Locked in a skirmish with your preteen over what she's wearing? Or anticipating trouble ahead? It's an age-old quandary, one that perpetually perplexes parents and annoys their children: You want them to look a certain way, and they see themselves differently. Here are some tried-and-true ideas, directly from parents, that can help defuse fights over clothes.
- Try humor. "You know that awful moment when they appear wearing something outrageous? It's usually morning, when we're all in a rush to get out of the house. I asked my son to walk into the kitchen backwards if anything about his clothing is going to shock me. This gives me a chance to gather my wits and keeps me from blurting out something I'll regret that would just spark an argument. By now, it's become a joke with us. I've learned to appreciate my son's creativity."
—Sarah, New Mexico
- Have a gentle talk. "My 11 year old wanted to wear bare-midriff tops and short shorts. Her father and I sat down with her to talk about our family's values and the meanings of certain types of clothing. Our daughter simply didn't know the connotations of some of the revealing clothing she was choosing. She just knew what she'd seen on TV and magazines. I also make a point of watching TV with her and our two teenage sons, just so I can put my two cents in as I see fit. They say 'Oh, Mom!' but I know they're listening, and sometimes it sparks a discussion. It's up to us, not pop culture, to tell these kids what's important in life."
—Christina, New Jersey
- Give up some ground. "I let my kids have one day a week to be creative: Saturday!"
- Enforce natural consequences. "When Elizabeth was a preteen we used to argue over whether she needed to wear a coat. We'd go out, she'd get cold, and I would end up giving her my coat. One day, a light bulb went on in my head. I said, ‘Honey, I'd give up my life for you, but not the coat on my back.’ She survived and we never had the argument again. She suddenly got better about knowing if she needed to wear a coat."
—Libby, New York
- Don't take it personally. "Now that my kids are older, I have to approach them in a new way — not so bossy. I learned some tips in a teen drug seminar that work in all kinds of situations: Try to set a positive tone. Start with the facts, not judgments. Avoid using accusatory language. Never call your child names or label her. I remind myself not to get emotional; I treat it like a situation at work."
—Sarah, New Mexico
- Give them a taste of the same medicine. "Dress outlandishly yourself, if you think it will make them laugh. If it just annoys them, don't bother."
—Maria, New Jersey
- Try bribery. "If it's a special occasion and the grandparents are going to be there, I bribe my kids with candy. Otherwise I don't fight about clothes. I remove offending articles if they are that bad."
- Rely on the school dress code. Educators have a feel for what's "in" in the apparel department. Call the guidance counselor to get feedback if you feel out of touch with what kids are wearing. Then talk with your child and together establish some guidelines (the word "rules" is bound to chafe) you both can feel comfortable with. "My neighbor Sherrie works at the school. I always ask her what's going on. Something may be a fad that I'm unaware of."
- Let it be. "I pick a different battle unless it's really, really bad!"
- Embrace the chaos. Remind yourself it's only a phase. The worst dresser, boy or girl, can turn into a fashion plate overnight. "My son was such a slob, and then suddenly he wanted to go to Banana Republic. I think he met a girl!"