Don’t worry so much about how your kids look

I have to confess – my own blog yesterday actually scared me. Here’s the part that jumped out at me:

During the pre-teen years, the NYU report notes, girls will tend to shift their focus to their body becoming an “all consuming passion and barometer of worth.” 

Girls equating their worth with the shape of their bodies – I assume that means how well their bodies compare to unrealistic air brushed versions of tall, slender models.

So, what I want to tell parents – mothers, really – is to stop worrying so much about how your kids look, especially your daughters.

I have to confess that I loved dressing my daughter when she was very young. Children’s clothing design has become amazingly sophisticated. If you like color and design, and have the funds, you can have a blast. However, sometimes moms are TOO concerned about how their children look.

I hear about morning struggles in which parents require that children wear clothes that “match.” Parents declare they are uncomfortable allowing their kids to choose their own clothes. Getting ready in the morning can become a battleground about not just clothes, but hair, shoes, and accessories as well.

In our increasingly materialistic culture, guided by media images and imbedded messages, we may be losing sight of what childhood is all about. Parents are increasingly concerned that their children will be judged by their appearance. This is especially dangerous when such intense focus is on girls.

Yes, I was sad when my daughter started expressing preference about her clothes when she was three. I could negotiate a few chosen outfits from time to time, but she was in charge of her choices by her fourth birthday.

I’ll admit, there were times she looked like a bag lady. She particularly liked layers of pants, skirts, shirts and sweatshirts (now that I think of it she was really ahead of her time!) And when she started doing her own laundry at about nine, her clothing never saw the inside of a bureau. She had two laundry baskets – one for clean and one for dirty clothes. Folding was pretty much out of the question, so she did look a bit wrinkled for a time. And, even today she’ll show up for a visit in pajama pants and a shirt that looks like it survived high school.

BUT as an adult, she is a confident young woman, successfully finding her way in an ultra competitive work world. She seems to enjoy her life, is optimistic about her future and even managed to save some money when she first got to the city by accepting hand-me-downs from more affluent friends. She works out at the gym, enjoys lots of different sports and seems comfortable in her skin.

I believe that the funny outfits, the wrinkled shirts, and our endorsement of her choices were part of supporting our daughter to grow into a capable, exuberant young woman in a culture filled with confidence pitfalls for girls.

Consider becoming more interested in your kids’ clothing choices. You can veto the dirty clothes, the ripped clothes, and negotiate guidelines for special occasions. However, work to accept your children’s unique vision of themselves. Most importantly, reflect on what you tell yourself about what “others will think.” What kinds of stories are you making up in your head and what would it take to change those stories? If you want to help your daughters avoid becoming obsessed with their appearance, start accepting their choices today.

Tell us about your kids’ getting dressed routines and how all that works in your house. Where are the problems? What’s working well?

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