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July 2, 2005
Battles Over Clothing
Tip—Try to find middle ground in clothing battles—something both of you can live with.
I recently received a big bag of hand-me-down play clothes from my sister. Although I was pleased, I asked her why she wasn’t using these clothes for her younger daughter. She sighed, “Because she won’t wear anything right now except one particular pair of soccer shorts.” Being interested in soccer is great, however it’s causing more than one clothing battle with her mother. My sister recounted her woes in getting her daughter to wear anything remotely resembling a dress to church, how she wears the same, unwashed pair of shorts each day, or even resists wearing jeans out to a restaurant for dinner. “I’m at the end of my rope,” she said, “I don’t want to fight with her every single day about this.”
This isn’t a new issue with my niece. I remember daily battles when she was two over what to wear. She typically refuses to wear a coat of any kind. So it’s an ongoing issue, cropping up more intensely from time to time. What’s going on? The issue is really more about control than it is about clothes. Children don’t have a whole lot of control in their daily lives, points out Jan Faull, parent educator and author of Unplugging Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids. Other people typically make most of the decisions for them—what’s for dinner, whether or not to go to school, whether or not a friend can come play, etc. Many children become very possessive over their appearance in an effort to have some “say” in their lives. Faull goes on to say that a child has a natural tendency toward autonomy— directing his or her own life. She recommends that parents support this healthy growth, within reason and according to the age and development level of the child.
Tools—Faull lists “clothing choices” as an appropriate decision for a child to make, starting at age three. The problem for my sister is the lengths to which her daughter takes the soccer shorts. In any power struggle, a parent has three choices, says Faull: hold on, let go, or compromise. In this case, insisting my niece follow her mother’s clothing choices would be “holding on”—a choice my sister doesn’t feel is reasonable for an eight year old. She’s also ruled out “letting go” and allowing her daughter to wear the soccer shorts every day of the week and to all events. Compromise is the obvious choice. Here are a few ideas.
You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Unplugging Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids by Jan Faull, M.Ed.
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