Letting your child choose their own clothes can be a real adventure.
A few weeks ago I heard myself say, “You can be a dinosaur. You just have to wear a coat over the top.” There are some things only the parent of a toddler will ever say.
It was in response to my daughter’s insistence on wearing a dinosaur costume from last Halloween outside for a walk. I said, yes because these are not the kind of battles I find worth fighting. Besides the dinosaur costume is really warm, perfect for a winter walk.
For the most part, I believe in letting kids choose their own clothes. My four-year-old has been picking her own outfits ever since she learned to express an opinion. So pretty much from her first word.
Since I work from home, most days it doesn’t matter in the slightest what she is wearing as long as it’s weather appropriate when we go outside. I like to save my energy for battles where health and safety are at stake.
There are a couple of instances where I do insist on choosing Ellie’s clothes. Or at least approving her choices before we head out the door. Usually, this is for going to church, family events, friend’s houses, or any time her choices are inappropriate for the weather.
Ellie spent nearly all of last summer in long sleeves. Except on the days when it was scorching outside and I insisted she put on a t-shirt. It was an ongoing battle. I couldn’t figure out why until one day Ellie told me it was because it was easier for her to pull her shirt off herself when it had long sleeves she could pull on. Which shows you how far she will go to maintain her independence.
This winter she is insisting on wearing shorts. Because the Kratt Brothers usually wear shorts. I allow it as long as she puts pants underneath to go outside. It could be worse, she could be wanting to dress like Caillou.
Because I usually give Ellie creative control of her outfits, she is annoyed whenever I feel the need to run interference. So I’ve had to come up with a few strategies for helping her choose clothes that work for wherever we are going.
Whether you struggle to get your child out of tutu, pirate costume, or just their favorite pair of permanently stained pajama pants, maybe the following ideas can help.
How to Let Your Child Choose Their Own Clothes
1. Create a Fail-Safe Environment
I’ve read many articles advising parents to give our children two choices of outfits and have them pick one. When I do that, my daughter stares me down and demands to see more options. It already takes more time to get ready than I ever manage to plan for. I don’t have time to physically wrestle Ellie into one of the two outfit options I’m presenting her with. And that’s what it would take to win.
So, I create a diversion and while she is busy, remove every inappropriate or undesirable item of clothing from her dresser. Then she can choose from everything that’s left.
If your problem is seasonal, shorts in winter, or long sleeves in summer, pack that stuff up. Leave behind only the clothes it makes sense for your child to be wearing right now. Or learn to bargain. Shorts are ok with pants underneath. Or long sleeves where there is air conditioning. But short sleeves outside in hot weather. Figure out what you can both live with.
If there is a favorite shirt or pair of pants that is too stained, too small, or just too hideous for your child to wear to church, or daycare, or the family reunion, let them wear it at home. But when you need it gone, let your child know it’s in the laundry. Or mysteriously got wet. Or whatever story will take it out of commission for the day without a battle.
2. Enlist Your Child in Clothes Shopping (or Choose Things They Like)
If your little one likes clothes with dinosaurs on them, get them a few different dinosaur shirts that are nice enough for church, or grandma’s house, or wherever. Maybe for your child, it’s skirts or shorts in winter. Find some with matching leggings that can be worn all year.
If there is one raggedy shirt or a stained pair of pants your kiddo wants to wear daily, try to find out what they like about it. My daughter had a pair of hand me down pink pants that were so stained they looked like they were actually brown. They had to go. After a little talking, I discovered what Ellie loved about them was the pockets. I bought her a few nice looking pants with pockets and was able to quietly disappear the hideous pink pants.
I’ve had a lot of success getting clothes for my daughter that cater to her taste but are also acceptable to me when we are going out in public. She now has an entire wardrobe of beautiful dinosaur and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle clothing that can go just about anywhere.
3. Decide if it’s Worth the Battle
Even when Ellie walks out in an outfit that makes me laugh (or cringe), I usually let her wear whatever she’s chosen. I save my interference for the times it’s really important to me. Or a question of her comfort and safety.
If my only issue with my daughter’s chosen attire is that I’m afraid someone might judge me for what she is wearing, that is more my problem than hers. And she should get to wear whatever she wants. Daycare providers, grocery store clerks, and librarians aren’t likely to be shocked by a kid in a pirate costume or a pair of shorts over their pants. And if they are, I don’t honestly care.
There have, of course, been times when I needed my daughter to wear clothes that were not of her choosing. When I’ve needed Ellie to change into an outfit that I chose, I tell her why and offer her choices within the bounds of what I will allow. It doesn’t always go smoothly, but not everything can. Thankfully, that is pretty rare.
Most of the time my kiddo is roaming free in whatever outfit she has chosen to present to the world. Right now, she’s wearing a dinosaur costume with shorts over the top and the top half of her bathing suit. She said it’s because she wants to be a basilisk lizard.
I said, “Of course it is, darling.”
If you have any tips for letting your child choose their own clothes or funny stories, please feel free to share them in the comments.