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Preschooler Has Obsessive Clothes Disorder

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Tales of a 3-year-old who won't stop taking off (and putting on) her clothes.

Momlogic's Momstrosity: Every day, my kid goes through 20 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of pants, 8 skirts, 10 pairs of socks, and tries on every shoe in her collection. And that's just before breakfast.

I think the kid's got O.C.C.D. -- Obsessive Clothes Changing Disorder.

Here's how a typical day at my house begins:

LILY: Mom, I can't find any clean underwear!!
ME: You have a drawer full of clean underwear.
LILY: Noooooo, they all have stains!!!

Why a girl who regularly writes on her face with markers is so fastidious about her underwear is a mystery to me. Before she'll put on a pair of skivvies, she scrutinizes each crotch as if she's looking for flaws in the Hope Diamond. Every day, I unsuccessfully try to speed the process.

ME: Look at this one, it looks very, very, very clean.
LILY: (dubious) OK, but let me check it under a light.

She then holds the suspect underwear under her princess lamp, gives me the stink-eye, and flings the offending Tinkerbell undies to the floor.

Finally, after much trial and error, she selects a pair (very often it's the very same pair that DIDN'T pass muster the day before) ... then we begin the quick-change artist portion of our show!

With each outfit, she engages in one activity. When that activity is done, she goes for a wardrobe change. One outfit for each activity. If we're looking at a typical morning, that could mean 10 to 15 activities, such as: brushing teeth (shorts, T-shirt, and snow boots), eating breakfast (sun hat, bathing suit over pants), drawing on her favorite doll (princess dress, scarf and flip-flops, and rabbit ears). With each outfit, she also switches out her underwear.

Who does she think she is, Lady Gaga?!

All this before it's time to get dressed for school. By the time we need to make that decision, almost all of her clothes are in a heap on her floor or tossed into the dirty clothes pile (hey, when clothes are worn for a millisecond, they can get pretty rank, right?).

With barely a moment to spare before we have to leave, she settles on an outfit. Unfortunately she's dressed like a colorblind mental patient. I know I don't have a chance of changing her mind, but I try to offer some constructive criticism.

ME: I love the colors, but honey, stripes and polka dots don't really match.

It never, ever goes over well. 


Good point, kid. After all, that kind of tunnel vision will work well for you in your teens when you're begging me to let you get your tongue pierced. 

Fast-forward to the end of the day.

Of course, she must change out of her school clothes the minute she gets home. Since I can't differentiate between the clean and dirty clothes, I begin the inexplicable task of washing clean clothes. Then comes dinnertime:

ME: Go wash your hands before dinner.
LILY: I have to change first.
ME:  Lily, we're just eating dinner!
LILY: I want to put on something beauuuutiful.

Oh God, here we go again ...

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22 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rita January 11, 2010, 4:11 PM

Hmmm, sounds like yours and mine were seperated at birth…

Mic January 11, 2010, 4:37 PM

You just described my daughter to a T. Drives me crazy! Apparently she thinks me doing laundry is a hobby.

Wow January 11, 2010, 4:59 PM

Are you serious? Learn to control your children. What they are doing/trying to do is incredibly impractical. Yeah, they will cry a bit, tell you they hate you or whatever; obviously they don’t mean it or know what they are doing. They will learn a number of valuable life lessons however and hopefully not end up being like that forever.

Tom - January 11, 2010, 5:07 PM

Seems like nothing is wrong with your daughter, it’s actually you. You are what they call an enabler. All children try to be ridiculous, annoying, irritating,… it’s you they are looking at for advice, in how far they can take their act. Seems like you let it spin out of control. Now you are blaming her… typical.

Agree with Wow.  January 11, 2010, 5:10 PM

Do you want your daughter to grow up and act like that? Time to act like a parent. If she wants to make a mess with her clothes everyday make her pick them up EVERYDAY. Eventually she’ll learn that changing clothes can be done without making a mess or she’ll learn its not worth the cleaning afterward.

You’re her parent, not her best friend/maid.

Incredible January 11, 2010, 5:10 PM

Gee, I wonder who runs the household? Obviously not the parents. Do you have any other children?

Agree with Wow.  January 11, 2010, 5:11 PM

Do you want your daughter to grow up and act like that? Time to act like a parent. If she wants to make a mess with her clothes everyday make her pick them up EVERYDAY. Eventually she’ll learn that changing clothes can be done without making a mess or she’ll learn its not worth the cleaning afterward.

You’re her parent, not her best friend/maid.

Alex January 11, 2010, 5:16 PM

I for one am shocked and appalled.
As a child I used to have to wear one set of clothes for the entire week.
I once spilt orange juice on my school shirt and I was only allowed to drink water for a fortnight, sure taught me a lesson.
You’re heading down a dangerous path.

erin with an e January 11, 2010, 5:37 PM

First off, oh my but your daughter is adorable! If ever a girl could pull of strips and polka dots, it’d be her. :)

Although the sweetpea won’t appreciate it much, it sounds like perhaps a little structure could help you out. Bottom line - she needs guidelines but freedom to express all her creativity and personality. Going cold turkey might be insanity, so perhaps limiting her to 1 outfit before school, 1 for school, and then 3 or 4 after? Or whatever amount is reasonable to you, of course.

Having her pick out her before-school (and maybe the for-school) outfit before going to bed the night before can help your sanity with the early am undies hunt.

Give her the room to choose her outfits, but let her know it’s very important she’s happy with her choice as that’s the one she gets to (sounds nicer than “has to”) wear for that time period. Hold your ground for the impending bitter tears and cries of injustice. It won’t be easy for her, especially since she’s used to the fashion show.

Something else you might try is a little positive re-enforcement in the key of perhaps a new pair of bunny ears for x-days of good behavior or a new dress after y-amount. Might get pricey, but it’s a thought.

Course, lol, my mother would say to have consequences for other than good behavior, like donating a article of clothing to charity. And at the same time, you can foster social awareness.

So long as you’re calm, consistent, ready for a few time outs in the beginning and lots of compliments for her on the beauuutiful outfit she choose, you should be good to go and ready to tackle that request for the pierced tongue. :)

Sara  January 11, 2010, 8:25 PM

At least you can get yours to wear clothes. Mine puts them on for a millisecond and then they mysteriously get wet and she changes then repeat till they are all dirty and she is running around in dress up clothing or naked. In my experience it is just a control issue. She is asserting control over something. Let it go but have her pick out school clothes the night before. And stick to those. That may just speed up the process. Also limiting the clothes she has access to. The less clothes to go through the faster the process. I have two baskets of my daughters clothes in my closet and always make sure to change them out with out her seeing. LOL Have fun the creativity will pay off in the end. And make sure you grab the dirty clothes from school. lol

Anonymous January 12, 2010, 3:13 AM

My daughter only wears princess costumes, princess shirts or nothing…and ladies, sometimes you pick your battles. I choose not to fight over every single costume change. It is not worth it. I just make sure she wears real clothes when we go out.

Sydney  January 12, 2010, 5:56 AM

I hope you are joking. If not, you are an incredibly weak parent. Yes, we must pick our battles wisely, but one that has you washing clean clothes on a daily basis and catering to this child’s unreasonable whims is worthy of fighting. While as a mom of 3 I do realize that many times it is easier for us to allow a kid to have their way than to fight - believe me - in the long run you will both be losers. Nip this behavior asap…one or two rough weeks of hell will soon be a distant memory, and your days will be much happier!

Brandon January 12, 2010, 6:24 AM

Actually, that *does* sound like a moderate form of OCD related to her self-image. It can take many different forms, from clothes to hair to skin condition. What happens if you try to force her to stay in 1 outfit?

Tammi January 12, 2010, 6:33 AM

she sounds like a typical preschooler to me. my little girl went through the same thing - it passed.

Crazy Mom January 12, 2010, 7:25 AM

I can’t imagine most of the people who commented here have children. Way to overreact!
I have a little girl also and she has a love hate relationship with clothes. She loves her dress-up princess clothes but hates school clothes.. School clothes being normal pants and shirts. If it were up to her she would wear skirts in the middle of winter…And forget about tights!!! “They are itchy and cold!!!”
Your little one is adorable! And good for you for letting her be creative in her own way!!!
I agree with the other poster that said “sometimes you pick your battles”

rugbymom January 12, 2010, 8:44 AM

LOL! What a cutie. Of course kids need structure, AND sometimes you need to pick your battles; but this is just funny.

I think it is just a faze. I have 2 girls and my first one went through this (for both of them, shoes is a big issues instead of underwear) and now my second has picked up where she left off. She is constantly going into her PJ drawer and sometimes I’ll catch her pulling out everything and trying to put it on. She is only 2 so she is learning the skill of getting dressed so I let her go as long as we do not have to be anywhere.

You are not alone sweetie. This too shall pass…

Callista January 22, 2010, 12:54 PM

I try not to be judgemental but I agree that you are letting this happen. Put your foot down, one outfit a day. My daughter has clothes she’d rather not wear but if laundry hasn’t been done in a while and it’s all that’s left, she wears it or she doesn’t get to go anywhere, simple as that.

MaryBeth I March 6, 2010, 9:12 PM

My kids all went through that around the same age LOL. Oh the laundry! I never knew what was clean and what was dirty.

Since they are girls, they still tend to change their outfits but now it is like 2 - 3 times a day at the most, not 20 - 30.

You will get through it - I promise

Elizabeth March 16, 2010, 2:23 PM

Maybe you could cut down on the wastfulness of it by teaching her when an article of clothing is considered dirty/clean. She can be taught to put said item away. I would tell her, “I washed those underwear myself- they are all clean.Put on a pair quickly.”(or perhaps they are badly stained- throw them out and buy new? As far as control- maybe let her dress herself(within reason)alone in her room and nix the arguments for the most part. You should also reserve the right to say,”no- you don’t need to change now. Come to the table and eat.”

cheapviagra4692 August 30, 2010, 5:32 AM

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