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Wardrobe Wars

Back to School: Metropolis
Back to School: Metropolis
young girl wearing colorful socks

David Roth/ Getty Images

Another job title to add to the long list of what you do as a mom: fashion stylist. Ever since you picked out those sweet baby sleepers, you've been overseeing your child's wardrobe. But don't be surprised if your 7- or 8-year-old is clamoring to take control of her own fashion choices. "At this age, kids are establishing their own identity and separating from you, and this is a safe, easy way to start asserting their autonomy," says Susan Stiffelman, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Parenting Without Power Struggles. Unfortunately, the results of that independence aren't always pretty -- nagging you to buy name-brand sneakers or insisting on tops with too much bling. Take a deep breath and check out expert tips designed to avoid a style showdown.

Clothing Conflict: When you go shopping, anything you think is cute gets an instant "no"

Chances are your kid has been choosing what to wear for a couple of years now but wasn't all that concerned about what you bought. Now tops with animal appliqu?s, shirts with collars, dresses with matching hair bows, or -- gasp -- Mary Janes may seem the nth degree of lame to your child, who is likely to be increasingly influenced by what peers are wearing at school. While you don't want your son or daughter to cave in to peer pressure, you should give her some freedom in choosing what to buy and, ultimately, wear.

Before the two of you hit the mall, agree on what clothes your kid needs and settle on a store or two to check out. For instance, if either of you dislike most of the clothes at a particular shop, it's best to just avoid it. Instead, stick with neutral places -- and, even better, go somewhere your child has never bought clothes before. "It may satisfy her desire for change without giving her a radical new look you'd like to avoid," says Stiffelman. In the store, be as hands-off as you can handle -- letting her cruise the racks while you provide occasional guidance, like pointing out the shirts that are in her size. Figure out ways to admire what she's chosen herself, like a sparkly tee or a denim skirt. She'll be happy to have your approval after the fact.

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Clothing Conflict: Your son wears the same outfits over and over (and over)

One important rule: Clothes have to be clean. To help put the kibosh on same-ol', same-ol' dressing, make a blanket declaration that pants and shirts don't get more than one wearing without a dip in the washing machine. But if your child is willing to help you with midweek laundry detail, there's no harm in letting him stick with what's comfortable. And let's face it: Boy clothes all look kind of the same anyway. The more you demand that he diversify his wardrobe, the more he'll dig his heels in, so pick your battles wisely. If he'll wear the sweater you chose when you go to Grandma's house, agree to buy a few more of the plain navy-blue T-shirts he loves.

Clothing Conflict: What your 8-year-old wants to wear is too sexy for third grade

Think a lot of the clothes in the kid section look way too, um, mature? You're not just being a fuddy-duddy. One recent Kenyon University study found that almost 30 percent of clothes sold for girls had sexy traits, like sheer fabric or a revealing cut. While a crop top on a 7-year-old may seem innocent, your child's clothing choices now can set the stage for what she'll expect to wear as a teen. "If you're fighting with your third-grader over the length of a dress, those arguments won't go away in the ninth grade," says Richard Bromfield, Ph.D., author of How to Unspoil Your Child Fast.

So it's smart to establish some standards now. For instance, a short dress is okay as long as your child wears a pair of leggings under it. Other family rules could include no pants with writing on the bum or no graphic tees with inappropriate sayings.

Clothing Conflict: The designer sneakers your son wants cost more than a week's groceries

Even young grade-schoolers pick up on the idea that certain clothing brands have a cachet that helps kids fit in. "Children start to worry about their image at a pretty young age," says Dr. Bromfield. That pressure can feel very real to your kid, so when he begs for a brand, ask him what he sees in it, suggests Stiffelman, then acknowledge his anxiety. "You can say, 'It seems that you think everyone is wearing that kind of sneaker, and you're going to be left out.'" Even if your child's afraid that not wearing the "in" clothing means he'll be teased, you don't have to drop adult-size wads of cash on his gear. If he's dying for $150 high-tops, offer to chip in a reasonable amount, say $50, and let your son make up the difference with his own money. Or set a shopping budget for the 'must-buy' items before you hit the mall, then let him get a coveted brand-name item with leftover cash. The deal will also keep your kid's eye trained on the sales racks -- a smart lesson in financial management.

Originally published in the March 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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