Dressing preschoolers

They're cute, but sandals are not the best choice for a day at preschool.
They’re cute, but sandals are not the best choice for a day at preschool.

You wouldn’t think that issues related to clothing would emerge for children ages 2 through 6 but, in the age of Barbie dolls and Batman capes, designer labels and bare midriffs, they do. Children have strong preferences and schools have definite ideas as to what works best in their settings. At back-to-school time, parents find themselves shopping for school clothes. Figuring out ahead of time what is practical, acceptable, affordable and fun pays off later by helping everyone avoid grief.

From the school’s point of view, children should wear clothing in which they can comfortably and safely play and function. First and foremost, that means children have to be able to get dirty. Developmentally appropriate preschools encourage children to dig in sand, pour and measure water that is sometimes colored, paint at easels, use markers and glue and do cooking projects. A dirty child at the end of the day is one who participated wholeheartedly in the program.

When a parent is distressed about dirt, it makes it hard for a teacher to help the child be comfortable in the classroom.

School clothes should be washable and not too expensive. Help children distinguish right from the start the difference between school clothes and party clothes.

Second, pants should be easy to pull on and off. For children who are new to the toilet, a cute leotard or blue jeans with zippers, buttons and a belt get in the way of independence.

Unless they are very adept with those small finger muscles, give them a break and use elastic. If children are still in diapers, spare caregivers the job of having to remove difficult clothing to do a change.

Third, teach children what a school shoe is. School shoes are not sandals, jellies, flip flops or party shoes. They are closed toe, closed heel shoes in which children can safely run, climb and pedal. Many schools have rules about this because of so many hurt toes and sprained ankles. If yours doesn’t, be wise.

Fourth, parents of girls should put shorts, bloomers or tights on under those skirts and dresses. Save children the grief of sand or dirt getting into undies when they sit on the playground. If you get them in the habit now, it will avoid the inevitable teasing as they hang upside down later.

Children want clothes to be pretty or empowering, comfortable and in line with what someone else they admire is wearing. It’s OK to give in once in awhile to the trends they most desire. They will not follow the herd across a cliff if they have flashy sneakers or choose Dora, Princess, Spiderman or Star Wars logo clothing. However, if wearing superhero clothing causes your child to play too aggressively, or results in teasing children who are not wearing it, let your child know that the troublesome item will have to be put away until he or she can use their words and follow rules while wearing it.

It helps children fight less about clothing when they have some ability to make their own choices in the morning or the night before. However, be advised that this age does not function well with too many choices. A closet full of dresses or shorts can leave a preschooler in tears, or lead to endless trying on and taking off of outfits. If your child has too much, put some clothing away.

Pay attention to socks. Many children need extra help, or seamless socks, to feel comfortable. Socks figure in many getting-dressed struggles and schools usually want children to wear them.

Children at this age do not mind hand-me-downs. Sometimes they even feel special wearing an admired older child’s previously owned outfit. If parents can relax about providing new, expensive clothing and focus on sending a clean child, with brushed teeth, combed hair and an eager, if tentative, smile to school on that first day, there will be more smiles all around as the year progresses.