Kids. Clothes. Choices. Oh my…

A great way to express one’s individuality is through the clothes you choose to wear. The end result can be interesting and expressive when it’s an adult accomplishment – humorous, playful and sometimes “out there” when it’s a child. I have to say, for me, clothing/fashion, is always a statement. It’s a very personal way to show off how you feel about yourself and your place in this world. It’s a way of expressing emotions. Like any design element, it initiates thought and a conversation. Whether you engage a person based on what they are wearing or spend time with them in your mind, you are giving them some consideration. Who is this person? Wonder what they like/don’t like? What do they do? All sorts of things run through your mind. You may not even be aware of it. As your brain scans what your eyes see it instantly starts to form an opinion, a relationship, and decides how you relate to what you’ve just seen.

As our kids get older they eventually reach the stage where they learn to dress themselves. A huge accomplishment for a child. At this point they are so proud of this new skill that it doesn’t really matter to them which pair of socks they’ve learned to put on. Just the fact that they can get that blue sock on their foot is good enough for them. Time goes by and they begin to recognize that all clothes are not the same. I like the hoodie my brother wears to school. I don’t like the pants my mom bought me to wear to grandma’s birthday party. At this point kids are learning that they can make choices. They are developing their own sense of themselves. Their personalities start to shine. As a parent, the worst thing you can do is forget that each child is unique. At this stage in their development you have to take a step back and let them show you who they want to be.

Aside from all of the benchmarks and benefits associated with the newfound discovery of the ability to chose, there are some interesting family dynamics that accompany this phase in your child’s life. I’ll post some links for you if you’re interested in the child development aspects of all of this. For now, let’s explore some of the fun and contentious moments involving what your kids choose to wear.

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Your pre-schooler received a sweatshirt silk screened with a dinosaur as a birthday present. It instantly became the go-to top to wear. In the beginning it was great because it made getting dressed a quick and easy endeavor. Three months down the road and that same sweatshirt has now shrunk in the wash. It is now a muted shade of its original color. The poor little dinosaur has started to lose his tail thanks to the daily exposure to outdoor play. The once easily recognizable silhouette of dino is now tarnished with the remnants of catsup, grape juice, a little blood, and some brown stuff of which you have no idea of its origin.

The time has come for a change. Now how can you make this inevitable change a fun experience? I know, you take your child to the store with the intention of purchasing the perfect replacement. You go through the racks of clothes and hold up each potential new favorite and it is barely acknowledged. The toy they brought with them is much more interesting. You’re committed to this tactic and purchase a few new tops. Back home you go.

A new day is dawning. It’s time to get up and go. Let’s get dressed.  You step into your son’s bedroom and he is a puddle of tears. It seems you forgot to mention to him yesterday that you were “giving his old sweatshirt a new home”. The world is just not right for him without this shirt – there are no substitutes! Quick thinker that you are you open the closet and pull out the new shirts. Surely their vibrant colors and cute characters will entice your son to see things your way. Not so fast mom… He turns his back on you and goes over to his toy box. Digs a little bit and comes up with his new favorite. You didn’t know that was in there did you? Turns out it’s an equally tattered and torn hoodie that he swiped from his brother. Oh… that’s where that hoodie went? Your son has spoken. This is his decree. I shall wear this “new” hoodie today. You smile. You have to smile at stuff like this. The world is not coming to an end. The day, in fact, has only just begun. Life is good in your house right now.

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You have two daughters. Pre-teens. Two different personalities. Two different mindsets. One doesn’t give a dam about her clothes. The other is all about the complete ensemble. On any given day there is an issue with clothing. For the casual daughter you are continually reminding her that the grunge look is out. She is a girl. You’d kinda like her to look like one. Anything slightly feminine would make you happy. Instead she insists on putting together outfits that look like she’s ready to clean out a barn.

Now think about this for a bit. What is she telling you? She’s telling you and the world that she is not impressed by the superficial machinations involving clothes. She is what she is. Look at me. I’m more than a pretty girl. I’m a brain. Perhaps she hasn’t given it all that much thought. Maybe she’s just telling you that she’s lazy. Maybe she’s the recipient of some nasty comments when she wears a dress. Maybe you need to chill out and just have a little chat with her. As someone who has been on the receiving end of a screaming parent I know the first thing a kid does is tune you out. A much better move is to have some thoughtful conversation.

Without putting your daughter in a defensive pose try to find out what she is trying to express through her choices. Is she involved with a group of friends that all dress this way? Does she have some body image issue that needs to be discussed? Is there a self esteem problem brewing? Is she the outdoors type and just feels more comfortable dressed like this? Whatever you do, don’t pounce on her like she’s done something wrong. The only crime she’s committed is picking out clothes that you don’t care for. There’s a great way to connect with your kids. Let them know they are being heard.

Your more fashion forward daughter has developed quite the talent for visual essay with her clothing choices. She can put together combinations that leave you speechless. Not that any of her wardrobe choices are truly offensive, you just question the advisability of partnering skinny jeans, a tutu, and cowboy boots. Keep in mind that all of this makes perfect sense to your daughter. She is a fashion rebel. She is a pushing the envelope – thinking out of the box. That’s great you think, but I don’t know if I’m all that comfortable going to my son’s kindergarten recital with a daughter who could give Lady Gaga a run for her money fashion wise. Think about it mom. How do your kids feel about the way you dress? Hah… you never did think about that did you?

Time for a little give and take. Unless she’s dressing in an inappropriate way for her age or not dressing enough (if you get my drift), I think there’s some leeway. It’s concessions time… spin the wheel. Have a little chat. Set some boundaries. As long as she feels like you’re accepting her for the person she wants to be she’ll keep listening. Acknowledge that you see her flare for fashion. Acknowledge her unique style. Hopefully with a little thoughtful back and forth the two of you will be able to find ways and circumstances where she will be able to express herself and you will be able to feel comfortable and connected to your daughter. Maybe the skinny jeans and the cowboy boots are ok, but we leave the tutu home on the night of her brother’s kindergarten recital. Maybe on the next trip to Saturday Market you let her be herself. Sometimes having a friend or two who dress the same way will take the edge off an unconventional outfit. If she wants to go to a movie with some girlfriends and they all decide to dress like an anime cartoon, what’s the harm in that? Remember to smile when you see this. Take a photo too. Someday you’ll look at that picture and turn to each other and just smile.

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High school is a lot of things for kids. In so many ways they feel the stresses of adulthood looming in their not so distant future. There are so many choices to be made. So many expectations. It’s easy to feel like you’re just a number waiting in line for your future to begin. One really great thing that I’ve noticed with kids as they hit their teens is their ability to tap into the things that really excite them. Their passion. Some have to work on this by experimenting with different sports, or the arts, or a certain field of study. Once they hit on something that resonates with them they want to make it a part of themselves and show the world who they are. They become that passion that has taken over their lives. I think this is one facet of how peer groups form. We’ve all seen the different groups in school. The jocks. The drama club. The science group. The tech crew. In your mind’s eye you can see what they look like.

With this in mind, when your teen starts choosing clothes that you might find offensive, provocative, confrontational, anti-social, and the like, it might be time to take stock of what they are telling you. At this age I don’t think you can impose your will on them when it comes to choices. By now you should have instilled in them the skills they need to make decisions. There is a process to making a good decision. If you think your teen has thought things through and can actually tell you why they want to dress the way they do I think you’ve accomplished your goal. On the other hand if the way they dress is more an act of defiance and appears to be out of character, it should be a call to action to find out what is going on in your teen’s world.

I am speaking for myself right now – I have great respect for people who dress outside the norm. If it is being done with total confidence in yourself and the statement you are displaying I can’t argue with your choices. If on the other hand it is being done as a way to bring attention to yourself, as a way to fit in, call for help, defy authority, or any other negative motive I find it disturbing. Back to the kids… Find the time to talk to your teen. What’s going on in their life? Maybe the clothes they’ve been wearing in a way of telling you visually what they can’t tell you verbally. Perhaps you child doesn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer and so they’ve decided to dress with a more theatrical flare hoping that will be the impetus toward a conversation about their future desires. By this age your child knows what they like and dislike, what they want and don’t want. All a parent has to do is be there for them. Support those decisions. Make sure they have been thoroughly processed and are genuine. Be proud of the individual that stands in front of you. If you’ve given them all the tools to be the best person they can be on the inside, don’t be so fretful about their outside attire. A good kid is a good kid. Period.

Life is too short to get hung up on superficial shortcomings. Kids grow up quicker than we ever imagined. Pick your battles wisely. Compromise whenever it’s prudent. Most of all listen and be engaged. And on the day your daughter tries to go to school with a pink sequined scarf wrapped around her head like a turban simply ask her, “Did you remember to pack your lunch?”

If you’d like to read more about the importance of offering a child the opportunity to choose, I’ve pulled some articles for you. Here are the links:

By Gret Boyd

 

Green socks. Red shoes. Yellow shirt. Pants stained with glue.Kids.—Green socks. Red shoes. Yellow shirt. Pants stained with glue.

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