Q. My 6-year-old daughter has had issues with clothes for a couple of years. We lay her clothes out before bed, but in the morning she always tries to change what she's decided upon, which makes her late and my husband and I very frustrated. I have tried giving her two choices of outfits, taken away her privilege to choose for a week, and punished her by taking nearly everything out of her room. I'm considering making my own uniform for her to wear to school (she attends public school). I have tried to teach my children to dress appropriately according to the weather and occasion. I'd appreciate any suggestions as to how to end this battle completely.
A. I have a sneaking suspicion that the person with "clothing issues" is not your daughter, but you. I'll just bet that rather than "teaching" your daughter to dress appropriately you are actually micromanaging her choice of outfits during the evening selection session, attempting to steer her toward the outfit you want her to wear.
Example: "Well that's a nice pair of shorts, sweetheart, but don't you think you're going to be a little chilly in shorts? The weather report says it's going to be cold tomorrow morning. What about this pair of long pants? They'd go really well with the pink top I bought you last week. (Holding up long pants and pink top) See? Isn't that pretty?"
Assuming I've hit the proverbial nail on its head, you probably think you're being subtle, but your attempt to manipulate your daughter's "choice" isn't lost on her. Six-year-olds are very intuitive. They know when someone's trying to put one over on them.
If I'm correct (and remember, I'm a psychologist, so I can tell things about you, even by mail, that you don't even realize about yourself), then the problem is your behavior, not some developing neurosis over clothes on your daughter's part. You say she's changing what she's decided upon. I speculate that she's cooperating with you in the evening and then trying the next morning to exert some control over what she wears. You and your daughter are in a power struggle of a sort, but as you've already discovered, one that is not going to be solved by punishing her. Said another way, you're barking up the wrong tree, trying to change the wrong person's behavior.
Consider that if you were dealing with a 6-year-old boy, you'd probably let him pick out his own clothes, no matter how odd his choices. Why? Because in the mind of today's all-too-typical mom, what her son wears to school does not reflect as much upon the quality of her mothering as what her daughter wears to school.
My advice (if you haven't guessed it by now) is that you let your daughter choose her own school clothes. You shouldn't even be in the room. You shouldn't even dictate whether she makes the choice the night before or in the morning. Then, you should allow her to wear to school what she wants to wear as long as it adheres to certain practical standards of cleanliness and decorum (e.g., no dirty or torn clothes, no Halloween costumes). If she ends up looking ridiculous (unlikely), her peers are going to let her know, and she is going to adjust her choices accordingly.
Voil & agrave;! End of power struggle, end of morning clothing hassles, end of mom and dad's frustrations. Wasn't that easy?
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.