THE BLOG

'I Have Nothing to Wear!'

02/12/2013 03:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2013

Every morning, my 12-year old daughter has a fit when it comes to getting dressed. By the time I drop her off at school, we're either yelling at each other or not speaking. I'm not willing to buy her a new outfit every week. What should I do?

For many parents, every morning is fraught with drama about what we believe should be a relatively easy thing: leaving the house appropriately dressed without a fuss. Here are some tips for avoiding those dreaded dressing battles:

• Talk -- and listen. Choose a time over the weekend when you're not trying to get out the door to find out what might be fueling your daughter's morning panics.

"I notice it's been hard for you to pick out something to wear for school. Can you tell what that's about?"

If she knows that you aren't going to interrupt her or dish out advice she isn't ready to hear, she may reveal that kids have been teasing her about dressing like a third-grader, or that she has a crush on a boy who she wants to impress. By getting to the root of what fuels her sense of panic and overwhelm, you can help her address it.

• Recognize overwhelm. Many kids become emotionally flooded when faced with what feels like a monumental decision. Rather than judging your daughter ("It's not big deal! Just pick something!") acknowledge what's going on for her.

"Worrying about what your friends might say makes it hard to choose..." or "You really like that boy and it's hard to imagine what outfit might make him notice you..."

• Avoid saying things that will only increase her stress. Telling an upset child, "Calm down! It's no big deal" will only make her feel worse. We would all calm down when we're flustered if we could. Model your own sense of composure to help her find her own.

• Eliminate inappropriate choices. Rather than trying to convince your daughter that the green shorts or the crop top aren't appropriate for school, remove them from her closet. You can make them available for hanging out with friends or wearing on vacation, but eliminating them as choices during the week will spare you those arguments about why she can't wear that mini skirt when "everyone else wears skirts that are even shorter!"

• Energize the process. Some kids dawdle when it comes to getting dressed simply because they don't want to go to school. Put something lively on the stereo with the instruction that she has to be dressed and at the breakfast table by the time three songs have played. You may even offer to do something special together -- a quick game of Connect Four, or a five-minute riddle contest -- if she can be ready to go a few minutes early. By injecting some fun into the morning ritual, you may find the problem solved.

• Plan ahead. Many children are simply too groggy to think through outfit options right after waking up. Have your daughter lay out two to three outfits the night before when neither of you are worried about the clock. Just make sure she checks the weather the night before to avoid arguments about wearing a sleeveless top if it's going to be in the 30's!

• Keep your cool. If you get upset when your child starts falling apart, you'll only add fuel to the fire by turning on what I call MOM TV.

Child: "I can't find anything to wear!"
Parent: "You have a closet full of clothes!!"
Child: "None of them fit!!!"
Parent: "I bought you three new outfits last month!!!!"
Child: "They make me look like a baby -- I only bought them because you made me!!!!!"

As you can see, this is going nowhere, fast. Power struggles take two, so don't keep the drama going by contributing to it with your own reactions.

These ideas should help your mornings go more smoothly. But do keep in mind that many twelve-year olds need drama to feel alive! Try to remember that this, too, shall pass.

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