Kids and Fashion: Who, What, Wear?

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.
—Coco Chanel

As parents, we learn to choose our battles wisely. In many families, fashion—clothes, hair, and accessories—is territory rife with opportunity for disagreement. If you simply don’t like your child’s appearance, it’s sometimes best to just “go with the flow” and recognize that fashion choices are a way to express independence, a sense of self, and identity with a peer group. Most fashions also quickly become unfashionable, making way for some new trend.

On the other hand, if your child is taking daring risks by violating school or public boundaries, exposing too much skin, or showing a dramatic change in behavior along with altered appearance, it’s time to step in. While that’s easier said than done, here are some tips that can help:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • As soon as your children are ready, give them choices of what they can wear. Limit their options to two or three outfits or parts so they aren’t overwhelmed.
    • Teach and model good hygiene, such as always brushing teeth, combing hair, washing thoroughly, and so on. If and when your kids rebel later by wearing clothes you don’t like, at least they’re be more likely to be clean and smell good.
    • This is a great age for playing “dress up” and wearing costumes. Keep a bin of fun things to wear in the play area: hats, capes, scarves, old costume jewelry, and shoes. Often children’s personalities begin to show through in their choices!
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Encourage your children to choose clothes that are comfortable and practical, even when “dressing up.” They’ll be more likely to want to look good in your eyes if they feel good too.
    • Gently reinforce messages to your kids about keeping certain parts of their bodies private. This will help them understand why they should choose clothes that cover those parts.
    • Remember, it’s a good sign for your child to express personal preferences related to hairstyles, types of clothing, or the way fabric feels.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Talk with your kids about society’s messages regarding appearance. Discuss their reactions to those messages.
    • Choose your battles wisely. Hair can be grown out, but some changes are permanent, so have discussions early about alterations that are permanent.
    • Know the dress codes of your kids’ schools, and make sure your kids follow them, even if they tell you “no one else does.”
    • If you’re curious about certain styles you notice teens wearing, ask your kids about them. Do the styles have names? Is there a certain type of person who usually dresses that way? Asking questions might make you seem out of touch to your kids, but it’s actually a way to stay connected to their world.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Acknowledge times when your teens express themselves through their style choices by paying compliments: “That hairstyle really suits you” or “Your new jacket really looks great on you.”
    • If you still buy clothes for your teens, establish boundaries around cost and style regarding what you will and won’t buy.
  • If your teen’s style changes dramatically, consider that something besides style change might be going on. Take the sometimes-tough step of initiating a conversation with phrases like “I’ve noticed lately that you’re dressing very differently than you used to. Is anything besides fashion responsible for the changes I see? If you don’t want to talk to me about it, is there another adult you’d be willing to talk to?”

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