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Toddler-Parent Wardrobe Wars

Your daughter is three years old.  This morning, she came out of her bedroom wearing her purple sweatpants and her green dress blouse that was intended just for your family Christmas photograph.  Oh, and let’s not forget that she was wearing her snow boots . . . the meteorologist on the news this morning said today’s high would reach 75*F.  Snow boots?!

As a parent, this is a tricky situation.  First of all, your daughter may dig in her heels (so to speak) about what she’s wearing on her feet and, frankly, about the rest of her outfit as well.  You don’t want to start your day with a small nuclear explosion in your household, or at least the family conflict equivalent of that.  Second, you don’t want to compromise your daughter’s confidence in her ability to dress herself or express her personality creatively.   On the other hand, what will people think about you and your daughter if she goes out looking like that?  And what if she stains or tears her Christmas blouse before the family Christmas photograph is taken?  Won’t her little feet become uncomfortably hot in those snow boots as the day reaches its high temperature?  And how will she ever learn how to assemble a well coordinated outfit if you don’t show her?

In this author’s opinion, the wise parent chooses his/her battles carefully.  This choice can be made based on the following considerations.

1.      How headstrong is your daughter and how prepared are you to undertake a battle this morning?  If your daughter is open to suggestion, then proceed with voicing your redirection.  If your daughter is headstrong and you have the time and energy for the battle, by all means, have at it.  If your daughter is headstrong and you do not have the time and/or energy for the fight, you may want to let go of this particular fight today.

2.      How harshly does your daughter take redirection?  If your redirecting her about her outfit will not adversely affect her self-confidence or creativity, you may offer your redirection.  If your redirecting her about her outfit will adversely affect her self-confidence or creativity, you may choose a different time to speak with her about coordinating outfits appropriately.  The better timing may be when you can praise an outfit she has chosen, show her a well coordinated outfit that someone else has chosen, or look through a clothing retailer’s catalog to discuss the outfits displayed there.  (See #6 below.)

3.      How important is it to your family to be seen in the community in a proper manner?  If it is important to your family, you may choose to prepare for battle with your toddler.  If it is unimportant to your family, you may want to let this wardrobe battle pass you by.  Additionally, how harshly will your daughter receive negative public feedback, if any is forthcoming?  Let’s be clear: children can be mean.  If your neighbor children tease your daughter for her “goofy” outfit, how hurtful will that be to your daughter?  If your daughter is “thin skinned”, you may choose to address her inappropriate clothing choices to spare her the hurt of peer-level ridicule.  If your daughter is more cavalier about the opinions of others, then this battle may not be worth the fight for you.

4.      Is there a specialty item-related concern that you cannot reasonably overcome?  In the above example, if the Christmas blouse was made by Grandma, just for your little girl, then that will be hard to replace if the blouse is damaged.  It may be best to save that blouse for dressy occasions, like the family Christmas photograph.  If so, prepare for battle.  If not, let your daughter wear the blouse.

5.       Are there safety and health risks?  Could she freeze or fry based on her inappropriate clothing?  Could her outfit expose her to risk in other respects (i.e., wide legged pants getting caught in the bicycle she’s about to ride)?  If there are serious risks involved, you may choose to prepare for battle.  If not, you may choose to let your child have her way on this issue.

6.      How will your daughter learn to dress appropriately?  The answer lies in a multifaceted approach to this lesson:  you lead by example (i.e., you should coordinate your own outfits well), you speak with your daughter about the choices you make (i.e., “I’d love to wear my purple blouse tonight, but it won’t go with my red skirt, so I guess I’ll select a difference blouse.”), you expose your daughter to others who dress appropriately, and you provide your daughter with carefully considered (see #1-5 above) positive and negative feedback  about the choices that she herself makes relative to her outfits.

By choosing battles wisely, parents can guide their toddlers on proper outfit selection.  It’s true that battles may rage from time to time, but we, as parents, are responsible for guiding our children through this and other learning curves of growing up.

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