Cheer On Your Child's Own Unique Sense of Style

Kids are born with a certain innate ability to pull off looks that would land grown-ups right in the Fashion Don'ts Hall of Fame. Missing front teeth on an adult? Creepy. On a kid? Adorable. They can get away with mixing patterns, wearing things that fit strangely, and sporting thoroughly inappropriate footwear -- while still being totally cute.

Eventually, though, that inner sense of what looks good changes, and too often becomes a wish to be just like everybody else.

How can we, as parents, help our kids hold on to that delightful sense of individuality, while nudging their choices more into the realm of what most people would consider appropriate?


1) Let them take you shopping. Instead of dragging them through the mall to the stores you like, ask them to show you what appeals to them. Ask what they like about the ruffly shirt or the striped polo; you might be surprised at this window into their psyches.

2) Don't laugh at their attempts at self-expression, no matter how silly they look. I remember one particular afternoon as a teen ... I was headed out to meet some friends, and I went bopping down the stairs decked out in what I thought was a super-cool getup. My dad took one look at me and burst out laughing. Now it was the 1980s -- I probably did look ridiculous. But that experience made me a lot less brave about following my own style.

3) Turn them loose at the store. Tell them they can choose an outfit or two all by themselves, but they need to stay within the amount on the gift card. This helps them figure out how to pull off the look they like with the budget they have.

4) Ask your kid for fashion advice. My 6-year-old loves to compliment me on what I'm wearing if I'm dressed up for date night or a work event, and I'll often ask her to choose my shoes or jewelry. This makes her feel important and reinforces her idea of what looks good with what. It often means I'm hobbling in three-inch heels when I would have chosen something more sensible, but hey, I need to get out of my comfort zone sometimes too.

5) Have real reasons behind "You can't wear that." Sometimes even the most free-thinking parents need to put the hammer down: No wool sweaters in July, no bathing suits in January, no sweats to church. But reflexively saying "no" to something just because your mother would have, or because you think it's weird, shuts down your kids' creativity. Be able to explain that they can't wear that sweater because they'll get sick from being too hot, or that dressing in certain ways for certain situations shows respect. If it's just that you're mortified they want to wear their frilliest dress to the park or their Lightning McQueen shirt to a playdate with your media-snob friend, then suck it up.

6) Compliment them when they wear something that's really "them." If your kid is a wild patterns kind of person or loves pants when you're never out of dresses, recognize and celebrate it.

7) Talk it through if another child makes fun of their clothes. The pressure to conform is strong, and something as simple as wearing the wrong color shirt can subject kids to teasing. Ask them if they really like what everyone else is wearing, and what it says about them if they look like everyone else at their school. And really listen to what they say; the temptation to force a teachable moment is strong, but this is a time to follow their lead. Maybe they'll choose to stand out, maybe they want to blend in, but knowing how to balance that is an element of style in and of itself.

How do you encourage your children to find their own look?

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