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When Your Child will Only Wear Certain Clothes

QUESTION: My six-year-old daughter is very picky about what clothing she wears. She refuses to wear socks and will only wear two particular pairs of underwear. Even though she has picked out most of her clothes, she will only wear a few of her outfits. Is she just being stubborn or is it something more?

ANSWER: Your daughter appears to have a strong will and is intent on expressing her independence and individuality through her current choice of clothing. Your six-year-old's "stubbornness" is no doubt her attempt to secure some sense of control or develop self-expression at this time.

Try taking a supportive approach to her desire for control and expression of her unique tastes. Offer positive feedback about her choices. For example, if the underwear she is choosing has flowers on it, reflect to her that she likes flowers on her underwear! If she chooses cotton panties, commend her on her wise choice of a fabric which "breathes". If she wants her feet to be "cool" in the summer, suggest sandals which can support her decision to go "sock-less". Do likewise with the outfits she likes wearing.

Look at the clothing she picks and try to discover what it is she resonates with, rather than react negatively to her choices. See this as an opportunity to get inside your daughter's head. Try to understand what makes this little girl tick. This is your chance to see how her own taste may differ from yours.

Perhaps your daughter "went along" with your choices while shopping, but is clarifying what it is she really likes, by choosing to wear only a few of those clothes you bought together. Let her choose more of the clothing she likes when you next shop together.

Supporting your daughter's differences, rather than squelching them is a delicate balance at this young age. Remember, however, that individuality occurs gradually over time, not suddenly at adulthood.

I recall my own struggle to comprehend the reality that my seven-year-old liked tiny, busy patterns rather than the large, flowing designs I liked (and of course always picked for her!) I could feel the disbelief welling up inside of me when she shyly pointed out a fabric design she wanted for her new bedroom curtains. It took all of my strength to not "redirect" her to what I felt was an obviously more lovely choice! I think it was pure luck that instead of telling her it was not as good a choice I happened to ask her, probably incredulously, what is it she liked about that one. When I heard her response, I recognized that she really did have a different perspective from my own, and that it was my job to support her to develop her taste, not replicate mine.

It is natural for us as parents to make choices for our children in line with our own preferences. Still, our children depend on us to reflect their potential and the ways they are unique, special and different from ourselves.

Keep in mind that your efforts to patiently address your six-year-old's "stubbornness" by supporting her individuality will be rewarded. Helping your daughter to identify what she likes now and why, will stand you in good stead later. Teens who have already distinguished themselves from others in a positive manner throughout their childhood years are likely to experience greater self-confidence during the tumultuous period of adolescence. A strong and positive sense of self will offer your daughter greater security and less need to "rebel" to express her individuality later on. When your daughter becomes a teenager, you may find you are grateful that her "rebellion" occurred when the stakes were not that high!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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