How we dress our bodies is linked to the concept of how our bodies are private and not public. From a young age, most of us are already start teaching our kids privacy and body safety because we all desire for them to be safe.
Some of the ways we teach these concepts include using proper names for their body parts, teaching them that their private areas should not be seen or touched by others and even why they can’t touch their private parts whenever they want.
While a toddler walking around only in a diaper is okay at home, ensuring that our tots put on "proper" clothes if visitors are coming over is something that we all do that inculcates a healthy attitude towards modesty and nakedness.
Our clothing choices are commonly informed by ongoing trends, peer influence and personal values. All of these play a part in guiding the way we dress.
While your child may not really see the link between their clothing choices and their values yet, you can help set the groundwork for this by teaching them about situational appropriate dressing.
Hypothetical questions like “If you wear board shorts, a singlet and slippers to Aunty Lydia’s church wedding, what message does that send?” can also help. Real-life scenarios like making sure uniforms are clean and ironed, and smart clothes and shoes are worn to formal events are handy practices where your kids actually learn to make choices about their clothing.
In the pre-school years, your curious child is likely to ask off-the-cuff questions about what they observe.
If they do ask about someone’s choice of clothes in public, you can explain that everyone gets to choose what they want to wear and it isn’t our place to judge them. You can talk about how people make choices based on personal reasons and even ask your child to think about what those reasons could be.
Reasons could range from the practical, like where they might be going and the weather, to deeper reasons, like what (or who) they might be influenced by and they may be trying to communicate to others.
You can also point out that our dressing can sometimes provoke thoughts and responses just like how they reacted to someone else’s dressing, and help them think about what thoughts they may want others to have about them.
If they were very loud in airing their question, you can also teach them to ask questions quietly in future. We want our kids to be independent thinkers, but not critical and judgmental.
At this age, children tend to be able to understand better what it means to live out their internal beliefs and values so it is a good time to to introduce them to the idea of modesty.
Using examples from media, you could even ask questions like:
Will it be okay to dress like this celebrity in real life? If so, why? If not, why?
How would you feel if you see someone dress that same way?
Why do you think they would dress that way?
Would you dress that way?
How do you think others may look at you or think?
Assure your children that they are valuable and they never need to dress in a certain way to get attention or acceptance.
It’s important to teach both our boys and girls to honour others well enough to not stare and to look away to give someone privacy even if they choose to reveal parts of their bodies that we would keep covered.
It can also be helpful to not start any behaviour you’d rather not encourage, for instance, if you can’t handle the thought of your teen wearing a string bikini one day, then don’t let her (however young) wear a bikini from the start.
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