Q: Why doesn't my 2-year-old want to wear a coat? She refuses to put one on, even when I feel she needs one, and she takes it off as soon as I look away.
A: Putting on a coat before leaving a nice warm house requires thinking ahead -- foreseeing being cold. That's well beyond the reasoning power of a 2-year-old. We know of toddlers who eagerly put on coats, but probably because they have linked coat-wearing with leaving the house to do something fun, or because they fear when they see others with coats that they are about to be left behind.
If your daughter discards her coat once she's outside, the coat is probably making her more miserable than the weather. If her outside play involves a lot of exercise, like running and bending, she is likely to be much warmer than you are as you stand and watch. Think of how quickly your coat becomes uncomfortably hot when you rake leaves, even on a very brisk day, or when you shovel snow.
Perhaps you are overdressing your daughter. A bulky coat may make her feel she can't move. You may be able to keep her warm enough for most weather conditions by putting on several shirts, one over the other, or by combining shirts and sweaters.
Many people mistakenly assume that being out without a coat when it's chilly causes illness. Exposure to virus germs, not exposure to cold, causes a child to "catch cold." Even pneumonia is caused by viral and bacterial germs, not by cold air. So you don't have to feel guilty if you let her "lighten up."
Of course, there are temperatures so low you will have to insist that she choose between wrapping up and staying in. When it's that cold, your daughter needs more than a coat. Be certain her fingers, toes and ears are covered warmly, too. It is those small parts that Jack Frost bites first!
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.