end because they’re finally dressed and you’re finally done…until they’re suddenly, inexplicably undressed again.

While a toddler’s tiny tush is certainly adorable, it’s less adorable when you want to get the day started…or you want the day to end and they refuse to keep their pyjamas on…or you have guests coming over…or your child isn’t potty trained and the diaper comes off along with the clothes.

It’s seriously enough to drive you crazy as you repeatedly and unsuccessfully try to keep that bare bum (and everything else) covered. It’s also bizarre but—don’t worry—incredibly common. So why does your toddler seem like he wants to audition for the next instalment of Magic Mike? There are a few likely explanations.

An illustration of a little boy with a cat sitting on him, looking longingly at a washing machine
My three-year-old son is obsessed with doing laundry. I mean OBSESSED!First up: sensory issues. Toddlers aren’t comfortable being uncomfortable, and even the littlest thing can set them off. “It can be that the clothing feels too tight, the seams are bothersome or the fabric’s texture is off,” explains B.C.-based psychologist Vanessa Lapointe, author of Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up. “If daytime nakedness is more of a thing, it could be that the clothing they wear in the day is just not as comfy as pyjamas.”

Temperature can also be an issue, especially at night. Kids often run hotter than adults, but parents are so worried about kids being cold that they end up overdressing them. By stripping, toddlers are simply getting cool—and telling us to lay off the layers and the toasty temps.

And since we’re talking about toddlers, bids for power and independence are also big factors, especially when undressing is a newfound skill. “There’s a lot to be said for kids discovering the incredible freedom of being able to strip off all those clothes ‘all by myself!’” says Lapointe. “The novelty combined with an attunement to internal states can result in naked toddlerfest.” If you react strongly to the nudity, she adds, your child might start engaging in “counterwill,” doubling down on the behaviour and purposely doing the opposite of what you want.

To get them to do what you want, you need to be smart.

Aside from keeping your cool, you can get your child more involved in the dressing process. Present them with two or three clothing options and let them choose. That way, they’ll feel proud of their role as decision-maker and more invested in what they’re wearing.

It’s also a good idea to create routines and stick to them. Each time you get your child dressed, discuss what’s happening and what will happen next, and incorporate a memorable catchphrase in your narrative. Lapointe suggests something like, “Bums in diapers, love!” You can say it as you’re dressing them then repeat it when said bum comes out of said diaper.

And that’s likely going to be a lot. “Your toddler’s brain is not yet developed enough for them to have any kind of control over their impulses, so they will just repeat the action over and over,” Lapointe explains, “and you will need to step in and guide with firmness and kindness.”

Just make sure not to insert shame or judgment into your directives. To that end, Lapointe suggests saying something like, “We need to keep our penis inside cozy underwear and pants,” instead of, “You don’t want people to see your penis!” That also helps to introduce the idea of privacy in a way that makes sense to them.

Eventually, your child will catch on, those clothes will stay on, and you won’t feel like you’re living in a toddler-only nudist camp.

Read more:
Help! My toddler is suddenly a terrible sleeper
Don’t worry, your toddler is not a jerk

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I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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