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Stop the Mitten Wars!

Get kids to wear their mittens

Ah, the mitten wars.

The epic battle between every outdoor loving parent and every strong-willed child.

These kids have absolutely no use for us trying to restrain them in such mundane things as clothes.

Maybe in your house it’s the hat battle. Or the sock battle. Or even the pants battle. Whatever stand-off is keeping you from getting out the door peacefully, we are here to help.

Because trust me – you can get outside with (minimal) tears. But first, you’re going to need to shake up your routine. Here’s how.

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Stop the Mitten Wars!

Step 1: Stop what you’re doing

If you’re fighting the same old battle every time you try to head outside, it’s time to just give up.

You don’t have to give up on the idea of going outside – but you do need to give up whatever method you’ve been using.

end the mitten wars

If you’re like me, that method has probably looked a lot like:

“Come here! Put on the mitten! Just trust me, you’re going to want mittens. OMG! THE MITTEN! PUT IT ON. Come back here! Mittens! I am sweating in my coat can we please just do this! It’s a perfectly fine mitten! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD PUT ON THE MITTEN!”

Or maybe a little like this:

“If you put on your mittens, I’ll give you a chocolate chip. Okay two chocolate chips. OKAY FINE THE WHOLE BAG. JUST PUT. THEM. ON.”

If you have an inkling these methods aren’t working, it’s time to give up. We can leave behind our tried-and-not-so-true tactics of cajoling, begging, bribing, and yelling and find something more peaceful.

Because here’s a little parenting secret: Once you’ve gotten into a power struggle with your kiddo, you’ve already lost. Your goal isn’t going to actually win the mitten war.

It’s to stop having the wars in the first place.

Step 2: Hear your kid out

If you’re going to solve this mitten problem, you’re going to need to figure out why your kid has such a hard time wearing mittens in the first place. (Or again, wearing socks, pants, hats).

But listen closely here – do not, I repeat, DO NOT, try to figure this out while standing in front of the door with a mitten in your hand. You aren’t going to learn anything in that moment.

Instead, try bringing it up at dinner. Or driving in the car, playing catch in the basement, or over breakfast. But just not while you’re trying to get your kid out the door.

Stop the Mitten Wars!

The conversation might look a little like this:

“Hey, I notice you don’t like wearing mittens. What’s up?”

(It’ll help if you sound as curious and non-frustrated as possible.)

Now just wait while your kid answers. And be prepared there is a definite chance the answer will be:

“I dunno.”

But don’t give up. Just repeat it back to them. “Hmm. You don’t know? I wonder. You seem to really not like it.”

This time, there’s a good chance the answer will be:

“Mittens are stupid.”

But just keep listening. Eventually you’re going to hear something like:

“Those mittens let snow in.”

“They make my hands sweaty.”

“I don’t like that I can’t throw a football when I wear them.”

“The snowflakes on them look stupid.”

Step 3: Problem solve to end those mitten wars!

If you’ve landed on a specific problem, great! Now you can start looking for a solution.

The problem might be something completely different than you expected.

Maybe he can’t hold a snow shovel with his mittens. Or maybe she hates that she can’t go down the sledding hill with the big kids. It could be that he misses summertime and wants to go swimming instead.

As much as you can, encourage your kid to come up with their own solutions. You can throw out ideas, but be open if your idea doesn’t work for them. It may take several tries to land on something that works for both of you.

Stop the Mitten Wars!

The conversations might look something like this:

Kid: “I don’t like wearing mittens. I miss summer when we didn’t have to wear all this stuff!!!”

You: “I hear you. You miss summer. When it’s warm and you don’t need extra gear.”

Kid: “Yeah. I HATE mittens.”

You: “You hate wearing mittens. And I need you to wear them to keep your fingers safe.”

Kid: “I miss swimming.”

You: “You miss swimming. You don’t have to wear mittens swimming. Hmm. What can we do?”

Kid: “Can we go to an indoor pool tomorrow?”

You: “That sounds like a good idea! But in the meantime, we still need to wear mittens. Can you wear them today?”

Kid: “Ugh. FINE.”

Sometimes kids just need to feel heard.

Here’s another example of a mitten war that may be happening in your home:

Kid: “I don’t like wearing mittens because they never stay on.”

You: “They don’t stay on?”

Kid: “Yeah. And snow gets in my sleeve and I hate it.”

You: “You don’t want snow in your sleeves. I get that. And I think you might get more snow in your sleeve if you don’t wear mittens. What can we do?”

Kid: “Can we duct tape the mittens to my coat?”

You: “Hmm. That wouldn’t work for me. What if we try putting on the mittens first and then your coat on top, and cinch down your sleeves tight?”

Kid: “Okay and then snow won’t get in?”

You: “Can’t promise that, but it’s worth a try.”

Kid: “Okay, I guess.”

(If the problem is that they can’t eat snacks wearing mittens, check out some of our mitten friendly snack ideas!)

But what if the mittens themselves are the problem?

But maybe the mittens your kid has just don’t work for them? In that case, here’s a few options that we love.

Stop the Mitten Wars!

Step 4: Add some play into the mix to stop the mitten wars

Sometimes, there is not actually anything specific that’s the matter.

Maybe the problem is that your kid would rather punch her brother than listen to you about the mittens.

Maybe he would just rather run straight outside rather than deal with something boring like getting dressed.

If that’s the case, this is the time to try some play. If you have a kid between the ages of 2-7, they will especially appreciate this approach.

Anything that can get your kid laughing will help break the tension. Once your kid realizes you are on their side, they are much more likely to cooperate.

Stop the Mitten Wars!

Here’s some play ideas to get you started.

  • Turn the mitten into a silly monster that can only be silenced if it has a hand to eat.
  • Have the mitten beg your little one to take it to the park.
  • Challenge your kid to get their mittens on before you can get yours on (make sure to lose this race, or you’ll just have a new crisis to deal with).
  • Grant the mittens super powers, and pretend you are Elsa shooting out freezing ice or Spiderman sending out spider webs.

If all else fails, let it go.

If problem-solving and playing don’t get those little fingers in to a mitten, don’t worry too much about it. Throw the mittens in your bag and head out the door.

Stop the Mitten Wars!

In a few minutes, your little one will probably ask for them back.

And if not? They might just not need mittens that day.

(If they do ask for them back, resist the “I told you so.” It’ll just set you up for another fight tomorrow).

Why bother with all of this?

Do you really need to go through this whole problem-solving approach just for mittens?

Why making everything into a game? Does it really have to become a silly mitten monster just to get your tot to listen to you?

Wouldn’t it be easier if they just listened the first time?

Yes. YES. It would be so much easier if that were the case.

And I know you’ve tried that approach. But unfortunately, it didn’t work. And in this point in time, for this issue, it’s not going to. No matter how many times you try it.

If our goal is a lifelong love of the outdoors (and a lifelong close relationship with our kids!) then we need to side-step the fight to get out the door. Using play will get you a long way to more pleasant transitions.

And problem-solving is a life skill your kid will use. After all, isn’t that our end goal? To get them to the point of taking care of their own problems, whatever that may be?

Tell us your mama struggles

So where are you currently struggling? Socks? Snowpants? Everybody wanting to go different places?

Tell us in the comments! Or join our Facebook group, and find some answers from like-minded families.

Related posts:

Get kids to wear their mittens

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  • Jackie is a coffee-lover, writer and a mom of three young children living in Helena, MT. She thought that hiking might help tame her children’s wild spirits, and co-leads a Hike it Baby branch. All that hiking only made her crew wilder, but in a good way. Before kids she enjoyed reading, knitting and baking, but now she enjoys making it to bedtime.

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Wednesday 14th of October 2020

I’m looking for suggestions for mittens and boots for my 2 1/2 year old son. He seems to need to be outside for a minimum of 4 hours a day, but does best staying outside all day. This spring and summer and early fall he almost always ends up with his shoes off, despite trying a variety of different shoes. He runs, climbs, digs in the dirt, and plays with outdoor toys. On cooler days it can take some coaching to get him to wear a light jacket. He seems to need to really feel and experience everything sensory wise, so worry how I will keep him warm in the colder days that are coming while still helping him have the movement and sensory input he craves - especially his hands and feet. Thankfully we are in NC so our winter days don’t normally dip below 30F, but he will still need to be outside for much more than a couple 15 minute playtimes like some people do. Thoughts?


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Hi Christina :) Ok so there are lots of suggestions in this post BUT I would suggest Ote mittens from Reima (use code "mtnmama" for 20% off too!)