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We’ve all been there: you get up one morning and your toddler insists that she’s going to wear her Halloween costume to daycare – in July. Or your preschooler wants to wear a t-shirt to school in January with rainboots. What do you do? Do you let them dress themselves, or do you insist they put on something more appropriate? It’s a tough decision to make, but as it turns out, letting your children dress themselves can be good for them.

Overcoming The Power Struggle

Perhaps the simplest reason that parents let their children dress themselves is to avoid spending time they simply don’t have on a relatively low-stakes power struggle. You could fight with your kids, who aren’t about to see reason, or you could just allow them to dress themselves, whatever that looks like. Remember, if you’re worried what other people think, this too is something you should just move past. Other parents will understand and beyond that, it doesn’t matter much. Plus, your children don’t care what other people think of the great outfit they picked out on their own. They just want to show it off.

The Importance Of Self-Expression

When children express interest in dressing themselves, they’re actually doing several things. First, they’re exerting control over one of the few things they feel they’re able to. Second, they’re expressing independence and a sense of individual identity, both features that tend to emerge around age two. If your child can say “that’s mine,” then they are also capable of expressing preferences regarding their clothes, so give them a chance to tell you what they like.

Setting Smart Limits

Allowing your children to express their preferences is one thing, but there are occasions when you do have to set some limits, whether those are related to weather or the occasion or simply what’s appropriate for school or church. With that in mind, then, it’s obviously acceptable to set reasonable limits on what your children can wear. Some ways to do that include:

  • Shopping Together: By picking out clothing with your children, you’re able to set limits on what’s in their wardrobe to begin with; you can even give yourself an edge by shopping for complete outfits. Companies like kidpik will ship cute little girls clothes right to your home so you can shop from the comfort of your living room, and many children’s stores offer mix and match items each season.
  • Give Options: As with any situation in which you give a small child a choice, it’s important to restrict the options. You wouldn’t ask your toddler what they want for lunch – you would present them with a choice between two items. On school days, the same rules may apply to clothes. Similarly, it’s absolutely okay to insist that your child wear weather appropriate clothing, especially if its very cold or hot outside
  • Plan In Advance: Getting through the morning routine is hard enough without fighting about clothes at 7:30 AM. Avoid the morning battle by picking out clothing the night before, and then sticking to that decision. Kids are often more reasonable about clothing decisions the night before because the stakes feel lower – they don’t have to put it on right that moment.

The next time your child is testing your limits by insisting on an impractical outfit, remember that selecting and putting on clothing are important skills that foster creativity, self-expression, and motor skill development and by letting your children dress themselves, you’re empowering them to make more important decisions as they grow. We have to give our kids opportunities to develop good judgment, and to use their judgment badly and experience the (low-stakes) consequences as they grow up. Dressing themselves is the perfect place to start.



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