Don’t Worry About What Your Kids Are Wearing
It’s no secret that I like clothes. Getting dressed is fun for me. Wearing something I enjoy gives me a continuous drip of pleasure throughout the day. I like the language of clothes and what they communicate to others.
The genesis for this entire site was how we can use clothes to be better dads.
All of that can predictably be extrapolated to “Well, then what should my kids wear? If I am using clothes as a means to communicate my values to them, shouldn’t I make sure they dress ‘properly’?”
It’s a valid concern. As parents, we always feel like our kids reflect us. If our kid is throwing a tantrum in the store, we are convinced that everyone watching thinks we are terrible parents.
So as people who care about clothes, ourselves, it stands to reason we should care about what our kids wear, right?
As someone who has always had self-esteem issues, I have been very careful about how my love of clothes filters down to my boys. There’s always the fear that my passion will manifest as anxiety in them. That would be tragic.
So I don’t worry at all about what my kids are wearing. They are five and two. They aren’t old enough to distinguish between “I’m wearing this because I feel like it presents my best self” and “My self-worth is tied to how I look”.
Once they get older you can start casting the askance glances when they walk out the door in something ridiculous (within reason, and always from a place of love and support, of course). But when they are really little your goal should be building their confidence and being positive.
When my son walks into the kitchen after getting dressed for school, I always tell him he looks great. It doesn’t matter which shirt he has chosen or how messy his hair is (his hair is short so it’s never really that messy). It doesn’t matter. He looks great no matter what.
I don’t even focus much on how he looks. I always try to emphasize working hard and treating people well.
For special occasions my wife and I do try to get him into some nicer things. And, surprisingly, he has never really protested too much. For a recent event he wanted to wear his cowboy boots with his khakis and blazer. No problem. Once the event was over he was eager to doff the tie and jacket. Again, no problem.
He’s a little kid. He doesn’t need to worry about how he looks yet. He had on a jacket and tie long enough for us to snap a picture, and that’s all we cared about.
But how do we care about clothes without accidentally teaching our kids to tie their self-esteem to how they dress/look?
Here are four things to remember if you are at all concerned about how your kids should dress…
#1 – Have fun with it.
Like I said, I like getting dressed. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a suit or a flannel shirt. I love it all.
Make sure your kids see the happiness that dressing brings you.
If I’m wearing a cashmere sweater, I’ll encourage my sons to touch it. “Oooo! So soft”, I’ll say.
The other day I was wearing a tie with little bulldogs on it that look exactly like our dog. My son got a real kick out of that when I pointed it out to him.
Little things like that. Levity. Positivity. Fun. I think the reason my sons are cool wearing bow-ties is because they see me wearing them and enjoying them.
#2 – Don’t be fussy or judgmental.
I’m always saying how you should absolutely NOT be fussy with your clothes. Don’t be so prim that you can’t get down on the floor with your kids and don’t be so fastidious that every crease or wrinkle ruffles your feathers.
But more importantly, don’t be fussy with THEIR clothes. If something doesn’t fit right on them, or if there is a little stain or whatever, just let it go. If they seem fine with it, then it should be fine with you.
If you’re nitpicky with them, the only thing you’ll accomplish is making them feel self-conscious.
And don’t ever be judgmental. That is a quick way to make sure they never feel comfortable around you again.
#3 – Be liberal with compliments.
Just like I always tell my son he looks great in the morning, I say the same thing to my wife.
Not only because she DOES actually look great every day, but it’s important for my sons to hear their dad saying nice things to their mom. My wife does the same with me.
It makes niceness and compliments the norm. It makes courtesy and positivity the baseline and the expectation.
And since it’s so frequent, it shows that it doesn’t really matter what they are wearing. It shows that, to dad, they will always be beautiful.
#4 – Be gracious when someone compliments YOU.
This is probably the least-obvious one but it is critically important.
We’re all aware that our kids see and absorb everything we do. Now, imagine your kids see someone compliment your appearance. If you say something like “Oh, no! I look terrible!” or “Yeah, well I haven’t worked out in ages!” or “Ugh, the kids had me up all night!” then your kids will think self-deprecation is normal.
It shouldn’t be.
I get you’re trying to be modest. But all you need to say when someone compliments you is “Thank you!”
Your well-meaning modesty just shows your kids that they should apologize for the things they’re good at.
I know you don’t want to come across as sounding arrogant when someone compliments you. But better that than teaching your children by example to normalize putting themselves down.
Also, that faux-modesty just makes the compliment-giver uncomfortable.
So avoid all of this ugliness and just say “thanks” when someone says you look good.
With all of this being said, you already know that you’ll never be perfect. There is no way to completely protect our children from every bad feeling or insecure thought. To catch every raindrop. We just need to do the best we can.
Be as conscientious of their feelings as possible and do the best you can.