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"With your middle-school girl, the challenge is not to forbid lip gloss or makeup, but to express concern about the image she projects when she wears it (or wears too much of it). Voice your opinion and then (within reason) allow your daughter to decide how she wants to put on clothes and makeup."
Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.
Co-author, Packaging Girlhood
Preschool (under 5)
Buy clothes that are appropriate. Don't dress your daughter in clothes that you think are too sexy for her age and stage. This goes for both your preschooler and your school-aged child. In addition, consider the clothes you buy for their dolls. Are these clothes you'd want your own daughter to wear?
School Age (5-9)
Listen to why she wants the clothes, without criticism.
If your daughter insists on clothes you don't approve of, discuss it instead of just saying no. "She might want the clothes in order to fit in, feel powerful or be popular. Try to make these issues the focus of the conversation, not whether you like the sexy t-shirt or the low-rise jeans," advises Lyn Mikel Brown.
Ask follow-up questions.
If your daughter says "All my friends have it," you might say, "Yes, but these clothes are really for grown ups" or "Why do you think your friends like it?" In this way, you are helping her become a critic instead of a consumer.
Offer her other options or other colors.
"Offer her counter-examples to the trends," says Brown. "Help her to notice, for instance, that wearing only one color limits her world, so she can step back and say, 'That's not me.' "
Negotiate but stay in charge.
Let her make choices within the limits you set. If you feel certain types of clothing send negative messages about her body, tell her you won't buy them or allow her to purchase them (or get them from friends), but explain why.
Introduce the concept of stereotype.
"You can help your four- or five-year-old develop a vocabulary and a way of talking that will set the stage for conversations for years to come," write Brown and Sharon Lamb in Packaging Girlhood. "What better way to introduce the word 'stereotype' to your daughter than by walking through the girls' department of any clothing store or the 'blue' and 'pink' aisles of any toy store? If you question, she'll question. Model a way of seeing and talking about the different choices presented to her. Ask her to imagine stories other than romance, shopping sprees, or saved by the prince versions she'll see over and over so she can step back and say, 'That's silly. That's a stereotype. Girls aren't really like that.' "
Middle School (10 and up)
Ask your daughter what she likes about an item of clothing.
Let her explain her reasons (but be aware that her reasoning is not likely to be the same as yours) so that she feels her opinions are valued.
Discuss it without judging.
Instead of just saying "That's too short, not for you," talk about the image the clothing item projects, and ask your daughter questions that help her connect this image to more adult experiences she may not have thought about. You might explain why you think this clothing (or makeup) is inappropriate and ask her what she thinks. Helping her gain some perspective will be stronger than a simple "no," which may only make her want the item more.
Ask questions to get her thinking about self-image.
If she's begging to wear a belly shirt or low-cut jeans that expose more of her body than you approve of, ask her, "What message do you think you're sending to people when you show that much of your body?" Your questions may help her become aware that how she displays her body has an affect on others, whether positively, negatively, or (even) suggestively. You might also ask "Who dresses like this and what do you think about how she looks?"
Pick your battles.
You think her color choices don't go together? Not worth the argument! Allow her to dress herself the way she likes, within age-appropriate reason. That said, big decisions about clothes and makeup remain yours to make, albeit with lots of input from your daughter.
Help her understand the power of words.
"When you talk with your daughter about clothes you approve of, use words and concepts like 'choice, freedom, and power' to help her create a valid and true identity," recommends Brown. "Marketers use those words for a reason -- they know girls are creating identities through fashion."