Should a 6-year-old choose her wardrobe?

Smart love - February 2005


The Piepers


Q: At what age do you recommend letting children pick out their own clothes? My 6-year-old always wants to choose her clothes and most of the time they clash dreadfully, aren’t appropriate (i.e. shorts in winter) or I can’t stand to take her places in them. I have tried to educate her about what goes with what, but she seems to be deciding on whims like, “I wore these shorts on my birthday,” or because they look to her like something she saw on TV.  Sometimes she wants to wear fancy clothes to school and I think she will wreck them. Other times she wants to wear casual clothes to parties. We are fighting every day about her getting dressed. I have tried setting timers, and taking away treats when she doesn’t get dressed, but when she gives in and gets dressed she is terribly mad and upset. I hate to keep starting the day like this, but I don’t know what to do. Please help. B.J., Chicago

A: The goal is to try to preserve your daughter’s growing and age-appropriate wish to have more control over her life while at the same time keeping the necessary degree of oversight.  We suggest that you have different drawers, bins, or areas of her closet for different purposes: school, parties and at home. Remove summer clothes in winter months, and vice versa, and store them somewhere else. Then invite your daughter to pick any clothes she would like from the appropriate bin. She will have the pleasure of choosing the look she wants, and you won’t have to worry about her freezing or wearing clothes that are unsuited for the occasion. Please don’t worry about clashing colors or odd combinations—it is good for your daughter to be able to exercise her creativity within the limits you have set.

We cannot get our toddler to cooperate at meals Q: Mealtimes are a nightmare at our house because our 2-year-old won’t sit in his high chair. He squirms, arches his back and screams and, if we force him into the chair, he gets so hysterical he won’t eat. If we give in and put him in a regular chair at the table, he spills, pours and mixes food all over the table and no one else can eat in peace. If we leave him out of the high chair, he runs off and he’s not old enough to be in other parts of the house by himself. We are at our wits’ end. Suggestions? N.U., Aurora

A: It’s all too true that 2-year-olds march to their own drummers and aren’t always on the same schedule or program as the rest of the family. There are some things you can do to make sitting in his high chair more appealing to your son. Make sure not to feed him so many snacks that he loses his appetite by dinner; if possible don’t have family dinner so near to his bedtime that he is exhausted; have some special high chair toys that he plays with only at mealtimes; and give him foods that require activity, such as mixing or dipping. Also, your son might prefer a toddler chair that attaches to the table or fits safely in larger chairs that will allow him to feel more a part of things, yet still keep him geographically contained. However, if these strategies and others you come up with yourself don’t work, the reality is that fighting with your son and forcing him into his high chair will only make everyone miserable and, possibly, create chronic eating problems. It would be better to recognize that this problem is time-limited and delegate a different family member each night to watch him while others eat. Alternatively, as 2-year-olds often have fairly early bedtimes; wait, if possible, until he is asleep to have the family meal.

Give us some tips on what to look for in daycare Q: Could you write something that would help my husband and me choose a daycare environment for our 2-year-old? We both work eight hour days and we are very worried about leaving her with strangers. Between the two of us, we have been fortunate enough to be able to take parental leave time and have grandma babysit until this point, but now we have to find a place for our daughter during weekdays. Our first choice would be to hire a sitter in our home, but we cannot afford it. Besides the obvious importance that they be clean and otherwise adequate physically, what should we be looking for, from an emotional standpoint, in different daycare settings? What checklist would you recommend? L.G., Palos Hills

A: There are a number of things to look for in choosing a daycare setting that will foster rather than harm your child’s emotional health. To ensure that your daughter gets enough attention, there should be a high ratio of staff to children, and to guarantee that the attachments she forms are not interrupted, try to find a setting with little staff turnover. Ideally, at least one or two members of the staff should have some sort of qualification in child-related areas, such as teaching or child development. Inquire about staff’s attitude toward children and managing their behavior. They should focus on gently helping children through difficult times and on arranging the space and the timing of activities so as to reduce conflict and increase engaged play.  Watch the staff at work. You should feel that they enjoy children. Observe the children who are already there. Do they seem busy and happy? Is there a lot of conflict between children? Are older children allowed to pick on younger children? Call parents for references.

Once you choose a daycare center and enroll your child, make a surprise visit or two, and also take seriously any significant negative changes in your child’s moods or behavior. These precautions and any others you can think of will make it much more likely that your child’s experience at daycare will be both enjoyable and emotionally healthful.



Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of  Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.

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