Keep Your Toddler From Taking Off Their Clothes

Question: How Can I Keep My Toddler from Taking off Her Diaper and Clothing?

My 28-month-old daughter has begun to potty train. Some days she refuses to get off her potty for hours and others she won't sit on it at all. Now she refuses to wear clothes or a diaper. She'll wear training pants but has accidents. She doesn't like to be wet or dirty and has even woken up screaming (and naked) after pooping in her crib. She's peed in a chair and I'm considering removing it unless she'll sit in it with her clothes on. Our home is becoming a toilet bowl. I need advice to keep her clothes on. She seems ready for potty training because she won't leave the diaper on but we are having very little success.


Not Quite Ready for Potty Training

It does sound like your daughter is moving toward potty training readiness, however, I don't think that she's there completely. Let me sum up what you've got going for you:

  • Will sit on the potty - This is a good first step and often indicates interest in going potty, but not necessarily willingness or ability.
  • Can undress independently - It's hard to make much progress without your child having the ability to undress herself, so this is good.
  • Doesn't like to be dirty or wet - You should verbally reinforce that if she puts her pee and poo in the potty, she can avoid all the mess.

And what's not going for you:

  • Sometimes won't sit on the potty - This doesn't always mean the end of potty training, but it's not much use continuing on if she's consistently not going when she does sit on the potty or if she's adamant about avoiding it.
  • Can undress independently and does so often - Ah, her strength is also her weakness. The ability to remove clothing would usually be one part of the great big puzzle of potty training readiness. Other times it's part of the great big puzzle of increasing motor skills and should be treated as a completely separate phenomenon.
  • Uses the bathroom in inappropriate spots like her crib and chairs - If she doesn't realize she's doing this, then these incidents are merely accidents that coincidentally occur while she's sans clothing. If she's doing it on purpose (like hiding in a corner to go) then it can be a sign that she's ready for potty training but is afraid of the potty. In your case, it sounds like she's having accidents, however.

Discipline to the Rescue

So really, what's going on here is not a potty training situation, but rather a discipline situation. First, I would put a halt to any type of potty training activity so that you can address what's really going on. Next, I want you to recognize that the two of you have different needs and both your needs are valid: She needs practice taking her clothes off. This is quite normal and should not be completely discouraged. You need her to keep her clothes on most of the time and not use your entire home as a toilet.

First, the Soft Route

Let her have a specified amount of time each day where she can undress herself and be as naked as she'd like. Some parents have luck doing this in the morning before getting dressed. Other parents like to do it after bath time since their child is already naked. Since removing clothing seems to be part of the appeal for your daughter, I would plan a time where she's already dressed so this need is fulfilled for her.

No matter the time you choose, make sure to associate it with a routine she knows instead of an abstract time she doesn't understand. This way, when she starts to take her clothes off at an off-limits time, you can say to her, "Not yet. You can take your clothes off after breakfast." This makes way more sense to a toddler than, "Put your clothes back on! It's not 10:30 yet."

To eliminate the home-as-toilet issue, explain to her that if she wants to stay naked, she can't pee or poop anywhere except in the potty or a diaper. Then, make sure you're nearby and let her know you're ready to help if she needs it. Confine her to a room that can be cleaned easily if possible (tile or hard wood - yay, carpet - boo) and then stick to the allotted time. Thirty minutes is a good starting point. If she uses the bathroom anywhere but the potty or a diaper, she has to put her clothes back on. If she refuses, remember that you are the parent and you have options.

Stand Your Ground if Things Get Tough

I often hear parents say that their child "refuses" to do something. I certainly understand how strong a toddler's will can be and how easy it is to just succumb to it and avoid the drama. In the moment, that seems to work. In the long run, however, it doesn't and it makes discipline even harder. This is one of those times where you're doing what you can to accommodate her needs, however, she needs to respect the rules you've put in place for her.

The first few times she has to put her clothes back on, it might not be pretty, but if you follow through, it won't be a struggle every time and she'll eventually comply with your rules. Put emphasis on putting her clothes back on and don't focus on the accident. Put her clothes on for her if she won't do it herself and keep putting them back on. In most cases, she'll eventually realize that you're serious and it's not time to be naked any more.

What to Do if Things Get Really Tough

If she tries to work around the rules, you might need to make things a little more difficult for her. I just saw some pajamas this week that are one-piece and stay on because the zipper is in back. . That would certainly help with the issues you're having with her at night.

Other tactics:

  • Putting clothes on backwards so they're harder to remove
  • Switching to cloth diapers as clips and covers can be more secure
  • Using duct tape to secure diapers or cover up zippers and ties
  • Dressing your child in a state that is as close to naked as possible - think light sundresses or just a tank top and a loosely fitting diaper - in the hopes that freedom (from restrictive clothing) will reign.

Another way to make compliance worth her while is to add properly executed time-outs. Each time she refuses to put her clothing back on when requested and each time she takes her clothing off outside of your designated naked time, put her clothes on for her and enforce a time-out. (Learn more about how to make time-out work for you here.)

After giving these solutions a go, both of your needs should be happily met. Time is also on your side since the novelty of her newfound undressing ability will wear off soon enough, to be replaced by yet another milestone of toddler independence. But if there's still a problem after taking these steps, you might need to consider seeking the advice of a professional. This is especially true if your daughter seems physically and emotionally distressed by having clothes on. Your health care provider can refer you to someone in your area to help determine whether your child is suffering with a sensory processing disorder or other issue.

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3 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Building structure. Updated November 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quick tips: three main keys to building structure. Updated November 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using time-out. Updated November 2019.