It’s time to walk out the door and your child refuses to take off the pirate costume (or striped shirt with plaid skirt), mismatched shoes and miscellaneous accessories. In a sigh of frustration, you ask your child to change clothes into something more “appropriate” and you’re met with a tantrum. What’s the next step? Do you argue, cajole and wrestle your munchkin into something you prefer, or do you let it go and let your kiddos pick out their own clothes?
Jamie Wilson, mother of three, says, “Letting your kids decide on their clothing has its pros and cons. With my first child, she had to be dressed to the nines, everything matching and dresses. Now, she won’t even look at a dress. My five year old, and the last, is a different story. I let him decide what he wants to wear, and to him, clothing is optional. Now his thing is dinosaurs and Paw Patrol costumes. It’s all fun and games until you have to go to church and school. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to allow your children to be their own person and let them decide what they want to wear. To me, it builds confidence and lets their little/big personalities shine.”
Ashley Finnegan, mom of two young sons, agrees. “Both of our boys have been picking out their outfits and getting themselves dressed since they were two years old. Since young children have very little “control” over most areas of their life, we feel like choosing their clothing is something harmless that gives them a sense of independence. Getting dressed used to be a major headache for us. Trying to get them to wear what WE felt like they should wear only led to fits. Finally, we decided to pick and choose our battles. Most days their clothes don’t match. Sometimes they forget underwear or choose to wear pajamas. Many days they choose boots with shorts. They both went through a costume phase, so many days they would choose to be a superhero, army guy or police officer. If anything, it always gives people a good laugh. If they can bring a smile to someone’s face, then why not?”
Heather Montes, mother of three, also believes in letting her children pick out their own outfits. “I had a friend who would not let her son wear cartoon clothes in public. She insisted he wear put together outfits from Janie and Jack or Gymboree. While I may agree it’s not the perfect choice for a special occasion, wearing Marvel to the playground or library story time is what kids do. I like to let my kids be a little more colorful in their off-school- time. I may have hindered their sense of style by not guiding their choices, but I could also be providing them liberties to curate their own sense of style. When else in life can we wear whatever makes us feel happy and confident without fear of judgment? My son was always in costume. Firefighter at the grocery store, Batman at Target, Ironman at Olive Garden. My older daughter went through a stage of loving dresses for all occasions. My youngest daughter just does whatever she feels like.”
Children don’t have control over many aspects of daily life. They are directed where to go and when, how and what to do. While parental guidance is important for teaching fundamentals and safety, children also need to learn who they are as individuals, apart from their parents. Evolving decision making skills is an important step in development. While children are not cognitively prepared to make all decisions, allowing them some leeway to make less critical decisions builds confidence and character.
If you’re not ready to fully release the reins, try giving your child clothing options that are acceptable to you. Give them two options and let them pick what they prefer. Another possibility for coordinated choice is the Garanimals clothing line, available at Walmart. Each clothing item has a corresponding animal on the tag. Shirts with a tiger tag will match any of the bottoms with a tiger tag. This is a great way to incorporate multiple skills – encouraging choice as well as matching practice.
At the end of the day, consider the reasons you are hesitant to let your kiddos pick out their own clothes and express their unique personality through their own sense of style. What is most important to you – worrying about what other parents will say about your child’s colorful choices or imparting lessons that will help foster decisiveness and independence? While their choices may make you cringe, consider letting them make some of the clothing decisions, even if it’s only on the weekends.
Photos courtesy of Jamie Wilson, Heather Montes and Ashley Finnegan.