Where to Pick Your Own Apples

Winning the Back-to-School Fashion Battle

Winning the Back-to-School Fashion Battle

Avoid fighting with your child during back-to-school clothes shopping with these 5 tips from a child psychologist.


Each September, parents take up the battle of ‘school appropriate’ attire with kids as young as 6 years old. Clothing considered school-worthy by parents is derided as too conservative by students of all ages—with the fiercest fights beginning in the upper elementary and middle school grades. Peer and media pressure become a joint driving force around fashion choice (for girls and boys), which we know is not always the best way for kids to make decisions of any kind. This arena is an opportunity for parents to help a child or young teen learn to balance ‘doing the right thing’ with fitting in. While it is rarely comfortable for kids to stand up against the intense pressure to follow the masses, practice makes it much easier—even if the practice is forced by a parent. Learning how to make the right choice under challenging conditions is an important lesson that will be applicable to many situations. For example, when your child is faced with pressure to drink or use drugs he will have greater strength of character to make safe choices when he has already had practice doing so in other ways.

The short- and long-term benefits of the clothing battle clearly make it worth taking up with your child, but it is typically not an easy fight. This is because your child’s developmental desire for independence conflicts with the authority of rules. To make it a bit easier, I have a few tips that will help you avoid a daily battle.         

Purchase only acceptable clothes. It might sound obvious, but if your child doesn’t have problematic clothes in her closet, there will be less to fight about. Furthermore, if your child feels entitled to spend ‘her own money’ on clothing, remind her that until she is fully self-supporting, you still make the rules about how all money is spent.

Weekend plans? Get local family events delivered to your inbox.

Review the school dress code with your child and be clear that you will uphold it. If he doesn’t like it, encourage him to take it up with the principal—not you.

This should be a fight ONLY about appropriateness, not style choice. This is important! Part of growing up includes experimenting with different styles of dress, which may include fashion you don’t like—maybe even because you don’t like it. Rejection of otherwise school-appropriate choices may make your child feel that you reject her very self.

Choose outfits the night before if you find yourself having daily arguments with your child. With younger kids you might even be able to pick out an entire week of outfits.

Keep school and weekend clothes separated from each other if your child is especially resistant to the rules. It can be helpful to create a divider in the closet and organize drawers according to use.

 I know that, for parents, the clothing battle can be exhausting—but it represents something much, much bigger. Teaching your child to be resilient to media and peer pressures, and to respect appropriate authority, are critical lessons that will last a lifetime. So, go to battle—you are not alone!