Help for: We are always late because my child can't decide what to wear!!

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 3rd Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Parenting

Allowing children the independence to pick out their own clothing can cause frustration. However, pairing outfits in advance and picking out clothes the night before can eliminate a lot of frustration and still allow children to make their own choices.
I've fictionalized and dramatized a few things to make the story more interesting, but this is more or less what happened, and the advice is hopefully sound regardless.

Introduction and Background

When I was teaching Adult ESL (English as a Second Language), I worked with a lot of mothers who were away from their mothers. They didn't want to spend time talking to their mothers about problems in parenting; they wanted to stay upbeat and positive. But they struggled. They wanted to do things the American way, so their kids would fit in and be comfortable. They would come to me, not because I had every answer, but because if I didn't know, they knew I would Google or ask somebody until I found an answer I could share. What they didn't know was how often other new moms were having the same problems. When a young lady from Eritrea (in Africa) came to me and told me about a problem she was having with her son, I thought the answer was obvious. But just as I am clueless on many, many things, my answer took her by surprise, and I think she didn't believe it would work at all. What is obvious to some is never obvious to all.

"My child wants to pick out his own clothes!"

She said. It was such a simple request. Her child wanted to pick out his own clothes. But every morning, he could not decide what he wanted to wear. So she, harried and frustrated by the lateness of the hour, would pick something out. "Wear this."
"Just Put it on. We're going to be late to school."

She thought the problem was too many clothing choices. I told her that the problem was trying to pick out what to wear when he had just woken up.

Change the timing of the problem, and the problem disappears

Instead of waiting until the morning to pick out clothes, I suggested, make selecting the next day's outfit part of the nighttime routine. Have bath time, pajama time, picking out clothes time, then brushing teeth, and whatever else needs doing, before story time and bed. "And here's the kicker," I added. "Story time is coveted time, right?"
She nodded.
"You set bedtime, show what things need to be done, including picking the clothes for the next day, and if those things aren't done by story time..." I paused dramatically, hoping she would finish my sentence. She didn't.
"If the tasks are not complete," I finished for myself, "No story."
She actually gasped in horror at the thought.
"But I read to them in English. It's good practice."
"First, you have to be Mommy." I told her. "Most children won't miss their story many nights, if ever, once they know what they need to do."

Would she try it? Would it work?

We had to stop talking then because it was time for class. I wondered if she would take my advice. I didn't see her again for nearly a week -- which can happen in an adult ESL classroom. Kids get sick and need mommy to stay home. The husband needs to have VIPs over for dinner, and the wife stays home to arrange everything. Sometimes the adult student has a job or college class, if the VISA allows, and must squeeze in English lessons around other responsibilities. Sometimes there is an opportunity for travel -- and sightseeing in the US among native speakers is far superior, in my opinion, to book learning English. So I didn't see her for a week, and I have to admit the conversation pretty much slipped my mind.

"It worked! You were right!"

I was caught completely off guard when the student came to me a week later.
"It worked, teacher! You were right!"
"I was? I mean, of course I was. What was I right about?"
"I told my son we had a new routine, and he must choose his clothes before story time every night. Now we are not late in the morning, and I am not so frustrated."
"Oh, yeah! Great! You have such a smart son."
"I have such a smart teacher." (This is a 100% true, non-fictionalized comment!!!)
"Awwww." I blushed. I have really smart students.


Picking out clothes can be a difficult task, even for adults. Here are some ways to simplify:

Try to plan your outfits a week in advance. Consider any special events for which a particular shirt or outfit is needed. Then you'll know if you need to launder something, or make sure everything fits (especially for children in growth spurts, children who are close in size and share clothes, or women with fluctuating waistlines).

If planning a week ahead is impossible, at least pick out clothing the night before. I know that I always wear a school shirt on days I volunteer there. I could wear something else, but knowing I'm planning to wear a school shirt means one less thing to think about. My son's spirit day at school (where everyone wears a school shirt) is Friday. Every week, I make sure he has a school shirt set aside for Friday's spirit day.

Sort tops by color -- if your child is having trouble making a choice (or if you are) ask what color s/he wants to wear. Or offer the choice -- red or green shirt tomorrow? You may cut a choice of 20 different colored shirts down to 5, which is more manageable.

Especially for younger kids, pre-select outfits on hangers, even fresh out of the dryer. Make your own Garanimals! Now that my child wears jeans with almost everything, clothing choices are much simpler. When he was little, I bought hangers that allowed for shirt and pants to be easily seen (hourglass-shaped) -- see image. I used the other kinds, too, but the one piece hourglass ones worked best for my son's clothes until he was in Kindergarten.

Turn all your hangers to face the same way on the closet rod. This will help prevent the hangers from getting stuck on each other and falling off. When I worked in the clothing section of a department store, we were taught to turn every hanger to look like a question mark. This was very helpful advice.

Do you have a tip that belongs here? Please help my article better by letting me know!


Children, Choices, Clothing, Esl, Frustration, Growing Pains, Growing Up, New Systems, New Way Of Doing Things, Night Before, Outfits, Parenting, Separation, Storytime

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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author avatar Ptrikha
12th Jan 2015 (#)

Great tips, made for an interesting read.

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