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Today I read about one mom who got into a fight with her 4 year old girl about clothes, because Mom didn’t want Girl to go to preschool wearing a striped shirt with mismatched polka dot pants.

Mom began by asking Girl to change clothes, then demanded, then begged, and finally Mom got her way by bribing girl with something sweet. Yes, we all know that preschool is a cruel, judgmental place where children jump at the chance to make fun of how stripes and polka dots clash… umm…

Seriously? Getting into a fight with a four year old over that? 

Parents and educators alike have to choose our battles. It’s great to give children opportunities to express themselves in funny, silly, and sometimes ridiculous ways. Occasionally they might want to dress like mismatched sock monkeys, and how often in life will they be able to pull that off? Let ‘em enjoy it while they can.

There is a time and a place for everything, and in certain contexts mom and dad really do need to decide what their preschooler wears. But when it’s not a big deal, why make it a big deal?

Beyond that, it’s the bribe that really gets to me. Mom went from a position of authority (though I question her motive) to a position of subservience. Girl has just learned a new way to control Mom & get a piece of candy by asserting her creative independence through clothes. How much you want to bet Girl will start dressing herself in funky ways just to negotiate candy out of Mom now?

That was not a battle worth fighting, and the ill-conceived bribe strategy led to a serious backfire. I’ve made similar mistakes, and continue to learn better ways to achieve my goals with kids.

The first step is deciding when it’s really worth pushing your agenda on a preschooler. Starting there will help hold the grey hairs back.

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