When it comes to children’s fashion choices there’s a whole new world to navigate, and best advice to parents everywhere is to tread very carefully

It is so sweet at the start, with children dressing themselves and making charmingly creative choices. That pink tulle ballet skirt worn over jeans and wellies; the fluffy onesie with legs rolled up carefully selected for a day at the beach. This early experimental phase is – as every parenting manual will tell you – an opportunity to encourage their sense of independence. But then it morphs into a phase not quite so pleasing to the parental eye, and you realise you are ‘so last century’.

Style sense

Some children develop their style sense early, others are less attuned to the beat of the fashion drum, but nearly all experiment. Sometimes they are guided by what their friends are doing and by social media, but as they move through their pre-teen and beyond phase it also becomes part of their exploration of identity. That’s why the ill-timed comment (‘you’re not going out in that?’) is to be avoided where possible. Unless they risk hypothermia or a public decency offence – or the clothes really are way too grubby to be worn – the rule of thumb is to bite your tongue.

Parent power: Fashion experiments and how to manage them
All children experiment to find their style – the general guidance is to be sensitive and use encouragement rather than criticism to support them

Guide and encourage

Guidance and encouragement are the best ways to help your child find their style. They can be complimented on colours that suit them, combinations you like and creativity when they pair items in brilliant new ways – you can even praise them when they look smart. By the same token, avoid pointed criticism of choices to dent fragile self-belief and image, and never, ever, tell a child something doesn’t flatter their shape.

While there’s no doubt that some choices are little short of embarrassing to our eyes, that is a kind of natural justice. Famously, children cringe at many of their parents’ choices when it comes to clothing and behaviour (big hats and ‘Dad dancing’ at weddings, for example). Enforce your dress code and you set the seeds of far bigger and wilder fashion experimentation – much of it likely to be covert.

Look and learn

Most of us remember what it felt like to be at that ‘awkward phase’. Like us, today’s young people conform for most of the time, with strict uniform codes for school and organised activities. Perhaps they are forced into more conformity than us – they are certainly more scrutinised, thanks to mobile cameras and social media.

One thing fashion does offer is a way to show a genuine interest and ask questions. Be it good, bad or ugly, the outfit they chose is always about more than clothes. At a time of seismic change, and when they don’t have a big voice in society, our children’s style choices say a lot about their perspectives – maybe even how they are feeling today. For all of us adults, it’s an opportunity to look and learn.

Further reading: Parent power – lies and how to deal with them