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How to Dress a Toddler for the Cold

No matter the weather, toddlers have energy to burn. That means whether it’s below zero or scorching hot, your little one will likely want to be outside burning off steam. While that’s a great thing for nap time, it also means you need to take extra care to protect her against the elements.

One rule of thumb to keep in mind: Once your baby becomes a toddler, her inner thermostat should be in working condition. That means if you’re comfy in a T-shirt, your little one should be too; if you’re chilly in a sweatshirt, it’s time to add an extra layer for both of you.

Toddler winter wear should both keep your little one cozy and allow for movement. A child who’s mobile (or soon to be) needs to be able to move easily, so she shouldn’t be so bundled up that she can’t climb the playground ladder or romp in the snow. Plus any item that an independent toddler can pull on or take off herself will be most acceptable to a me-do-it mindset.

Even if your little one has no interest in dressing or undressing herself, if she’s still not fully potty-trained, you’ll want to go for easy-on/easy-off clothes for your own sanity. Some specific shopping tips to focus on:

Lay on light layers. The layers underneath your toddler’s outerwear trap in warmth. Opt for all-cotton shirts, which will feel best against your child’s still-sensitive skin. Steer clear of bulky sweaters, which will make her too hot and prevent her from moving around easily. Make sure socks aren’t so thick that your toddler's snow boots don’t fit comfortably over them.

Find a snowsuit that suits your toddler to a T. Choose a wind- and water-resistant outer shell — nylon is ideal — and a chill-chasing material on the inside, such as down or Polartec. The zipper should run all the way down to the knee or ankle to make taking it off easier — especially when it’s time for a diaper change or potty break. And check that cuffs fit tightly around ankles and wrists to prevent the cold (or snow) from creeping in. Elastic works, but Velcro tabs that let you adjust for a not-too-loose, not-too-tight fit are even better.

Choose mittens. If you’ve ever tried to put a glove on a toddler’s hand so every finger's in the right place, you know it’s about as easy as putting a diaper on a goldfish. Stick with mittens, which are easier to slip on and are warmer because they keep fingers (and the heat they produce) close together. As with snowsuits, mittens should have a warm inner lining and a weather-resistant shell. And if the mitts don’t come with short strings attached, consider purchasing clips to attach them to the sleeves of your toddler’s snowsuit. (Tip: Slip on mittens before you put your child’s snowsuit on; that way the cuffs will help keep the mittens in place.)

A warm hat is tops. A huge percentage of body heat is lost through the head, so a hat is a vital item in a tot’s winter-weather wardrobe. (This is especially true if your sweetie has yet to sprout a full head of hair.) Even if her snowsuit has a hood, a close-fitting hat is a better head-heating bet (you can always pull the hood over the hat). A cotton or soft-wool knitted cap with ear flaps is best, and even better if it fastens under the chin.

Choose safe and easy clothing features. Snaps and zippers are really good choices for toddlers, who will likely need constant wardrobe adjustments. If your little one isn’t potty-trained, this also makes diaper changes easier. Also avoid ribbons and strings that might unravel or possibly be a choking hazard, especially on loose-fitting hoods.

Don’t forget car seat safety. Even if it’s freezing cold, take off your toddler's winter jacket in the car seat: It can compress in the event of an accident, creating a dangerous amount of space underneath the harness. Thin layers, mittens and hats are still fair game for keeping her comfy and cozy in the car.

Cover up. Sun protection is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting your little one from the elements when it’s cold or hot outside. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before venturing out. It should be reapplied every few hours.


American Academy of Pediatrics, Baby Sunburn Prevention, January 2013.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Cold Weather Safety, December 2017.

What to Expect the First Year, 3rd edition, Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Frostbite & Hypothermia.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hypothermia, December 2016.

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