Should you let your child dress themselves?

Every parent at one point will engage in some sort of battle over their child’s choice of wardrobe. Whether they want to wear a summer dress on a freezing day, a Superman outfit to preschool or a tatty jumper to a birthday party, being a parent means knowing when to let them express themselves and when to limit their choices.

Freedom of Expression

Those in the pro-expression camp would firmly argue that it’s good for a child to be able to express themselves however they want, and this is certainly true to an extent. Allowing a child to express their own sense of style is wonderful for their self-esteem, their confidence and their development as an individual. For parents of preschool children, another clear argument for allowing children to choose their own outfits is that they should do it whilst they can. Once school starts, children can’t even choose their own socks, so this is the chance to let them be free. But how free?

Framework of Choice

There’s a fine line between letting your child express themselves and giving them total free rein. The key here is to give them choice, but from your own selection. And this selection can include anything from their best boys and girls designer clothes and even fancy dress clothes if they like, provided you have approved them. Some preschools maybe happy for children to turn up as a princess or superhero, but wearing suitable shoes is a must.


Compromise is an important word in parenting, as anyone with a two- or three-year-old will have learnt. It may be worth letting them wear their pyjama top and fairy wings to preschool in exchange for the correct shoes and hair tied back when head lice are running free.

Getting a Sense of Occasion

Whilst it’s great to let kids choose their own wardrobe, it’s also important to prepare them for the rest of their lives. At school they will learn that at certain times certain clothes rules apply, and this is true when it isn’t enforced as well. Social norms, such as dressing up for a wedding and down for the park, are worth learning from a young age. Whilst wearing whatever they like at the age of three won’t damage their social credibility, knowing what to wear and when can be very important later on in life. If your son turns up for his first job in an adult Superman outfit, then you may have let the self-expression go a little too far!

As with cakes, sweets and television, wardrobe choices are all about moderation. Let them make decisions but from a predetermined selection, and make compromises when you need too. Ultimately, children who are encouraged to make independent decisions and are afforded freedom of expression in all aspects of their lives will be happier and more self-confident. But part of parenting is making sure children understand boundaries, social norms and when a warm coat is simply a must.

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