A wardrobe for the empowered kid
Foster independence, self-esteem and resilience every day with this one everyday routine.
Hint: It starts with fashion and self-dressing.
Sounds good, right? If you haven't guessed by now, I’m a huge advocate for teaching kids to dress themselves. I believe it’s so much more than just another item on your morning checklist. It’s a value-packed, daily activity that’s packed with learning opportunities. And I promise it’s not an exaggeration!
When young children are taught (and trusted!) to self-dress, it fosters the development of all sorts of necessary skills, from self-regulation to perseverance. Making suitable clothing choices and mastering the ability to put them on are significant steps towards learning how to take care of yourself. It also helps with developing fine and gross motor skills—after all, you have to know how to move your body and hands accordingly to slip a sweater over your head, pull your pants up, or work a zipper. Who knew fashion could be so educational?
Empower your kids. Often, kids have very little agency over what happens on a day to day basis. While they certainly make their opinions known (and loudly), they’re ultimately still on the receiving end of what must seem like an endless stream of commands, instructions and warnings. Most kids love the liberating feeling of more independence. Give them an area where they can call the shots! I developed the BLAST™ method of wardrobe selection to help with the basics of self-dressing. This little acronym covers all the clothing they have to put on before heading out the door.
B for Bottoms
L for Layering Pieces
A for Accessories
S for Socks and Shoes
T for Tops
Start by paring down their wardrobe to focus on the essentials since too many choices can be overwhelming (as you probably know from your own closet). Help your little tot out by providing appropriate options from each category to choose from. Then look the other way if it doesn’t always match. Take a deep breath—you’ve got this.
Connect with your kids. Getting dressed hardly feels like a bonding activity. But it can be. Open up a channel of communication over their fashion choices and help them feel comfortable verbalizing what they like and don’t like about their clothes. (If you’re brave, ask them what they think about yours.) But in all seriousness, giving them the necessary language to express their preferences is key, and a vital skill that will serve them well in so many settings. Discuss the texture, shape, size or colour of what they’re wearing. If they’re having trouble putting on their clothes, encourage them to articulate the problem (It’s too tight! I can’t reach the sleeve!) before running over to help them. Sometimes even just saying it out loud can help orient them towards the solution.
Start small. Self-dressing is a journey. To avoid meltdowns and sidestep tantrums as much as possible, think baby steps. Take the pressure off by letting your kids choose from one or two BLAST™ categories to begin with. Or, better yet, have them select their clothes the night before without the ticking time bomb of the school bus arriving. If you can’t see how you can ever get out the door again if you let the kids dress themselves, focus on teaching them how to efficiently put on one item first. Challenges come with the territory, so be prepared to take a moment to troubleshoot their approach when needed. Maybe they haven’t quite figured out how to tell the front of the shirt from the back yet. Or perhaps they can’t get their feet through their pant legs. Practice makes perfect—move onto another item once you’re confident in their ability to do it right, and quickly. Break it up into as many steps as you need to—it’s not a race!
Keep it simple, sweetie. I love capsule wardrobes. By mindfully purchasing versatile and well-made clothing, you’ll likely find your children need a lot less than you think. Fewer clothing choices means less time wasted on decision-making in the morning, and more money saved when they outgrow everything so quickly anyway. Other simplifying solutions? When you shop, pick what’s easy! Kids often have issues manipulating finicky fabrics and tiny buttons. Hoodies and loose cotton pants are a breeze to put on, button-up shirts and polyester hose less so. Save the fancy stuff (cute as it is) for special occasions. And bypass the power struggles by only offering clothing that’s suitable for the weather. You know what’ll happen if he finds his favourite pair of shorts at the bottom of the drawer...and it just so happens to be snowing out.
Make it fun. Kids love to be silly. Let them express some of their innate goofiness through their style choices. Mismatched socks, playful patterns and funky tees can all induce a case of the giggles. So stifle the urge to roll your eyes and snap a few pictures of what they consider their Sunday best (you’ll look back on these days fondly, I promise)! For those moms who really can’t stomach the sight of spots and stripes together-we won’t ask you to raise your hands-try setting out a few neutral basics and allowing your child to choose that neon highlighter hued sweatshirt to go with it. But we say go with it! There’s nothing more adorable than seeing a confident tot prance down the sidewalk in all their clashing glory. Aren’t their smiles the best accessory anyway?
Your kids have to dress and undress themselves several times a day anyway. Reap the benefits of this daily activity by encouraging them to do it on their own. Think of it as an upfront investment: putting in the time now so one day, you can finish that breakfast bagel before running out the door. Parenting’s all about the long game! Now, where did I put my cup of coffee again?