As a mother of two, I can safely say that very few things surprise me... especially when it comes to parenting. Still, I would be lying if I said I wasn't shocked by the number of times I've had to tell my son to keep his literal pants on when we're out in public, visiting a friend, or entertaining company. For two years, between the ages of 1 and 3, chances were high that you'd find me franticly Googling "why do toddlers love taking off their pants?" while my child ran around in his underwear, screaming like a semi-nude possessed person. But there is, it turns out, a reason why our kids love to ditch their trousers, and it isn't just to embarrass the you-know-what out of us.
"The main reason toddlers remover their clothes is discomfort," Maureen Healy, author The Emotionally Healthy Child and child development expert at Growinghappykids.com, tells Romper. "They have pants that are snug, or simply prefer the feeling of their birthday suit. Young boys and girls may also enjoy the attention they receive of being sans clothes, which helps them feel cared for."
Healy says another reason our kids love to hang out knicker-free is to show off a newly-learned skill. When they are able to dress — or, in this case, undress — they'll wanted to demonstrate that ability, even if it's not at what we would consider the right time or in an appropriate place.
Regardless of the aforementioned reasons, Healy says kids taking off their pants is developmentally normal. "[Your child] is doing what's in [their] power to feel comfortable in this world, which includes removing clothing that makes [them] feel itchy, constrained, or uncomfortable in some way. Of course, this is not always appropriate, but that's a separate topic relative to your family, culture, and community norms."
Our society has a notoriously problematic relationship with nakedness, even when it comes to children, so how we respond to our children taking off their pants is vitally important. "Parents that can respond from a place of calmness can help their son or daughter during this experience," Healy says. The best approach, according to Healy, is to acknowledge what's happening and, depending on the situation, allow your child to be nude or, if that's not what you would consider acceptable given the situation, coach him or her to start putting back on their clothes.
We want to simply be the calm and patient guide for our child when he's removing all his clothes in the post office.
"Oftentimes, these situations require some 'fancy parenting footwork' to help your child put cloths back on through praising them or rewarding them later," Healy says. Another option? Having a set of back-up clothes for this situation, in case your child is taking off their pants because those particular pants are uncomfortable.
What you shouldn't do, according to Healy, is use shame as a way to convince your child they need to wear clothes. "Children's bodies are healthy being nude is a beautiful experience," Healy says. "We want to simply be the calm and patient guide for our child when he's removing all his clothes in the post office." Healy says this requires parents to keep their "emotional houses" in order. As parents, we should be relying on our own coping skills and recognizing that this is just a phase our children will eventually grow out of. And while no parent is perfect, nor do we need to be, Healy says, we do need to "do our best and help our children through learning how to behave in social settings."
So, sure, it can be pretty embarrassing when you're in the cereal aisle and your child decides their pants are no longer comfortable. And, yes, no one really wants to find themselves in a situation where their kid is "showing off their new de-robing skills" when visiting family and/or friends. But coming from a place of calm understanding, patience, and unconditional love as you coach your kids into putting back on their clothes via positive reinforcement will ensure that this pants-free phase is just that: a phase. (And hey, it'll make for some really hilarious stories some day.)