How to Handle… Clothing Battles
Three takes on managing a child's creative clothing choices
Stripes with plaid and polka-dots? Pink, on pink, on pink (on pink)? Cowboy boots and… nothing else? Kids want to wear the darndest things! We asked a child development specialist, a children’s book author, and a psychologist (all moms!) for their advice on how to get little naked cowboys dressed in the morning—tantrum-free—and still get out the door on time.
Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavior specialist and author of You’re Not the Boss of Me
“Refusing to get dressed is the young child’s way of asserting his power. (It’s hard to feel powerful in a world of big, bossy people!) It’s also a great way to get his parents’ attention, especially if you’re in a hurry. In fact, hurrying is the enemy, so allow time—and plenty of it—for getting dressed each day. Then, treat the activity as you would one of your child’s games, giving him as much control over the scene as you can: allow him to choose his shirt or shorts, let him bring you his shoes, and even incorporate a stuffed bear who ‘needs’ a jacket. Be playful and relaxed.
“If you are pressed for time (it happens), you can give your child something special to hold while you are getting him dressed. A stop watch works great. ‘Ok, Billy. When I say GO, push the button and we’ll watch the clock go around so quickly.’ Remember: he only gets to use the timer when he is getting dressed.
“Lastly, bear in mind that you have bigger fish to fry than fighting with your child about clothes. If he wants to wear his shorts and it’s snowing, let him! Just bring his sweatpants in your purse for later, when he tells you he’s freezing. (By the way, children do not get sick from being cold! Ask your doctor.)”
Jean Reidy, children’s book author, including Too Purpley! (Bloomsbury), about a picky preschooler’s search for the perfect clothes
“Parents of 2-year-old nudists, preschool-aged picky dressers, and 4-year-old fashionistas should know they are not alone. As a mother of four, I once had my own Jeans Jinxer, Dino-T Donner, Turtleneck Tantrummer, and Pinky-Pinky Princess. Guess what? We survived!
“Clothing likes and dislikes can be a kid’s first declaration of independence, or even a coping tool. (Don’t underestimate the power of the perfect shirt to function as a secret security blanket.) Although rarely worthy of clinical labels, clothing battles with your children may stir up already stress-filled mornings. So unless an event or situation requires special clothes, try to let go of any ego and, as much as possible, to roll with your kids’ choices instead.”
Dr. Stephanie Smith, licensed clinical psychologist specializing in parenting issues
“I would love to say my kids have perfectly brushed hair and cute, clean, stylish clothes on every day, but the fact is that’s just not reasonable for my family—or for most other families, either. Life’s too short to argue over all of it. So, while you can insist on one or two of the most important things, try to let the others go. For example, in my house I insist on clean clothes and clean teeth. Brushed hair, matching socks, and weather-appropriate apparel are all negotiable.
“It’s tempting, too, to think that how kids dress is a direct reflection of your own worth or skill as a parent. Thank goodness it’s not! Wonderful parents can—and often do—have disheveled-looking kids. What your kids wear is (very rarely) about you. It’s about them: their creativity, their comfort, and their expression. As long as what they’ve chosen falls within your parameters (see above), let them enjoy expressing themselves in this way.”
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