Solution for three year old’s dress obsession that makes everyone happy

A while back, I posted about how by the time I’ve dropped my daughter off at preschool, she’d gotten about ten comments about how cute she is and how cute her dress is.

Not long after preschool started, the second someone would see her, my daughter, just like her two sisters before her, would immediately rip off her sweatshirt as if she were Wonder Woman, exposing her cuteness to be admired by all. Everyone wants to be admired, right? That’s human. What isn’t OK is for girls to funnel so much of that desire for attention and admiration, for success and achievement through their appearance. My God, the training starts young.

So this is my third daughter that I’ve been through this pre-school/ dress obsession metamorphosis with. I’ve tried so many things: not putting them in dresses which led to tantrums. (These kids are smart. They know what’s happening. No one is going to take away the spotlight.) I tried deflecting comments from grown ups which can lead to awkward silences and confusion. I tried having adult conversations with my daughter that there was no way she could understand.

Then, something amazing happened. My washing machine broke down. Unable to wash many clothes, I let my daughter pick her favorites and made sure to keep those clean. When my daughter wore the same three or four dresses, her VERY favorites, over and over for three weeks, her teachers, the other moms, everyone stopped telling her how cute her dress was all the time. People started thinking of other things to say when they saw her in the morning. Truly. And my kid is still thrilled to be in her favorite duds; she hasn’t figured out that she’s got to have variety to get the same people to ooh and aaah. Hee hee.

This is the first tactic that has ever worked for me. So here’s my suggestion: let your daughter pick out her absolute favorites and keep them in a tight rotation. People might feel sorry for your kid, wish she had more clothes, think you’re a bad mom, but this is all good. It further inspires them to come up with other ways to make your daughter feel good. People are not trying to hurt your daughter, their intentions are good; they just want to be nice. I think that may be why this strategy works so well.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

19 thoughts on “Solution for three year old’s dress obsession that makes everyone happy

  1. My daughter was very confident until kinder -one of the reasons was i didn’t expose her much to media (TV etc) and the concept of ‘prettiness’. She wud be fine in ANY clothes and her confidence was praised by everyone including teachers.

    But after 2 years (1 year of kinder and 1 year of prep) she has become so focussed on clothing and looking ‘pretty’ that feels embarrassed in jeans.

    Today was book week parade. At home she was so excited to become paper bag princess but when in school she heard ‘cute-like’ comments to girls with dresses, she told me in her words “everyone is better than me”. She started to shy away- not willing to tell others who she was dressed as!

    It was an opportunity for me today to see her world more closely.
    May be that is why when i am telling her that appearances/dresses dont give u real happiness, her feelings dont coincide.

  2. I just dropped my daughter off the pre school and ran online in a desperate attempt to make sense of this awful obsession with dresses. Now here is my question: what do you do when she refuses to put on weather appropriate cloth? I won our battle by threatening to take all her pretty clothes away and am now feeling so totally authoritarian.yuk!

    • Hi Anodine23,

      Weather appropriate clothing is, for the most part, a battle I choose not to fight. My kids don’t seem to get sick anymore than usual by going outside without a jacket. Their bodies also seem to run at a different temperature than mine, everyone is different. I know people get really upset about this by my whole family is happier crossing it off our list of things to fight over. Good luck!


      P.S. If they go out without a coat, sweater etc they are not allowed to complain to me or try to borrow my warm stuff. Their coveting my clothes made them a lot more eager to dress appropriately.

  3. Hey! I would first like to say I am a big fan of your blog. As part of my English coursework I am writing about appearance and am including how we are taught to value it from a young age where I would love to cite your blog. My word limit seems quite small so I was hoping to find something shorter in the link to comments about her dress but the page doesn’t come up. Could you advise me on any other posts that might be appropriate to cite (if it is ok to cite any)? Thanks!

  4. i love this. we ended up doing it de facto because the four year old only has one fru-fru skirt (a gift) which she wants to wear all the time, and i gave up.

  5. Oh this is so timely I could hug you!!! We are in the midst of a bizarre dress obsession with our 4 yr old (well, I thought it was bizarre but hurrah, its normal!!) We’ve been doing just as you suggest and while there’s no sign of it abating, I now have a hope that I won’t be still looking at those three dresses until she’s ten. Thanks šŸ™‚

  6. I’m familiar with this effect!

    My children like to choose their own clothes from a young age, which means they often look a bit strange. They also get stuck on the same clothes as their favourites, with some odd combinations. As they are quite pretty the odd clothing has the effect of negating that impression somewhat. Add to that my 2 year old won’t let me do her hair so she hardly ever has cute pigtails or whatever. Good outcome all around!

    • Hi Tamara,

      I tried that but the trouble I have when my kids put together their own crazy outfits: people compliment them! Even more so. It seems like when look funny, it still draws attention to how they look. But maybe that’s San Francisco! People admire crazy dressers : ) That’s why I like the repitition because it seems to make their clothes invisible.


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