Sound Off! When Should Kids Be Able to Dress Themselves?

10/14/2008 at 09:00 AM ET
INF; Flynet

They say clothes make the man, but how about the child? While kids love to dress themselves, letting your toddler choose his or her own outfit can result in pajamas as pants or a tutu as a skirt. While endearing, sometimes you want your child to look a little more put together, while still dressing them in clothes that are age appropriate and allow for movement and fun. So how do you find a happy medium?

Here’s your chance to Sound Off! Tell us when and if you think kids should be able to dress themselves!


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dsmom on

My son is 2 1/2 and while he would like to dress himself i usually give him 3 choices. He feels like he is choosing but I really have the final say. Works like a charm.

~ Beth ~ on

I personally feel like the key to getting your kids to look nice while still giving them a choice is to pull out 2 outfits & let them pick which one they want to wear. Or shorts or a skirt with a few different tops that are acceptable. The child think he or she is a big kid because they got to “pick out their own clothes” & you still have peace of mind that you can walk out of the house without getting “the looks”!!!

That being said, my 5 yr old daughter can get clothes out that match well. My 7 yr old son will throw on whatever & try to head out the door. It really depends on the child.

MB on

I think it depends on the occasion. If we’re going out to the grocery store and my daughter wants to wear a tutu, what does it hurt? If it’s school or church, I don’t think that should be an option. I would instead offer several possible outfits and let my child choose one of those to wear. This allows each of us a measure of control. Kids should be allowed to be kids for as long as possible, and I think mismatched clothes is a part of that. But, I still understand the need for them to look more tidy on certain occasions. I don’t have a child at toddler age yet, but this is my plan based on observations and on the comments I’ve read from other moms here, over the past while.

Alice on

I don’t have children myself yet, but when I was two my mum let me dress myself for a doctor’s appointment. I wore a swimming costume, wellies and a fireman’s hat. Needless to say sixteen years later I often need fashion advice from my friends!!

So perhaps two is too young to know what to wear.

Sydney on

I think it’s great when kids want to dress themselves, whatever they want to wear. Living in the UK all schools have uniforms, so that solves that problem and I am not religious, so short of a wedding or something I can’t imagine to many formal occasions where my kids would have to look smart. As long as their health is not at risk, bikini when its snowing etc. I would like my kids to develop their own sense of style. I would like to instill a confidence in my children that I have, be proud of yourselves for being different, you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.

Jess from Ohio on

I’m not a mom, but I’d have to agree with most of the above posters. I would give a choice of a few outfits because I wouldn’t want my kid going out looking a mess. And of course it depends on the situation. If I was grocery shopping and my future kid wanted to wear a superman robe, I would probably let them.

Sydney on

Alice, if you wore a swimming costume, wellies and firemans hat at a British festival these days you would be hailed as Style Queen and probably get papped! Maybe your 2 year old self as an inner model waiting to get out!!

Michelle Z on

DS is 4 now, and unless we are going somewhere that requires a certain outfit, or uniform, I let him choose whatever he likes. If he wants to wear pajamas all day, and the only places we are going are the grocery store and the park, I don’t mind. As long as it is appropriate for the weather, and he’s happy, I’m happy.

Di on

I’m not in favor of allowing small children to dictate what they are and are not going to wear. As the parent, it my job to decide what they are going to wear on any given ocasion.
I think that parents give their children too much freedom and not enough structure. If you allow your children to decide what they are going to where, next it will be food and you wonder why childhood obesity is such a problem and it is because there are parents who let the children eat all sort of junk food instead of nutritious meals.

Turisa Rucker on

We live in a pretty casual city so if my three year old daughter wakes up and wants to dress herself, I let her. I figure it’s just another way for her to express herself. However, if we are going somewhere like a wedding, I’ll give her a choice but not free reign of her wardrobe.

Danielle, CBB Senior Editor on

I’m ok with Anya dressing herself as long as it’s occasion and weather appropriate. Wearing a party dress around the house? Ok as long as she’s not eating. Wearing totally clashing clothes to school? Fine. I’m just happy she wants to wear clothes at all! Many mornings she refuses to take off her nightgown.

Our main problem is that she ALWAYS wants to wear a “party dress” or princess dress!

Ekaterina on

I started dressing myself at age 2. My mom said I opened my dresser drawer one day and declared that I would dress myself from then on. No one has dressed me since. I had to wear a school uniform until I was in sixth grade so that solved school clothes, outside of school though, I had quite the ecclectic taste well into my teen years. My parents never once bemoaned my style, even when it was downright awful. And I really appreciated that. I grew out of my more strange fashion choices all on my own. My parents gave me total fashion independence and allowed me to discover it all on my own. And today I work in fashion!
Obviously it can depend on the occasion, but I think kids should dress themselves when they are ready and able. It gives them a valuable sense of independence.


My when my son was 2 years old he just wanted to wear jeans and a t shirth, with the printing of Cars, so his wardrobe was pretty much the same clothes =), I wanted him to wear shorts beacause we live in Monterrey, Mexico and its too hot in the summer, but he never wanted too, so I let him wear jeans, he is 3 years old and he has his own style!


Oh I forgot to say, he always wears Converse shoes, he has a lot of sneakers and sandals, but he always has his Converse on!

Leigha on

My son 2 year old son started to dress himself recently. He’s a rocker just like his daddy, so he likes to look like him at all times! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, and I’m glad he dresses against the norm. We were recently at the grocery store, and my son (with his new mohawk, Future Bruiser shirt, black dickies (that has to be specially made), studded belt, and “skate shoes”) was talked to by an elderly woman who commended him on how “adorable” and “handsome” he was, and told me she’s glad me, as a parent, is not afraid to let her son be who he is. If like his daddy is who he wants to be, fine with me! His father is an amazing person that happens to dress differently, but the most amazing person and father out there.

Deb on


I think thats a fairly large jump to say leting kids pick their clothes leads to things like childhood obesity.

kids are kids and their clothing choices i feel should be appropriate but up to them. why pressure them into thinking they always need to “look good”. they will get enough of that in highschool!!!!

Estelle on

I let my kids wear whatever they want to a certain extent. If we are going to a special event I’ll give them a few choices. Half the time my 2 1/2 year old wears a cape and/or Batman mask to the grocery store LOL!

jane mollan on

Always!!! When they are little, this is an essenial part of growing up… To be allowed to explore one’s own thoughts and tastes, however deightfully mad!!!Little boys and girls have very different tastes, often between the same genders. I have 2 boys and 3 girls and each is very very different in how they wish to express themselves though their clothes and images..To dress them in fashions that i would love to see them wear, as the the adult, and what I believe is appropriate, I have learned is a denial of a child’s personal growth.

Trust me. As children grow and mix more and more with friends in a peer group who (hopefully) have different ways of expressing themselves, children push harder and harder to stand out, to be seen and recognised as individuals while at the same time strive to “fit in”….Our children always go through a stage here we are all entirely “lame”. Let your children be free to express themselves with clothes. Think about what pressure Ms Suri Cruise must be subjected to to be always perfectly coiffured: hand made shoes, designer clothes, perfect hair and being told how to “hold” the perfect smile vis a vis a photographer? She is not the only child subjected to this forced behaviour among famous parents..Sorry. But all children should always be protected by their ADULT parents (no matter how famous) and their choices about how they want to be presented to everyone else be respected…I long to see Ms Suri Cruise and othr celebrity children shown as getting “down and dirty”…wearing clothes that are made to allow them to play, explore, get dirty in mud and sand and grass and water…I’d love to see their famous parents do the same too. There is nothing quite so delightful than see your children see you, through their eyes, as simply wonderful…

best wishes to all.

JM from Australia

Harley on

If it’s the weekend, I say 4 or 5. Now, don’t get me wrong, at 2 and on until about 6 or 7, I’ll lay out clothes and let them make a choice between outfits, especially during the school year.

Liz on

My daughter is three and we let her pick her own clothes almost daily for school. As long as they are weather-appropriate and doable at school (for example there are certain rules about shoes that are okay or not, etc.) then she is good to go. Really, why does it matter if a three-year-old is wearing the perfect outfit? It doesn’t make any difference in her life or mine if she is matching most days. LOL. Of course if there is a special occassion then we tend to give just a couple of options. If it was up to her, though, I think she would wear a fairy outfit every day! To me, this is one of those “pick your battles” situations and this is not a battle we choose to pick.

Christine on

Easy. I buy the clothes. I stick the clothes in the drawer, making sure only clothes that are clean, season-appropriate, and the correct size are in the dresser. And then my 4.5 year old boys get to pull out whatever clean pants and shirts they want. Sometimes the outfits don’t match as well as I’d would have picked, but its clean, “normal”, and they’re happy.

Dee on

When my daughter started pre school she wanted to boots all the time no matter what the weather, no matter what the season. So if the boots made her have a good day at school then I was happy too!

ann on

I pick my battles with my 3 children. Church, I pick out the boys clothes and give the girl two options. School I give options as well, no PJ’s or tutu’s to school. Every other time, I let them express their style. My daughter has gone shopping as Dorthoy and the Wicked Witch, my son has worn a fireman outfit. They like,and I could care less about the old grumpy lady behind me making comments! I had a mom who told me what to wear all the time (until college), and I am the fashion rebel- t-shirts and jeans with comfortable schools. Drives her up the wall even today and I am 30!! LOL

Susan on

For six straight months when I was two I wore a belt (bright red) with my older brother’s name all over it. So I would have on these beautiful pink smocked embroidered dresses that my mother made for me ruined by a red belt that said ALEX over and over again around my middle.

Mom says that sometimes it is not worth the fight. Sure I looked silly, but I was two and everyone understood.

nicole on

My girls are 3 & 4.5yrs old. I have a hanging shoe rack in the closet which has 5 boxes, one for each school day…On Sunday nights we pick an outfit for each of them for each day of the week so in box #1 (all boxes have stickers that are numbered box 1-5), they get out the clothes that they helped pick and get dressed on their own. It relieves a lot of morning hassle. I do have to feel for Danielle though, my daughter does the same thing….with the nightgown (a princess nightgown at that) is a difficult thing to get her take off at times! For special things, family weddings, parties, events, I usually give them a few choices and let them pick on their own. Even though, you have picked what they can wear, they feel empowered by making the “final choice”

Sindi on

My mom made me wear some pretty awful outfits for special occasions and church when I was growing up and I hated it! But during the week i could wear whatever I picked. Giving your child an option of 2 or 3 outfits sounds like a great idea – children are not just robots to order around and control – so not giving them a choice at all seems kind of cruel

Michelle on

I think there is a fine line between letting kids express themselves and losing parental control. Despite wanting to raise a flock of intelligent, creative, free-thinkers; we need to be aware that big lessons can be taught in small ways. Stucture, balance, boundaries, respect are equally important.

And while I don’t necessarily think that wearing a tutu to the groery store is a direct link to childhood obesity, I see too many parents who throw up their hands with the “it’s not worth the fight” defense.

Yes, it is worth the fight…they are your children and you are solely responsible for raising them and helping them make the right choices in life. It’s a slippery slope.

Just Saying on

I agree with most of the posts. I would encourage the child to wear whatever they want but to a limit such as church or some formal event. And even then, I like the idea of giving them a few different options to choose from, that way they are picking what they want but from what i’ve already approved. And commenting on the picture of this post of Suri, I sometimes feel that she is not dressed appropriately for her age and you have people a lot older dressing much younger. Go figure.

B on

I have always let my kids dress themselves as soon as they were able to do so…I just let them know beforehand that they need to be appropriately dressed for the weather or event. I do get final say for a special occasion but I think that by letting my kids have some control about their dress has given them confidence and a healthy sense of self. Do they look goofy at times? Yes. Do I care? No. I think that most people have enough sense to realize that I did not put my son in plaid from head-to-toe or that I am not the one who made my daughter look like Bjork. Plus, it has really helped them to define themselves to others and encouraged them to stand up for themselves when teased. As a parent, I control so much for them, why not give them a bit of power, occasionally? Plus, I am the one who does the shopping….

babyboopie on

I always dressed my son up until he was 3 years old in outfits I hand-picked for him but then one day, he threw a tantrum when I tried to dress him in a SALMON (not pink) coloured shirt and said ” NO Maman! Pierre want that!”
He promptly showed me what he wanted to wear which was a bright blue T-shirt with some kind of action figure on it that a friend bought. Yuck. I thought it was HIDEOUS!
Ever since, my son now chooses his clothes when we go shopping and he now dresses himself without any assistance! (Apart from when he needs his shoe-laces tying!!)
I am very impressed and proud of my son because he has come so far in being independent- I am, of course, sad that my little boy’s growing up so quickly but it’s so exciting to watch him learn something new every day!
I think as soon as children are old enough to decide what clothes they want to wear (regardless of age), it is when they’re ready. And in time, they will learn to dress themselves independently- it takes a lot of effort and patience on the parent’s part- to do it step by step- showing them by example then letting them do it themselves.

Michelle Z on

I think it’s a big jump to assume that if I let my son dress himself, there must be no structure, balance or boundaries in his life. There are plenty of all 3, which why I choose my battles (which is very different from saying “it’s not worth the fight”) and allow him to have some control in what he wears.

Tracy on

I really think that there are several instances to consider. But for the most part, I think that offering a toddler a few choices helps them as they grow into children/tweens. I encourage my boys to dress themselves and if they don’t dress appropriately, I explain WHY they shouldn’t wear a turtleneck in July or a swimsuit in December. Talk to your kids, listen to them, let them tell you what they would like – it helps them grow up and feel confident in themselves and their choices. We all can’t afford a personal stylist – but we can all make our own choices and become our own person.

Jess on

You have to allow a child to be free with choices, and not force them into wearing a certain style/item all the time.

I’d love to see Suri in jeans and a top (and a jacket!) but if she is comfy in what she wears, fine. The Jolie-Pitt kids never look “scruffy” they just look “normal” and I think thats one of the main reasons they’re getting hassle.

If Ange and Brad allow them to wear what they want, so what but from every picture of (take a deep breath, lol =D) Maddox, Pax, ZeeZee, Shiloh, Knox and Viv they are colour co-ordinated and suitably dressed. They never go out looking like they dress themselves fully.

On a personal level, though I’m yet to have children whenever I care for my cousins and we’re dressing them I tend to give them some choices or they choose what they want and if I agree then its okay.

My cousin has just turned four and loves to dress herself…her parents didn’t want to at first and gave her some guidance and options but she is always colour co-ordinated and looking smart (though we occasionally get spots and stripes worn together!).

I don’t see any problem with children dressing themselves, as long as its age and weather appropriate!

shea on

When my older girls were little, I always hung their clothes in outfits, and I removed things that weren’t weather appropriate when the seasons changed, I also hung them in sections in their closets (play-clothes, church-clothes, party-clothes)… That way they could make their “own” choices and still be dressed properly.
It worked very well, and my 13 year old has always been good at color coordinating and accessorizing, I think because it was instilled in them when they were small. I will do the same with baby-Alessia’s clothes when she is born in March, I think it works well and gives them the sense of independence while also teaching them how to properly dress.

Missy on

My 5 year old daughter has been picking out her clothes since she was 18 months. Yes sometimes she’s wearing a Christmas dress in July, or doesn’t match but who cares? And just because I give her the freedom to wear what she wants, doesn’t mean that she has no structure and that I’m losing parental control.

Jennie on

When both my children were younger, I’d give them “appropriate choices” and let them pick what they wanted to wear. Now that they are older (11 and 7), obviously they choose their own outfits but I sometimes give them “advice” based off of what the weather is expected to be that day and other factors. They always seem to listen to me, so hopefully my next child will be the same way!

Danica on

You give them a choice. Then the child thinks he/she is in control and believe me, they LOVE that. So you put together two or three outfits ahead of time, lay them out and ask the child to pick which one they want…the child has no struggle with you then. I’ve used this many times and it works.

Autumn on

I think as long as you have tasteful clothing that is in generally good shape for your kids, whatever they pick out should be okay, especially if they’re under 5 or 6.

I think that’s why I’ve seen ads for Garanimals again, rather than more expensive kids clothes on TV.

Anyway if your kids aren’t always color/pattern coordinated, its okay they’ll live, just like we did back in the day.😉

JB on

If we let our 8 year old dress herself every day, she would wear the same dress every day. Some weeks we let her – as long as it’s clean and she agrees to wear tights, a hoodie, etc. to accommodate the weather. With the exception of special occasions, we’ve been letting her choose her clothing since she was 4. Sometimes we have to “remind” her that she can’t wear party shoes on days she has gym at school, but otherwise I think it has helped her develop her sense of “self.”

H on

My son is 5 and while I still pick out his clothes he occasionally wants to do it. I think it is important to teach kids how to look nice, appearance IS important as well as first impressions, so I feel this is an important life lesson. Let them express themselves through painting or other forms of expression. I think parents who say they let their kids express themselves s through clothing are just too lazy to fight the fight and put their foot down. Anyway, I make sure I don’t buy clothing that I wouldn’t want him to wear, get rid of anything that is stained or too small so they don’t even have that choice. That will definitly cut down on battles. I also hate most character clothes, so I buy them for him as pj’s and he can pick out this own pajamas and wear his characters at night. SO far no problems.

Elaine on

My husband lets our yougest daughter (21 months) pick out her own shoes and has done since she worked out what a shoes was! Given her choices (sandals, trainers,or leather shoes) that is fine. Our eldest (5 years) picks out the style of what she wants – skirt dress or trousers- and if its clean and ironed that is fine. Her school has a uniform so we no arguments with what she wears to school.

Natalie on

My 4.5 daughter has been dressing herself since she was about 2, we dont do church and rarely do special occasions and even then if the clothes are clean and tidy I dont really mind what she chooses to wear, she has asked for her hair to be dyed pink too and we have done it. My boys are too little yet to choose, but I will let them wear what they want, even if its a dress. I feel my children deserve as much freedom of expression and of themselves as I do, and we have pretty clear boundaries and structure, I just have different priroities.

Lilybett on

Unlimited choice can be a problem – swimear in winter, princess dress to the beach, etc- but letting them choose from two or three options is fine from around two.

Lanna on

Once the kids are 2-4yo, we’ll let them dress themselves within reason. Sometimes it results in rainboots with shorts in July or a tank top over a long sleeved shirt, but eh, I’ve got bigger battles (like drilling into them that running into the street is not a good idea) to fight. We will add things like sweatshirts and coats and warm pants over their choices sometimes because I live in a colder climate, but still. When we do leave the house I prefer that they have an outfit on that looks somewhat decent/matching, but sometimes it’s just laundry day or the hubby dresses them, you know?

Maire on

I’m 17 i’m not sure how long ive been dressing myself but i still cant match my clothes lol its not that i don’t know how i’m just too lazy. i wear what ever’s comfy. i like sweats and t-shirts. i hate getting dressed up and i stay in my pjs until i have to go out of the house. I know that my mom is grateful for that because she doesn’t have to fight with me about my clothes not being modest enough. Plus, Ive gone to a private school since kindergarten, so I really havent had too much of a choice being forced to wear a uniform.

janj on

I have two daughters and one would put on anything i gave her, however, the other has always been her own individual. She always wanted to put on what ever she desired, whether it was pajama shirts with red cowboy boots or her finest church outfit with fuzzy slippers. However, after about 3 or 4 i began to step in to teach her protical as well as to help her develop some form of fashion sense. We must allow our children to be able to express themselves, but ultimately, we are the parents and must step in and stop certain things when its appropriate.

Amellia on

I let mine dress themselves since they were 2 1/2. I have a picture of my 2 1/2 year old son in a t-shirt, shorts and cowboy boots. He was so proud of the fact he could dress himself that I wasn’t going to tell him boots don’t go with shorts. I felt so long as it wasn’t a special occasion, church, and was right for the weather they could dress them selves. Now for school we picked it out together. Now they are teenagers and pretty much I have no say in the matter, except for unapproperate clothing, but for family pictures they had to dress in a suit. Youngest hates collar shirts but he had to wear a collar shirt and tie no matter how hard he tried to get out of it.

My 2 year old nephew who lives with me picked out his outfit today, a talking Winnie the Pooh shirt and that was it. Since we stayed home today there was no harm in him running around in a shirt and diaper.

SY on

I’ve always given my children a choice between 2-3 outfits with a variety of sleeve lengths and pant lengths. That said, now that my oldest is approaching 8 yrs and wears a uniform to school, I’ve spent the last year letting him choose whatever he wants to wear b/c I’m trying to get him to learn to coordinate his outfits. I think it depends on the child’s age and what their needs are. My younger son wanted to wear non matching socks for about a year and I let him when he wore long pants…he wore them at home with his shorts, but knew that he needed to take them off when we were out and about. I’m all for giving in a bit and letting them express themselves, but I also agree with Michelle about the boundaries and respect issues.

Emily McDonald on

My three-year-old gets to choose from a couple of different outfits I’ve pulled out for him. My five-year-old gets to pick out her clothes but I have veto power.

Gelareh on

I don’t have a kid, but I think dressing up kids is mainly selfish because the children want to pick their cloths and have fun in them and parents prevent them from doing so because they want the kids look good. This is not for the kid, because the kid doesn’t understand and care about looking good.

I was always dressed up as a child and couldn’t play like other kids because I was always afraid something is going to happen to my cloths.

What I would do is to let them dress themselves when nothing special is going to happen, let them choose between a variety of decent cloths when they’re going out for dinner or at a friend’s house and alike and just dress them up for special occasions.

T.Kaka on

I agree with some points of view of the most of above comments.I have my 4 years old grand son living with me,he has been given the choice of dessing himself at 3 with indirect intervention of his mom. The child was thinking that he did the choice himself, and was happy,feeling enjoying himself of being able to dress himself, but really it was an indirect choice of his mom.
The first step starts,as LIZ said by buying the clothes,buy what ever you want your child wear, what ever co-ordinate,appropriate, then put and hang the season – appropriate clothes in his word robe and remove others that aren’t season appropriate when the season changes, give him a couple of clothes to dress himself, put together what you want him to wear and and let him do his choice, ask him to do that, to wear what ever he wants.This will encourage him, let him feel happy, enjoying, give him self confidence, the child will feel that he has chosen his dressing,but really it is an indirect choice of you.
At 3 the kids are able to dress themselves, let them do it and explain if not appropriate, or coordinate.

Rebecca on

I have been struggling with this issue myself. I have noticed that children vary widely in terms of how much interest they have in clothes. Some just want you to dress them, others are passionate about what they will and won’t wear. My daughter has graduated from a committed 2 yr old nudist, to a 3yr old costume obsessive, to a 4 yr old bikini-over-a-jumper wearer to, incredibly, a 5 yr old boho-type fashionista. Seriously the girl can co-ordinate! She puts things together I think will look awful and she makes it work. I have stopped picking her clothes now because a) she is more stylish than me and b) she gets such a glow about her when she is pleased with her outfit. I love that for her its all about how she feels. I wish I could still dress that way, unaware about other peoples perceptions, just enjoying solely the creative expression of fashion. Personally I have to say that nothing makes me smile more than a girl (or boy) in a fairy dress at the supermarket/sports field/doctors.

I agree children need to learn structure and boundaries. So anything too skimpy or cold should be out. But I think that adults/parents ALSO need to learn boundaries. Kids are not accessories. They are their own people. I think learning to separate your sense of self and ego from them is actually one of the trickier parts of parenting. So, please, let them dress a bit kooky. It will make my day!

maeve on

i think that kids should express themselves but i still think u should help them out, like if they want to wear the tutu maybe show them a top to go with it. if kids dont express themself they become boring people when they get older. plus theres a stronger chance theyll rebel. when i was little my mom let me express my self to an extent, i never rebelled, but my friend on the other hand want allowed and shes in a bit of trouble.
anyways i think kids should dress them selves with a bit of their parents help

Silvermouse on

I agree, Di. My friends drop their mouths open when I tell them that my parents only allowed me to drink milk for the first three years of my life. But the joke is on them because I’ve only had a few cavities. I do think there is a fine line though (i.e. Cookie Monster having to eat vegetables before cookies-just wrong. . . ) Parents should teach their kids that, not sesame street. (coming from someone who eats just fine, and watched cookie monster be a cookie monster.

Camille on

My daughter is 5 1/2. I pretty much allow her to wear what she wants. She often wears mismached ourfits, pink from head to toe or several different patterns, if its absolutley ridiculous then I will step in other wise I dont mind. When she was in preschool her teacher said it was healthy for children to pick their own style and I totally agree. Growing up I was always told what to do and what to wear, I was sheltered and had no opinion. My little girl has a fun sense of style she’s a good kid and Im trying to raise her right. She knows that before anything comes god and thats what matters most.

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