Ask the Parent: Hassle Free, Cost Effective Dressing for Kids

by Maxine Sprague


Sarah arrived at playschool Tuesday morning wearing a very uncoordinated outfit. A string of rainbow colored beads hung from her neck and a bright smile lit up her face. "Good Morning Mrs. Ward," she sang out merrily. "Don't I look nice today? I dressed all by myself."

If you've ever felt like sending your child out with a big banner that reads, "I choose my own clothes", you're probably not alone. Many parents feel the way their children look and dress is a strong reflection on them. This way of thinking might work when they are babies but since clothing is likely to be one of the areas where a toddler will choose to assert their independence and because there are many more important issues to negotiate in a child's life, it's best to get over the embarrassment and give them lots of room for individuality when it comes to clothing. If you are fortunate to still be choosing and coordinating their outfits into the teenage years, count yourself one among few.

To make choosing clothing an inexpensive and positive experience for both you and your child, try using some of the following ideas.

  1. Allow your child to make choices about what she will wear at an early age. Do this by offering two or three outfits and let her choose which one she would like to wear. This technique helps the child become a decision maker as well as giving her a sense of control and independence.

  2. Buy or make clothing that is attractive, comfortable to wear and easy to put on and remove. If all the clothes your child has to wear are acceptable to you, then even if they choose their own outfit, they can't possibly choose something you don't like.

  3. Teach your child how to undress and dress himself at an early age. This gives him independence and responsibility and lessens your need to control the dressing situation. If you find it difficult to keep from intervening when they are struggling with dressing themselves, busy yourself somewhere else. Just be sure to allow plenty of time for them to get dressed.

  4. Help your child develop a positive self-image by encouraging her efforts at self-dressing. When your Toddler runs to you for the first time, excitably babbling about how she put her own shirt on, offer praise and resist the urge to point out that it's on backwards. Getting it on the right way will come with time. Helping your child develop a positive self-image will also encourage her to take pride in her appearance.

  5. Helping your child become aware of colors will help him in coordinating outfits. Keeping matching tops and pants together in his drawers or closet will also help him select a coordinated outfit. Buying tops and pants in a similar color scheme will make for a more cost effective wardrobe and will lessen the possibility of the mismatched look.

  6. Let your child help you select clothing or fabrics for sewing. If they like the clothes, they will be more likely to want to wear them. Buying clothing requires some thoughtful decisions. The cheapest buy doesn't always work out that way in the long term. There are times when a higher priced item turns out to be less expensive because the style and durability allows it to be worn many more times than a cheaper item.

  7. If it's really important to you that your child wears a certain outfit for a specific occasion, explain why it is important and expect her cooperation. She'll be more likely to go along with your request if she knows she has freedom to make her own choices most of the time.

  8. Avoid apologizing to others about the way your child looks "because she chose her own clothes". Chances are you'll draw attention to something they didn't notice until you mentioned it.

  9. Encourage your child to be responsible for his own clothing. Provide a basket for soiled clothing. Mounting a basketball hoop above it is a fun way to encourage him to use it. Get him to help with sorting laundry, washing clothes, folding and putting his own clothing away. It takes time to teach these skills but the benefits in the long term are well worth it. Encouraging him to change into older clothing for outdoor and other activities will help keep his best clothing looking new longer.

  10. Relax and let your children be children. It's more important to encourage a positive self-image and independence in self-care than to worry about the mismatched outfit they chose. With the current emphasis on expensive brand name clothing, you might be glad you encouraged independent thinking and allowed your child to stand out in the crowd at an early age.

Maxine Sprague, BEd. is a parent, educator, and author of three books including her latest, Super Easy Bag Lunches - Recipes and Hundreds of Other Happy Baggin' It Ideas.

To submit a parenting question that you would like answered, write to parenting@stretcher.com - please put "Column Questions" in the subject field. The Ask a Parent Column is based on personal experience and is in no way intended to replace medical, legal, financial or other professional advice. Although every effort is made to ensure that the information is accurate and presents no threat to personal health or safety, the author assumes no liability that may result from use of the material and advises readers to use their own commonsense and good judgement.

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