Kids Clothes: Choosing a Wardrobe that Makes Both of You Happy

Has clothing your kids turned into a fashion nightmare? Find a better fit by setting boundaries, then pick your battles wisely. Here’s how:

Karyn Price’s 2-year-old daughter, Sydney, loves her clothes. There’s just one problem. She refuses to wear them. “Every time I turn around she’s taken her clothes off – even her diaper,” says Price. Winter, spring, summer or fall, Sydney wants to run around stark naked. Getting her into a simple shirt and pants – never mind shoes! – is a major ordeal. No wonder Price is ready to pull out her hair.


Few topics are as fraught with emotion for parents as their children’s clothing. From the time toddlers are mobile and have a few words to express themselves, they assert their budding autonomy by indicating what they will and will not wear. Everyone smiles at the adorable 2-year-old wearing a flowered dress over striped pants. But not all clothing issues are so benign.

By the time kids reach adolescence, the subject of clothes can escalate to major debates on belly buttons (to reveal or not to reveal), fit (too tight vs. too baggy, but nothing in between), clothing allowances (since when does a kid’s sweater cost that much?) and more. The daily struggle can wear down even the kindest soul. Parents can’t be blamed for wondering, “Is it too much to ask that my child be comfortably and appropriately attired at a reasonable hour every day?” Well, maybe.

Choose Your Battles Carefully

No matter how old your child is, the best approach to dealing with clothing issues (as with most parenting challenges) is to set clear boundaries and then pick your battles.

“Eating and dressing are two areas that evolve into battles no matter what age your child is,” says Charlene Messenger, Ph.D., an expert on children’s sense of self and author of Secrets of the Third Little Pig: Seven Steps to Build a Child’s Inner Strength. “They both represent autonomy. When a child doesn’t like what is happening in another area of his life, clothes are one way he can express himself and put his foot down.” Clothing choices are an important mode of self-expression.


Messenger, president and founder of a children’s counseling center, urges parents to “decide what you can and can’t live with and then let everything else go.” You might, for example, insist on certain outfits for special occasions (weddings, visits to the grandparents) in exchange for agreeing to let your kids call the shots for school. Explain the reasons behind your decision to the child – “We dress this way to show respect for Grandma and Grandpa,” or “We dress up for celebrations” – but don’t let it be a point for negotiation.


As with other parenting matters, she says, “You can’t fight all the battles all the time.” Though you may grit your teeth, resist the urge to seize your child and forcibly put on – or take off – an object of clothing.


“This topic is just abuzz with emotion – both good and bad,” says Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy. “Some of the best times I’ve had with my 13-year-old daughter have been when I’ve taken her shopping for clothes, just the two of us.”


But for every mother or father who shares idyllic shopping trips with an appreciative child, it seems, there are 10 who despair of ever appearing in public with their child without cringing.