Wardrobe wars ... Independent dressing is an important step in your child's development, but can come with a few dramas.
For as long as I can remember my son has been particular about things. I know this isn’t too unusual for a kid, as lots of them have little quirks about how they like things to be. And for my little boy it’s always been about clothes.
From about three years of age he knew what he wanted to wear and how he had to wear it. He had to get dressed in a certain order and any variation from the routine would result in an epic meltdown. Everything had to be laid out first –there couldn’t be any last minute runs to grab a sock from the laundry basket, as he had to know what he was wearing and approve of it before assembly.
I took all the other clothes out of his wardrobe so I wasn’t tempted to suggest them. Out of sight, out of mind
This was kind of funny and cute at first, but after a while I started to worry he had some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. Was this something I should be worried about, a sign of future behavioural issues?
The list of clothes he agreed to wear became shorter and shorter, until his wardrobe was down to one pair of jeans, two tops, one style of socks and one pair of shoes. He wore these every single day without fail and wouldn’t wear a jacket, no matter how cold it was.
And it drove me MAD!
I’d loved dressing up my little boy, buying him cute outfits and lovingly selecting what he would wear each day. So I continued to offer up different outfit suggestions every morning, resulting in daily tantrums … from both of us.
At this stage I was heavily pregnant with my daughter, and these daily battles were a major source of stress for everyone. It led to my husband pointing out the bleeding obvious: one of us needed to concede. And it needed to be me.
And boy, did my husband cop it for that! I pleaded my case: I couldn’t let our son wear the same thing every day, for goodness sake! People would think I didn’t care, that he was dirty and unkempt, that he wasn’t loved enough. I protested that he’d get cold, that his appearance was a reflection on us, that people would talk. And I argued that it was sending a bad message to him that he could do whatever he wants.
My husband’s response: Our son doesn’t feel the cold, people don’t care, pick your battles.
It took me a while to see it, but of course he was right. Nobody cares what my child is wearing, and anyone who knows us knows he’s well cared for and obviously very loved.
This was just his way of controlling something in his life; it wasn’t about tormenting me. I was having another baby and his world was changing. If wearing the same jeans and top every day made him feel more secure, did it really matter?
So I decided to accept his little quirks and went with it. I bought another pair of his favourite jeans and we rotated them. I washed and dried his clothes at night and took a jacket with us when we went out, so if it got really cold he could ask for it. And I took all the other clothes out of his wardrobe so I wasn’t tempted to suggest them. Out of sight, out of mind.
And for about three months I only saw him in one thing, but that was okay. Because he was happy, no-one cared what he was in, and … I had someone new to dress. A baby girl. And I could dress her up to my heart’s content!
It seems like such a non-issue now, but it really was stressful at the time. Looking back, though, it was a great lesson in picking your battles and not sweating the small stuff. Whether it’s clothes or food, letting your child have some control in their daily life shows them their opinion matters to you – which matters a whole lot more than how cute they look.
These days, my son is still particular about what he wears, but has expanded his wardrobe slightly. Yes, he’s a control freak about lots of things, but I’m sure that perfectionist streak will serve him well.
And my daughter? Well, getting dressed each morning her new favourite word is “NOOOOOOOO.” But at least this time I'm prepared!