Care and Feeding

Stop Losing Your Coat!!

How many coats must one family buy, before a child is adequately warm?

A child's coat in a pile of leaves.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by James Pritchett on Unsplash and phanasitti/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a kindergartner (boy) who is generally doing great but continually loses his coat. He is very sensitive about the clothing he wears, so there aren’t many coats/sweatshirts he will wear, and I’m certain the second it feels uncomfortable on the playground it comes off entirely (no just unzipping it or rolling up the sleeves). The problem is exacerbated, I think, by the fact that different caregivers pick him up from school at the end of the day, so they don’t always know what to remind him to look for. At the same time, I think he’s old enough to start being responsible for his own belongings. Meanwhile, as the caregiver who does mornings, I’m left to be the nagging mother: “Where did you last see it? Where were you when you took it off? Did you check your room? We’re going to be late!” I’m not sure how to move forward. If the coat is truly gone, should I make him use his money to buy a new one? (Money is not the object here, but I don’t want to teach him to be careless with things just because Mom and Dad can afford to replace them.) Once we have a new coat, do I remind him about the coat more (so it won’t go missing) or less (to make him truly responsible for it)? What’s appropriate for this age? 

—Chill(y) Parenting

Dear CP,

Not every kid is like this, but there certainly are kids who lose their coats all the time. It depends on where you live. When I was a little kid in Pennsylvania, this was less of an issue because—I don’t care how scatterbrained you are—if you forget your jacket, you’ll remember it once you go outside and it’s 7 degrees. However, my own kids are growing up in the entirely more temperate California, and my son, especially, lost coats and jackets to a seemingly absurd degree all the way through pre-, elementary, and middle schools. It was, for his mom and me, the most consistently maddening thing he did over which we had zero power. It feels like it cost us thousands. He is a teenager now, and he loses coats much less frequently, though still occasionally. The main thing that’s changed is that I now realize that he’ll be fine. Sometimes he’ll have a coat; sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he’ll wish he did; sometimes he won’t care. In his own time, he’ll figure out how to do what he needs.

None of this, however, is helpful to you who are still in the thick of it. So here are my thoughts: While I understand the impulse to make him pay for his coats, it’s a little early for that. I know you don’t want him to think that his parents will just buy him stuff, but he’s a kindergartner, so actually his parents should just buy him stuff. I mean, where is he getting money anyway? Does he even understand what any of it means? Is he even going to remember any of this? I would save the punitive billing for when he is well into elementary school and the lessons and memories are sticking.

Secondly, even though you do have to buy him coats, you should buy them less. I know it’s counterintuitive, but with my son we realized that it was not helping for him to have a new jacket to remember every couple of weeks. He had no attachment to it; he wouldn’t even remember that it was his! If weather permits, let him go a little while without a coat and then replace it, taking him with you and letting him pick it out.

Finally, here are a lot of little things I’m sure you are already doing but bear repeating. Label his clothes with permanent marker; email the teachers as soon as an item comes up missing; consistently practice “a place for everything and everything in its place” with jackets and shoes at home and make sure, if you can, that he is practicing it at school. Finally, take a picture of him wearing his jacket in the morning that you can text to the caregiver who is picking him up after school. Combined, these tasks may limit the number of losses, but you can’t eliminate them completely. It’s just the cost of doing business as a parent. Try not to shame your son and just get through it as best you can. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son just turned 2 in January and was moved into the 2-year-old room at his day care. He has been in this new room for about a month. Recently, his new teacher has told me that my son has issues with personal space. Basically, he gets too close to the other kids, and sometimes the other kids cry. He does not hit them, he does not steal their toys, and he does not do anything to physically hurt them. He sometimes tries to hug them, but his teacher said most of the time he just wants to stand really close to the other kids. I am not sure how to fix this or what I can do about it. When he is around other children on the weekends, he does not do this at all. If anything, he is the kid that doesn’t like to be touched or hugged. I think this is because he doesn’t see these kids as much as he sees the kids in his day care class, and maybe he considers some of these kids “family”? My son is very cuddly and affectionate with my husband and me, and I love this about him.

Every day that I pick him up from class the teacher tells me that she is still working with him on respecting personal space and that she hopes I am too. I want to help, but the only time he exhibits this behavior in front of me is with family, and I don’t want that behavior to change. A part of me thinks that this is ridiculous, but I don’t want to be the mom that ignores teachers. I want to have a great relationship with them and have up until this point. Any advice?

—Mom of a Hugger

Dear MoaH,

Rejoice! You have here an excellent opportunity to not worry about something, and I suggest you take it. It is, of course, distressing to learn that our children are doing something that people don’t love, but the very terrible thing about kids is that we don’t actually have full and complete single-handed control over all their behaviors and consequences. Parenting is very much a “do what you can, pray for what you can’t” kind of arrangement.

You are in great luck here. Your kid has a teacher who is working with him on this behavior. Maybe that will help; maybe it won’t (probably will though). You are not even seeing this behavior at your home, much less doing anything to encourage it. There is every reason to believe that he will outgrow this at some point, though it may not be the point you hope. It would help to remember that he’s 2 years old(!), and so there is probably literally nothing he’s doing now that he will still be doing in a year. Toddlers are so wonderfully weird, and they try out all kinds of absurd behaviors. I suspect that you know this on some level and that you don’t think your son has a significant problem. The real sore spot for you, then, is the sense that your kid’s teacher is judging you for not bringing this close-standing to heel in a timely fashion. As tough as that feeling is, I wouldn’t worry too much about whatever shade you’re feeling from her because a) you don’t even know what she really thinks, b) you’re doing everything you can anyway, and c) honestly who cares about snide comments from one stressed-out teacher? All due respect to stressed-out teachers—but she doesn’t get to make you feel bad about your parenting when you’re doing your best!

Continue to remind your son when appropriate about our general rules regarding personal space, but you can let the rest go as far as I’m concerned. There may well be a time in the not-too-distant future in which no one involved will even remember this phase.

Good luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I babysit regularly for several young children in a large, racially diverse city. I am white, and the kids I sit for are too, and they all attend a local public school that reflects the diversity of the city we live in. One first grade girl in particular has taken to using a “blaccent,” usually when she disagrees with me or with a friend she’s playing with. It involves using stereotypical “sassy” slang and hand gestures (like sticking her hip out, waving one hand around with the other on her hip). I’m at a complete loss about how to react when she does this. I will ask her, as gently and with as little emotion as possible, why she is moving her hands in such a way or why she changed her speaking voice, but she doesn’t engage with me on it. It’s embarrassing for me to watch her and respond to her when she’s acting this way in public (at playgrounds or school pickup, for example). I don’t want to condone it, but I’m unsure how else to correct it. My guess is that her parents think she’s being cute and funny, and I’m not sure how to start a conversation that doesn’t end with them feeling like I’m calling them or their kid racist. Am I making a problem that isn’t really here?

—I’m Sorry, What?

Dear ISW,

You say you don’t want to condone it, but you’re not sure how to correct it, and I’d like to point out that those aren’t the only two options. We don’t actually have to correct everything we don’t condone. I think it’s great that you have tried to engage her on this, but it sounds like she’s just not yet at a place where she’s capable of having an insightful conversation about it with you. Which makes sense because she’s, like, 6.

I can definitely see how it’s super-duper cringy for you, but I would advise you not to take your own feeling of embarrassment as proof that she needs correcting right this moment. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s problematic as hell. But this is often the kind of thing that people only become aware of and change after they get called out on it, sometimes multiple times, by others out in the world. That sucks for them, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You are welcome to try and save her the embarrassment by bringing it up now and again, but I would think of that more as planting seeds than bearing fruit. Also, if you haven’t, you might want to ask her parents what they think about the whole affair as a way of letting them know to keep an eye on it. (Though they may not see a problem with it. Life is a rich tapestry.)

Let her know you notice it, which helps her notice it too, but don’t expect that you alone can make it stop. She may need input from multiple people and a few more years’ experience before she really understands the big picture.