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What to Do About Clothing Battles

Avoid clothing battles by following these helpful tips.

What to Do About Clothing Battles

What kids wear, and how they wear it, becomes an issue for many families. I imagine that cave kids battled with their parents about skins (“Grog, leopard skin skirt too short!”). Hair styles, too, have always been a bone of contention (“Get gazelle thigh out of hair, Ug. You want neighbors think you too primitive to build fire?”). Look, anything can become a battleground. Clothing and hairstyles are one way kids can assert their personal tastes, independence, and choice-making abilities. It's important to support as many of your child's choices as possible.

Getting Dressed, Getting Undressed

With kids under seven, it's not uncommon for families to wage pitched battles over getting dressed and undressed. Even little kids who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves often refuse, point blank (“No!”) when you ask them to please get out of their pajamas and into daytime clothes, or out of play clothes and into their nighties.

  • Do they need help? Little heads get stuck in turtlenecks, and small feet don't always slide easily into stiff shoes. Ask if he needs help before leaping to the rescue, and choose showing him how over doing it for him, whenever possible.
  • Can you make a game out of it? Suggest a race between the two of you to see who can get dressed first (and make sure you lose). Or tell him to “surprise” you or your partner, leave the clothes, and leave the room.
  • Allow more time. Little ones often feel rushed into submission.
  • If the battle is too big, give up, get him into the car, and let him go to school in his pj's. Once or twice and that will be it. (And you won't be the first parent to try this, believe me!)
  • Or get him in the car in his nightclothes, bring his clothes, and have him change once you get there. Change the place, change the space!
  • Get him dressed yourself, and realize that this may be an expression of his need for emotional nurturing right then.

Don't Be Revilin' Her Stylin'

Okay, I confess, I went to high school in the '70s, and in the '80s I was an art student with magenta and purple streaks in my hair. Since I've spent so much of my life looking awful for fashion, I'm pretty tolerant about clothing and hair fads in kids. Basically, kids want to be different from their parents, and they try to attain this difference using personal appearance.

Your child may spend a good deal of her life looking utterly absurd to you. You looked absurd to your parents, didn't you? Try not to get too alarmed. Your child will customize her appearance to match her friends'. Remember that hair grows, makeup washes off, and styles in clothing come and go. Try not to make it a battleground.

Keep in mind:

  • Kids are insecure, and they need to know that they look good. Compliment her even when you don't like her style.
  • Clothes are expensive. Most families have to put the brakes on spending. Help your child learn about budgets by giving her one. Clothing allowances with spending guidelines can start as young as ten.
  • Set limits. Be reasonable, but when it comes down to it, you do have a say over how high those skirts go, how low those jeans sag, and whether pierces are allowed (though your adolescent may defy you). Talk about the limits and the reasons for them.
  • If shopping or choosing clothes to wear is a problem, provide limited choices (“You may choose one of these pairs of athletic shoes. Great. Now choose some pants. Want the gray or the black?”).
Behave Yourself!

No, you aren't out of line when you restrict the amount of money your child spends on clothes and shoes. You can assert the value of budgeting and restraint here. Your kid will not suffer irrevocable damage if she doesn't have this skirt or that pair of shoes.

  • If your child is shocking you with her styles, assess the rest of her life. If she is dressing like her friends, doing well in school, and volunteering at the old folks home on weekends, who cares if her lipstick is black and her hair an ugly shade of green?
  • Teach her where certain clothes are and aren't appropriate. Your daughter's pierced navel might be sexy and cute, but flaunting it is inappropriate at Great Aunt Suzie's funeral.
  • Draw the line at tattoos. Even pierces heal. Tattoos are forever (and don't start telling me about laser surgery!).

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