Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Wearing coats outside in winter...

My son is 13 now and has coped with chronic eczema all his life. He has never willingly worn a coat, even in the depths of winter – coats make him hot and heat makes him uncomfortable and itchy. We do not heat his bedroom and he uses a summer weight quilt in the winter, which he takes out of the cover as soon as the weather gets a little warmer.

My son is not alone... lots of children, for medical or choice reasons, refuse to wear coats or take them off as soon as they think we are not looking in their direction.

Yet we are all aware that we have a duty of care to ensure children’s well being... not just because we follow the EYFS, but also because we are adults in charge of other people’s children.

Strategies to support children

· Maybe we should look at what children are being asked to wear... is that why they are refusing? Big thick coats might look nice in the shop, but if they restrict the child’s movements it may make him uncomfortable when playing. Similarly, coats with tricky fastenings might make children reluctant to keep putting them on and taking them off, especially if they restrict the flow of their play.

The solution here might be to have a stock of spare thick fleeces and raincoats. You could build them up over the years. Teach children how to be independent with their zips and don’t worry if coats get put on inside out, so long as they are being worn.

· Parents sometimes tell me that their child doesn’t get cold... well I ought to understand that one, having a hot bod in the family. Sometimes however it’s not that they don’t get cold ... more that they do not notice when they are cold because they are busy playing. Remember that hypothermia is a creeping condition which takes time to affect the body.

I think we have to talk to parents and remind them that young children are vulnerable and must be protected by adults. Also we take care of children who are different ages and come from different homes who parent in different ways. It would not be right for us to allow one child to remove his coat and insist with the rest (unless of course it’s for medical reasons)... that would lead to upset and resentment.

· We are told that we must teach children to be independent and to carry out their own risk assessments. The EYFS also suggests that we are supposed to let children come and go, between inside and out, which would leave them in charge of putting on coats, hats, wellingtons etc. What do we do with the 2 boys who are constantly running in and out, totally engaged in their game, not thinking about being cold?

This one depends on your own feelings on the subject. As a friend of mine said the other day ... surely sometimes we have to assert our authority and tell children that we know best. Children are not always able to make the best decisions for their health and wellbeing. After all, we wouldn’t let them outside in the hot sun if they threw a tantrum and refused to apply sun cream or wear a hat, would we?

So if you have a coat policy for outside, then you need to apply it, firmly and calmly, every time they go out. It will hopefully only take a few days until they get used to the idea.

· I live in hope of all children arriving in clothing they can comfortably wear through the day in all play situations – inside, outside, when out on walks, in the car etc. However, even working closely with parents and asking for their support, it does not always happen. Children arrive by car in just a jumper, mum telling them it’s not cold enough to wear coats today... they do not take kindly to me insisting they put on one of my spares later. Another child might arrive wearing a dress and sandals in the depths of winter... because dad says that’s what she wanted to put on that morning etc.

A compromise here might be to use an outdoor thermometer – when the temperature goes below a certain agreed level, warm clothing including coats must be worn, no argument. This does not, of course, take into account the wind chill factor but it is a start.

· Certain medical conditions such as asthma require children to be warmly wrapped up outside. In these situations children might feel resentful. I have known children with medical conditions who are told to wear coats refuse to the point where we have tantrums every time we go out – which is tricky when we have 3 school runs a day.

Here, we need to have clear behaviour expectations and go with medically caring for the child. No compromise.

Just don’t get me on the subject of hats!!

Talk soon

Sarah xx