Someone who loves clothes is sometimes referred to as a “clothes horse.” My six-year-old son, however, is more of a “clothes mule.” He stubbornly refuses to wear anything outside his comfort zone. Case clothed.
V-necks? Not his style. He’s strictly a crew neck kind of guy.
Hoods? His older brother’s hand-me-down boxes are full of cozy hooded sweatshirts, but he won’t go near them.
Collars? Nope. He talks about “collar shirts” in an apprehensive tone that most of us reserve for the Norwalk or Zika viruses.
Buttons? Also blacklisted, thanks to their presence on golf shirts and dress shirts (right near the dreaded collars).
Snaps? Forget it. No jeans or khakis here – it’s elastic waistbands as far as the eye can see.
He’s never been able to articulate exactly why he welcomes certain types of garments but shuns others. He doesn’t have a skin condition or anything that causes physical discomfort. It’s simply a preference thing. Since he was a toddler, he has openly and adamantly resisted whenever we try to dress him in something he doesn’t like.
We’ve tried everything. We’ve gotten upset. We’ve stayed calm. We’ve uttered the phrase “you’ll wear it and that’s final.” We’ve relented and not forced the issue. We’ve crossed our fingers and hoped that he’ll outgrow this phase, just as he’s outgrowing the cute overalls hanging in his closet. If you have a youngster in a fashion funk, feel free to try any of the strategies we’ve employed (with varying degrees of success):
- Take a stand and stay strong.
We’ve taken the hard line, wrestled him into something, and insisted he wear it. We’ve made it clear that he won’t be attending the upcoming event if he can’t dress appropriately for it. For this plan, you have to be prepared and willing to ignore the crying, sniffling and whimpering that are sure to follow. Orders are orders.
- Don’t push it.
Sometimes, you have to make a judgement call based on the situation. At this moment, on this day, for this event, is it a make-or-break issue? One time, in the midst of a preschool clothing crisis, my husband said to me, “Right now, this isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on.” I wasn’t a fan of the military-inspired expression, but I understood what he was saying. Is it really worth getting into a war over this, knowing that it will make everyone miserable? There’s no shame in waving the white flag (or white t-shirt).
- Give the illusion of choice.
Whenever possible, I allow my son to choose his outfit for the day, which means his crew neck, long-sleeved tee emblazoned with the Batman symbol gets a lot of wear. On days where he needs to dress more formally or wear something I know he’ll dislike, I pull together two suitable options and ask him to select the one that he deems to be the lesser of two evils.
- Provide advance notice.
This one has worked reasonably well. Prior to a family vacation, I knew I wanted both kids to wear their red Canada hoodies on the plane. I prepped my son well in advance, showing him the hoodie and explaining that he would be wearing this at the start of our trip. He wasn’t thrilled, but laying the groundwork led to less arguing on the day. It helped that it was an early flight and he was too groggy at 5:00 a.m. to protest with much conviction.
- Explain the reasoning.
This had a zero percent success rate when he was a toddler, but now that he’s older, we have had some fairly rational clothing discussions, with two main themes. First, there’s the “this is how the world works” lecture, where I provide an overview of how certain clothes are meant for certain situations. Pyjamas are for bedtime. Swim gear is for the pool. Nice clothes are for special occasions such as church. That’s just how it is. Next, there’s the “be appreciative” speech, especially when the outfit in question was a gift from the friends or relatives we’re going to be seeing that day.
- Drag the older sibling into it.
My older son couldn’t care less about what he wears. I suspect that I could cut arm holes in a paper yard waste bag, set it out for him, and he’d put it on without thinking twice. This is a handy quality when our younger one is rebelling, since we’re able to show him that his older brother is wearing the same type of clothes with minimal fuss. Even if you always promised yourself you’d never dress your kids in identical matching outfits, it can be helpful in these situations.
- Strike a bargain.
While I would never offer my son a reward, prize or treat for something as simple as wearing an article of clothing, I’ll admit that I have cut him a deal where he has to politely wear the item for the initial arrival somewhere, and after the hosts have seen it or he has cooperatively posed for photos in it, he can take it off. I’ve also added the caveat that complaining or asking to remove it before I say so renders the arrangement null and void.
- Play the age card.
Kids have trouble arguing with age-related parameters – that’s why the “you’re three, so you have to eat three more bites” technique works so well at the dinner table. When my son was four and being particularly obstinate about hoodies, we relented for the short term but talked regularly about how when he was five, he would start wearing hoodies, because that’s what five-year-olds do. On the morning of his fifth birthday, he asked – with a quivering lower lip – if he was required to wear a hoodie to his party. He wasn’t, but we added hoodies to his drawer and took a firmer approach to him wearing them in the weeks that followed.
- Praise other kids’ clothes.
I have purposely given clothing-related compliments to my son’s peers in the morning line-up at school, knowing that he will “overhear” them. This backfired recently when I asked a boy about the intriguing design on his full-zip hoodie. He proceeded to zip the entire hood over his face to reveal a menacing bank-robber mask with mesh eye holes. Hmmm, back to the drawing board.
- Use celebrity association.
My kids watch a lot of professional sports and own plenty of sporty clothes. To sell our son on a certain shirt or outfit, we will choose a player he likes (or steer him toward an appealing one) and use that as leverage. For example, anything featuring a baseball, the New York Yankees logo, or a navy blue and white colour scheme is presented as “authentic” Derek Jeter apparel.
Even though we’ve endured a fair number of tantrums and “clothes calls” with our little guy over the years, I think we’re slowly making progress with our explanations and negotiations. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Batman shirt to wash.
Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. She is a regular contributor to ParentsCanada magazine, Running Room magazine, and the ParticipACTION website. She leads a fairly low-tech life but is on Twitter @KristiYork19.