Do you ever see your kids about to walk out the door in the morning and wonder, “what the heck are they wearing?” Well, you’re not alone. I work with a lot of moms, and one thing I’m often asked is, “how do I get my kids to dress better?” And, as I’m sure you know, there’s no easy answer or 100% effective solution. Especially because you don’t want to give your kids any big hang ups about clothes, right?
It’s definitely a delicate balance. You need to juggle a bunch of different things, including:
Appropriateness to the occasion – even if it’s just going to school, most have some kind of dress code that needs to be respected. And if it’s not school, it’s your parents’ house or going to worship or taking a field trip, etc.
Basic functionality – will they be warm enough? Are they wearing the right shoes for soccer practice?
Their own self-expression – clothes are a method of expressing themselves, so you may not want to limit or impose your beliefs on their personal creativity.
Their own self-acceptance – commenting on or challenging your kids’ clothing choices can come across as a critique of their overall appearance. Which can bring in body issues, self-esteem and their overall self-image.
I have two boys, now 23 and 26 years old. And I can honestly say that I probably focused a little too much on what they were wearing. One kid wanted to express himself with clothes and I didn’t give him enough wiggle room. And the other kid didn’t care about clothes at all. I know that it’s challenging – we, as parents, often think that how our kids look is a reflection on how good we are at our job of parenting. But in hindsight, my learning is that I made it a bigger deal than it needed to be. So, here are a few key tips (that I wish I had thought of earlier) on talking to your kids about clothes and more specifically, on reaching a consensus so that you’re happy, they’re happy, and it’s just not such a big deal.
STEP AWAY FROM THE CLOTHES
My biggest piece of advice is to avoid having conversations about clothes while your kids are getting dressed or after they’re already dressed for the day. If you’re concerned about what your children are wearing, a proactive approach will probably prove more productive. And even having initial conversations around appearance and impressions are better done away from the closet.
DE-PERSONALIZE THE EXAMPLES
If you’re having conversations with your opinionated 5 year old around clothes (or even with your teenager), a first step can be de-personalizing examples. Instead of saying, “you should be dressing like this”, take a look at some images and discuss what makes sense for specific occasions and what doesn’t. That way, you’re not critiquing what they’re wearing (or want to wear) at the moment – you’re showing examples of what you think works, and you can see what they would choose and discuss why. And ideally, you can reach a consensus.
Depending on your child’s age, you can simply look at photos or advertisements to talk about what works for the weather, what matches or not, etc. For older kids and teens, it may be an exercise of each of you working on a Pinterest board, selecting photos depicting what you think makes sense for school outfits, for church outfits and other events – and then using this as a point of departure for a discussion.
PREP IN ADVANCE
If mornings had become torture in helping your kids figure out what to wear, then it pays to do a little prep. On the weekend, choose a few outfits for the week. Or even take an hour or two to create a bunch of looks from their closet and photograph them. And then on any given day, they can choose whichever outfit photo they want to wear. Essentially, you’re narrowing their options from their entire wardrobe into a selection of outfits that make sense for what they’re doing that day.
And if your challenge is that your kids are creatures of habit and they wear the same things all the time, be strategic in how you put their laundry back in their drawers/closet. Instead of putting the freshly washed (and often worn) t-shirts at the top of the stack, put them at the bottom. Clean shirts and pants can go at the back of the closet, not the front. My younger son is in this camp, and this strategy was an easy one to get him to rotate through his clothes more.
ALIGN ON FUNCTION
When you just can’t agree on what your kids are wearing, or you’re thinking that they dress way too casual most of the time, get back to the basics of clothes – function. Figure out why they like something so much and provide them with a just-as-useful alternative. Flip flops can be replaced with decent sandals, basketball shorts can upgrade to cotton drawstring shorts and pajama pants can transition to joggers.
Guiding your kids on what to wear – especially when you don’t agree – can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a battle. What works for me (now) is removing the notion that it reflects on me as a parent, and instead getting back to the basics of what works for the weather and for the occasion. And yes – I cringe when my son would wear a striped shirt and plaid shorts, but I try to remember that it was just him, doing his thing.