Q&A: toddler stripping off clothes

Pamela writes:

"Feel funny, asking for a friend. Her extremely cute, 3 1/2 yr old toddler is developmentally delayed. She would like some advice on just one issue. Her child frequently strips off all her clothes. She will sometimes refrain from stripping if there is a ton of stuff going on (lots of kids, lots of toys). She also doesn't do it at school, because she is never unsupervised for even a second there. Home is
obviously a different matter.

Friend would not mind in general, but the two problems are:

1. if younger child sees, she will frequently follow suit, strip, and immediately urinate on carpet. (NEVER does this otherwise)

2. even more importantly, on the days when friend needs to get stuff done that involves child being dressed (ya know, like going to the park, going to the store, stuff) she is coming close to losing her temper a lot. Yes, she should probably stick to dressing and putting shoes on kid just before locking door, but it just isn't always possible. Any helpful hints?"

This week has just been a nostalgic walk through all the toddler bad behavior, with the head-banging and the night-peeing and now the clothes-removing. What a lovely stage that is, isn't it? You think you're ready to leave the house and then you turn around and your child is naked as a jaybird and you're staring at a big 10-minute melee of dressing.

But who am I to complain (even retroactively)? I didn't have a younger child who'd imitate the stripping and pee on the carpet. Aieeeee! Once would be kind of funny, in a "I'll tell this story at the child's rehearsal dinner" kind of way. But more than once is just wrong.

To deal with the first problem of the younger sister stripping and peeing, I'd need to know how old the sister is. If the child is close to potty-training age, your friend could start working on the idea that you pee in a potty. She could put a potty in the living room and encourage the child to pee there, and hope that that helps sidestep the carpet-peeing problem (and also gets the younger one closer to potty-training). If the younger child isn't close to potty-training age, maybe put the kid in some kind of outfit that's really hard to get out of? I've also heard of people putting diapers on backwards, since kids don't always know how to remove them when they're fastened at the back. So that might be worth a try.

I really don't know how to approach the actual stripping with a developmentally delayed child. When my son was doing the strip-down thing, it only lasted for a few months, and I just planned in that extra 10 minutes it would take to redress him. But again, I only had one child at the time, and I knew my son would cooperate with getting dressed about half the time, and I'd just shove him into his clothes as he screamed "Mamaaaaa! I don't want to get dressed!" the other half of the time. But I don't feel comfortable recommending the brute force method on a kid with developmental delays.

If I'd been really on top of things, I would have designated specific Naked Times during the day (maybe with the use of a timer shaped like an animal or other object), and then required clothes at other times. But I also don't know if that's something your friend's daughter would understand or connect with.

Does your friend's child have a therapist or aid that works with her regularly at school? If so, I'd ask the therapist or aid what s/he recommends. The therapist will have both theoretical knowledge of how to deal with behavioral blips like stripping, and also in-depth knowledge of the specific child and how best to motivate her to keep her clothes on.

Good luck to your friend. This sounds like the kind of thing that could drive a person around the bend very quickly.