Why Make Your Kids Wear Mittens


There are times when I sound more like a grandmother than a doctor in advising families how to be healthy. 'Dress warmly!' 'Eat a good breakfast!' 'Get to bed early!' 'Let your body fight its own colds!'

But each of this advisories is powerful, no matter how simple it sounds.


Warmth is related to the element fire. All the other elements -- earth, air, water -- are easily bounded. Warmth goes through boundaries. This is no surprise when you think of the love (emotional warmth/fire) you feel for your children. Nothing stops it. (That is why you are reading this.)

Healthy human beings have a rhythmic body temperature of approximately 98.6, slightly lower in morning than evening. Cold is a stress for the body. Touch your child's fingers and toes -- with your own warm hand. (If your hand is cool/cold, first warm it up.) Then feel other parts: the trunk, front and back, abdomen, forehead, chest. The fingers and toes should be as warm as the warmest part of the body. If they are not, the child is dealing with cold stress, and you can help him/her a great deal by changing the clothing so that fingers and toes become as warm as they should be. Shunting blood away from the extremities is a survival mechanism in the body. It protects the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys).

Cold stress can make children overactive, in an effort to warm up. Warm clothing allows them to settle down, join in group activity, focus and learn.

In some children coldness interferes with normal weight gain. I have seen one wiry 5-year-old in New Hampshire who gained two pounds in the first week her mother put her in wool underwear.

Runny noses commonly are related to coldness. And coldness is a significant factor in more important immune suppression in a very significant way. 'The skin is the proper place for disease to happen,' states an old holistic medicine pearl. If the skin is cool, the battle with a common germ cannot be waged on the skin. The blood has gone into the deeper organs, and with it, the battle is carried to deeper organs. This is an important way that complications happen from common illnesses, such as a cold or chicken pox. In medical school, I first saw in my Internal Medicine textbook, that chickenpox encephalitis commonly occurs when there are very few pox on the body. The inflammation does little damage on the skin, but can do a great deal of damage in a deeper organ. Keeping the skin warm keeps the battle with a germ where it is safe for the body. I have heard a German pediatrician describe how he recommends to parents of children with measles that the parent rub the calves with dry terry cloth until the calves are pink. This over-warming action draws the circulation to the surface, and pulls the battle with the germ to a safe place, outward and downward, away from vital organs.

This principle can be applied in daily life simply by dressing warmly, and being attentive to the warmth of our children's extremities. We both prevent illnesses, and keep their course uncomplicated if they occur, by having warm extremities.

Physical warmth is an early sense for the newborn baby, along with smell, taste, and hearing. But the child does not sense temperature accurately until about age 9. You are not surprised when a toddler runs around the house naked, and older kids and adults are reaching for shoes and sweaters. We have all seen this. In New Hampshire, the kindergarteners rush into the lakes on Memorial Day, and the third graders look at them like 'what's wrong with you!?'

So you, the parent, must decide what is the right clothing for the young person you are responsible for. Don't ASK the young child 'what do you want to wear?' This question is appropriate at times for an older child, but it is scary for a young child to be the one making a decision in the presence of an adult. It is hard in our culture NOT to ask our children what they want, because we hear it so commonly. I remember falling into this and asking my 5 yr old son what t-shirt he wanted, and he looked at me and said 'I don't know. You're the mommy!' So often our kids show us what we should have known. Be willing to BE the Mommy or the Daddy. Make the decision about the clothes you feel are right for the climate, and say with surety: 'Here's your undershirt and top, your tights and skirt. Let's get dressed. You're set for a wonderful day!' Your authority is their security. Their strength is modeled after yours, so give them a strong, insightful, kind authority figure.

But what to wear, if hands and feet are cold? The rule I've used in New Hampshire is to begin with is three layers on the top with one tucked in, and two layers on the bottom. One of these should be like a second skin, closely investing the body, not baggy. This means long underwear, or tights, or at the very least an undershirt. If the child is sweaty, take off a layer. If the child is still cool to touch, change to a warmer fabric. Natural fabrics breathe best: cotton, silk, and wool. Down does not breathe, nor do synthetics generally, so body heat is trapped if the person is overdressed. Cotton can be both cooling and warming, and is good for hot countries and Arizona summers. Silk is more warming, then wool-silk, and wool is warmest. A source for children's long underwear is: www.greenmountainorganics.com. A helpful image to use is that foxes and rabbits grow fur, thicker in the winter than the summer. We didn't -- so we have to put on our fur to be able to run around outside like foxes and rabbits in the winter. Hats, gloves, sox are all part of the fur we didn't grow. Clothed well, we have new freedom to move outdoors. Long underwear in some seasons eliminates the need for bulky outerwear, and movement is less restrained.

So you have the knowledge of WHAT to do, and are confident in your authority as a parent being the best thing for them. Then life happens. The child is simultaneously developing his will, so a wonderful opportunity comes for the child to say 'NO!!' to any parental statement, including clothes. This requires tact, cleverness, determination -- every adult attribute in the book. Don't rush into action. Wait, watch, assess, and plan HOW to do this thing you know is good for your kids. A young girl may need stylish (warm) tights or long johns that you have seen ballerinas wear, because, after all, their leg muscles dance more beautifully if they are warm. A fierce 4-year-old warrior may need a swashbuckling (warm) pirate muscle shirt, leggings, and sash, with a story of how to stand and walk like a pirate as they are put on. A two year old may just need a chase around the room, a friendly capture, and a lot of loving contact as he/she is poured into warm layers. Some children will need to know you consider this so important that favorite activities are actually dependent on dressing correctly, or that some other consequence is incurred. And then, you must stick to your word. Because if you don't really stay home from sledding because the long underwear couldn't go on when you said it must, then maybe you won't really follow through on all the promises of love you have made. The child's mind is consistent even though it is not fully conscious. It is better not to threaten a consequence unless you are one hundred per cent ready to carry it out. Your word is your word, whether it is spoken as lawgiver, or pledging love forever.

There is no virtue to overdressing. July in southern Arizona is not the time to insist on the 3-on-top and 2-on-the bottom. The way to make the decision at any time is to feel the child's fingers and toes, rather than to abstractly apply a rule.


Eat protein generously at breakfast. (Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, supper like a pauper, the saying goes -- and it can be changed to the other gender: queen, princess, bag lady.) Protein at breakfast stabilizes the blood sugar for the whole day. (Lunch protein cannot do the same job; the window of opportunity is past.) EVERYONE has better co-ordination, endurance, moods, and ability to learn. Options: eggs of any sort, cottage cheese blintzes, smoothies with protein powder (preferably not soy), grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, fish fillets.

(I had great success with my teenage boys telling them they would not get a ride to school unless they ate breakfast. We lived 4 blocks from school. They complained, they ate, I drove. As they got older and were driving themselves, occasionally, they would wake up so late, they would eat very little. I would just say 'do the best you can,' letting them know what I think is important, but that I trust them. No rule can substitute for human judgment, and older kids need some freedom to vary from house rules and learn from life and how they feel; trust your instinct and love for them in choosing an approach.)

Back to Library