Fighting Over Fashion

Our three year old likes to dress herself and has strong opinions about what she wants to wear every day. I’m embarrassed when we go out and feel like I have to explain to everyone why she’s wearing such weird outfits. I’m fed up with our morning fights. Any suggestions?

The best story I’ve heard on this topic comes from my colleague, parent educator Allison Rees. Her husband had returned from the swimming pool with their daughter Lexie during the Lion King movie craze : “I asked my husband where Lexie’s clothes were. He pointed to a pile of orange fluff on the floor. I couldn’t see her clothes and once again asked where they were. He sternly pointed again to this pile. Confused, I walked over to this pile of bright orange fluff, and lo and behold, it was her lion king outfit. I want you to picture this thing – it is full body with a protruding stomach, long tail and a full mane. “She wore her lion king outfit to the swimming pool?” “Yup,” Bruce replied, “she not only wore it to swimming, but she wore it to Thrifty’s and to Jarryd’s school.” Then to really get me, he quoted Barbara Coloroso, … “It’s not life threatening and it’s not morally threatening.” I realized that he was being big enough to allow our child to be who she was, where I might have squabbled with Lexie over that…”

Like Lexie, your three year old is trying to become a person and find out what she likes and doesn’t like. The biggest problem with your daughter’s choice of clothing is probably your own parental embarrassment. Other adults expect us to have our children “properly” dressed, and if they aren’t, they judge us as incompetent parents. But as long as a child is warm and dry, does it really matter if she’s wearing something unusual, or if her clothes don’t match, or if she’s wearing winter clothes in summer? Her having a choice in something insignificant like clothing proves to her that she can have input into her own life – something most three-year-olds don’t have much of! Your allowing her to choose her own clothing tells her that it’s her life, not yours, that she is entitled to have likes and dislikes and to make choices about her life as long as there’s no danger involved, and that you have confidence in and respect for her choices. That’s an important message which goes a long way toward producing a confident, secure child rather than a fearful little robot.

Your peer group’s superficial judgment of your parenting is not a good enough reason to engage in “morning fights” with your child about her clothing. Save the limit setting for important issues, like not hitting people, and enjoy your child as an individual. She will soon tire of wearing clothing that other people find strange. Here’s the outcome of my friend’s story :

“Interestingly enough, natural consequences stopped Lexie from wearing that outfit out again. She got really angry every time her tail got caught in those double doors at the pool and if you don’t go fast enough at Thrifty’s with the electric ones, you’re never going to make it to the cookie section on time! She also didn’t like all the oohs and aaahs from strangers.” My own children have had similar experiences – for example, deciding to put on coats after an experience of getting too cold. Letting them make these decisions themselves saves a lot of nagging and fighting and parental “wear and tear.”

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