Clothes Shopping with the Kids

There are few things as intimidating for a father as clothes shopping with the kids.  Minding antsy children, assessing appropriateness and checking what fits can scare most guys.  That doesn’t even touch the fear about crippling your kid’s lifetime self-worth with a poor choice of fashion.  But there are some things to remember – and do – that can make it more manageable and less fearful.

Setting the Stage

Shopping for clothing doesn’t begin when you walk into the store.

  • Before you leave the house, know what you need to buy.  That means reviewing the clothing that they have so that you aren’t spending hard-earned money on yet another pair of jeans or hoodie.  That also means knowing where you want to shop and how much time you have to reasonably accomplish what you want.  If it’s too long, be prepared to go on multiple trips.
  • If the kids are older, set groundrules on what’s acceptable school clothing and what’s not acceptable.  If you’re not certain about a school’s policy, check the district website for their clothing standards and if necessary, take a copy in your hip pocket.  Then go over your own family’s standards.  In the PracticalDad family, that means no low-slung pants, no shirts with messages, no ripped clothing – no, if ripped jeans are cool, we’ll stop at Goodwill and I’ll slash them myself, thank you – and no skulls.  I can live with black jeans or a stylish black shirt, but goth is as much a mindset as a fashion.
  • Do the kids even need to come along at all?  Some families I’ve known with very small children practice "hit and run" shopping with the parents swooping in to buy what looks like it will fit, then returning the non-fits after trying things on at home.  There are two disadvantages to this:  first, a child who is sensitive to how things feel – I hate this collar, my shoes are too tight, I don’t like how these socks feel – should come along so that you can determine whether something is going to create problems.  Donating never-worn clothing to charity is a frustrating waste of money.  Second, you have to really maintain control of the receipts and know which stores provided which items.
  • Like Dirty Harry said, a man’s gotta know his limitations.  It’s one thing to go for the daily wear, but if you have a limited sense of fashion-sense, then let your mate worry about the high fashions.  If my eldest went with me, she’d be perpetually dressed in a habit and wimple.
  • Kids do better when they know their expectations, so go over behavior groundrules with them beforehand.  The first rule is that there’s no hide-and-seek at all.
  • Then make sure that they know the consequences of misbehavior.  Loss of promised rewards – if I don’t have a problem at Kmart, then we’ll stop at the toy section – is better than the hoopla and public angst of having to remove a favorite toy. 
  • Let the kids choose favorite toys or books to take along so that they can be occupied while there.

At the Store

  • If you have multiple children, consider the age-order in which you shop.  Smaller children have a shorter attention-span – and fuse – and won’t last as long as older kids.  Additionally, the older kids can even chip in with finding clothing.  Understand that you’re going to be interrupted and feel like a pinball but this is just another of the ways that you’re teaching the kids.  I’m now finding that the older ones can point out what’s unacceptable in school culture; and if it fits within the school and family parameters, then why not let the kids be fashionable?  By the time that kids are in middle elementary school, even the boys are starting to pay attention to what’s in.  Please Dad, can I get some boxers?  I hate the tighty-whities!
  • When you’ve finished shopping for the younger ones, they can read or play with their toys while you attend to the older kids.
  • Find a spot in which you can keep an eye on the kids while you attend to the clothing.  They’ll simply have to move with you to an extent as you can’t afford to let them to wander.  A missing child is absolutely terrifying, trust me. 
  • Follow through on the pre-set guidelines about behavior and consequences.  Warnings and reminders about consequences can help keep kids in line, if they believe that you will follow through.
  • If the kids are old enough to follow and remember, take the opportunity to teach them about clothing and determining what fits.  What are pleats?  How do you tell if a pair of pants fit?  How do you find what shoebox goes with the cool sneakers on display?
  • Intersperse the shopping with treats.  Many large malls have play areas and a trip there during the shopping is a decent break for the kids and the parents, even if you have to monitor the behavior of the other kids there.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut the expedition short.  It’s better to have to come back than create a dread of something that just has to happen.
  • Take the opportunity to have a quick economics lesson at the checkout.  A credit card doesn’t mean that we don’t pay.  See how much we were able to save by doing this? 

Then yes, take some of the savings and get them a treat.

And remember that you’re going to feel like a pinball, but it’s a manageable feeling.

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