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teaching appropriate dress

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I've been having a hard time with my 9 year old dd and the way she dresses.  I wasn't sure where to post since I'm fairly sure that this ties in to her being recently adopted by us, and her prior trauma.  I wanted to get input from people who have experience with that.  Basically, no matter how many ways I've tried to explain to her about what's appropriate and what's not, she tends to try to walk out of the house looking way too "sexy" for a 9 year old.  Short shorts and high-heeled leather boots.  A tunic without tights ("I thought it was a dress").  Hot pink little girl bra under a white t-shirt.  These are all things that happen even after I've had repeated conversations with her about why that particular way of dressing is not ok.  Repeatedly with the same boots and shorts, the same tunic, the same white tshirt.  She doesn't own anything that is intended in an over-sexualized way.  There is nothing inherently inappropriate about any of her articles of clothing.  It's just how she pairs them. 


A few related notes: she did experience sexual abuse when she was five.  Before she joined our family (at age 6) she definitely did own lots of clothes that I felt were too sexy.  She's been working hard to differentiate herself from us, saying things like "I'm different, that's why I can't chew with my mouth closed, It's easy for you but for me it's just hard, because I'm different than you." 


Does anyone have insight or experience?  I can't tell how much of this is typical and how much is related to the other stuff.  Thanks.

post #2 of 13

I don't doubt that her past abuse/trauma might have some impact.


However, gently, I might suggest too that you really look at your perceptions as well.  Shorts with boots is something that you see a lot (in magazines, ads, ect).  I have a 9 year old who frankly is kind of clueless about colored bras and white t-shirts (unfortunately she does actually need to wear one).  We've had lots of discussion and it still happens (esp. since her favorite bra is a neon yellow sports bra!).


One thing I know that you are going to have to be careful about is immediately sexualizing her choices or anything she does.  While my kids have not suffered abuse, I did (not sexual though).  My parents went through a phase of hypersexualizing everything I did (at puberty), my mom even made statements that she didn't want me to be a slut like my birthmother.  I was clueless about clothes, loved bike shorts (because they were soft/stretchy/didn't irritate me like most fabrics/seams/rough textures did), often paired them with heeled boots (though they were cowboy boots though, I suppose not exactly sexy).


It seems like the shorts and boots really, really disturb you.  While I don't expect that everyone here would agree with me--frankly I would get rid of high heels and high heeled boots.  There's no real reason for a 9 year old to wear those, and it will give her and you a break.  Until she gets it more, phase out the colored bras.  I wouldn't necessarily make it punitive or tied to her "dressing sexy" at all, though.  If she's not listening about clothing choices, it may be time to make sure all combos are safe, so that you can pay close attention to behavior without getting distracted by the dressing (which may or may not mean anything).


If she's working hard to differentiate herself, it's totally possible that she's choosing clothing combos she knows that you hate, not because she wants to be a stripper in training, KWIM?  You guys might just need a break from battling over clothes.  At 9, I feel that it's legitimate to have that mean that things that create constant problems go away for a year or so, to remove the power struggle.  The last thing you want to do is constantly give your 9 year old girl (traumatized or not) and ESPECIALLY one entering puberty the message that you are constantly hyper aware of her body, that you are made very uncomfortable/disapproving of her body, that choosing the wrong clothing means that you're inviting people to abuse you.  If losing the clothing that you object to helps you to do that, I would so go for it.


If it doesn't and you still find yourself really focused on her body/"sexual expression"--then I would really suggest going to a counselor to help you put a safe framework (FOR YOU) around it and to help you sort through (and potentially get her some help too if things are not right).  There's no shame in that--I had to check in with a counselor when my daughter entered puberty (at 8ish) and some of my own traumatic issues rose in me.  In any case, you know that if there's issues of very weak sexual boundaries and/or high risk of exploitation--that's really not about the clothes, and even if she wore dungarees and birkenstocks a predator could still sniff that out.  I don't think it would be a bad idea to talk this out with a professional (esp. one that works with traumatized kids and their families) just as a check in since she's entering puberty (or will very soon), just to get a 2nd opinion, you know?

post #3 of 13

"There is nothing inherently inappropriate about any of her articles of clothing.  It's just how she pairs them." 


Short shorts, high heeled boots, brightly colored lingerie? 


I know, I KNOW, believe me I know and I empathize, about how hard it is to find tasteful clothing for little girls, especially if you are on any kind of a budget. And I'm sure you're right that your DD is having some issues with asserting/differentiating herself with clothing, and that's she's taking what she has to work with and making her self a sexxxeee outfit - because it's different than what you do, and it gets a reaction from you, and it's a way of saying "hey here I am I'm feeling uncomfortable with my total integration into the family." You've seen the same thing with eating. But you can be patient about the table manners, whereas having her walk out of the house dressed like a streetwalker is just not an option. 


You and DH need to make room in the budget for a shopping spree, and you need to sit down with your DD and explain the reason behind the new rules. What MY mother always said was that there are some clothes designed to get people to look at you and think about sexy stuff, and when you're too young for sexy stuff, wearing those clothes is inappropriate. I found this a very compelling argument when  I was prepubescent. (And during puberty, the conversation shifted to an ongoing negotiation about how MUCH come-hither was appropriate in various social situations.) Since your daughter has been abused, that approach might not be the best, because she might start thinking that she somehow invited the abuse with her clothing when she was five.  It's up to you and your DH to figure out the best rationale for your family's standards of dress. 


My mom's standards of dress for the prepubescent:


1. No heels.

2. No hose.

3. Undershirts, not bras, prior to breast development. 

4. Form-fitting shorts (spandex etc.) are only for at-home wear.

5. Form-fitting thin pants (leggings, jeggings) must have the butt areas covered up for public wear. Form fitting pants made out of real jeans material don't need the butt covered.

6. Skirts to the knee. Outgrown skirts are handed down. 

6. No sexy slogans on shirts.

7. No writing, of any kind, across the butt. 



When I write it all down it just seems like "duh," but even back in the 80s, I knew that my family's standards weren't universal. However, I wasn't the only kid who was expected to wear flat shoes and cover her crotch. I didn't stand out on the playground - and neither will your DD. Actually going to school and looking at the other girls might be a great starting place for you as select new items for your DD's wardrobe. 


post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks Tigerchild, as I'm reading your thoughtful response I'm thinking "uhoh, the answer I didn't want to hear!"  Which means I'm even more grateful to you for writing it. I've wondered about just taking the stuff away and frequently take it away for like a week or so, but then the begging starts again.  I need to think of a way to just do it and to feel completely justified in doing it, instead of that I keep wavering and questioning myself. Thanks too for the challenge to check my own perceptions.  I'll have to spend some time with my journal to flesh that out more!  And we are seeing counselors, very familiar with trauma, adoption, and hers also specifically well-versed in sexual abuse.


Smithie, I think that I was unclear about the actual garments.  she wears a half cami with no straps showing, hardly "lingerie."  I decided that it's up to her to decide at what point she feels she's starting to develop.  Things can certain feel different before looking different and I want to honor her own knowledge and comfort of her body.  The "short" shorts are mid-thigh, on the shorter end of my comfort zone but longer than those of most of her peers.  The 1/2" boots are totally appropriate (as we've discussed with her) for cold-weather dress-up occasions: parties, church, etc.  There is absolutely nothing inherently inappropriate about wearing them for such events, in my mind.  It's only when she wears them to a friend's birthday party with shorts, rather than with a warm skirt and some tights.  They'd made an appearance (through hand-me-downs) once the weather cooled down drastically here.  She has lots and lots of other perfectly appropriate clothing. When we get hand-me-downs that are inappropriate I take them out before she even sees them  Except for your bra rule and our "special occasion heels" rule, I agree with all of the rules you have above.  She dresses more conservatively than most of her peers, whom I see every day at the playground.  It's just that she pushes every single thing and a lot of it is nuance.


From both your replies, it seems like these issues are mostly normal, but that my response to it is perhaps over-sensitive due to the abuse in her background and my own body-image triggers.  I'll be doing some work on that, for sure.  Who knew I'd have to work so hard on my own healing when I became a parent?!  I also still totally welcome more input!



post #5 of 13

Hugs to you MrsH.  I've tried to do power-struggle object removal for short term before too--but even with a non-traumatized kid it just doesn't really work (at least not with MY kid).  Maybe they don't have to go away for a year, but long enough that they become a non issue--which might take longer with some kids than others.  I know it's hard to think of a way to do that that isn't punitive.  Luckily since our washer eats socks and tights on a regular basis, it didn't seem unusual for DD to start to lose brightly colored bras (actually a few of them broke genuinely too, grrrrrr!).  The shoes I just explained weren't appropriate for her and that we'd talk about them again next summer, but that the heels were going away and I would not buy heeled shoes for awhile and we would evaluate it later, together.


It's really hard to separate out our feelings/fears from kids' behavior sometimes, more so I'd imagine when you have strong reason to believe your DD is at higher risk.  I'm so glad that you have a strong support network in place! 


You know, I think somtimes you have to act "as if" when you know something is what you need to do, regardless of the feelings.  (Yes, I know, not always popular to not always go with emotion/intuition with the MDC crowd.)  I hate begging/whining/pestering, all things being equal my tendency is to just give in to avoid it.  I feel anxiety when one of my kids is unhappy or expresses feelings of "not fitting in" (I was the omega kid in the class growing up, so always an outsider and well versed in how painful that is!)!  But sometimes I know that my feelings are becoming projections or are clouding what I know to be true.  I don't know if this is partially happening for you (it may not be!) but I know sometimes I have to do what I need to do, and allow myself to have uncomfortable feelings for awhile until they catch up and I'm no longer catastrophising or creating a bigger problem than what is.  There are certain things, because there is such deep emotion/experiences attached to them, that I can't 100 percent rely on my "intuition" or wait for things to "feel right", because they're probably not going to and it's not fair to get stuck in a negative feedback loop with my kids in the meantime if that makes sense.


Hope you figure out something that will give you and your DD a break from this power struggle!

post #6 of 13

Yeah, I think I did have a very different mental picture of the bra and the boots than what your DD actually has in her closet. winky.gif


It sounds like you already have very sensible standards (the boots go with pants in cold weather, the bra top is covered up, etc.) and it's just a matter of asserting yourself with confidence as Tigerchild suggests. I can only imagine how much harder that is when you are dealing with a child who has been abused - my DD is only 5, has never been abused, and I still find the questions about standards of dress very difficult to answer sometimes. 

post #7 of 13

We have the same problem.  I try very hard to make it not about sexuality, but it is often difficult.  We takes things away often.  My daughter had a pair of hand me down sandals that made her walk in a way that totally freaked me out.  Well, they altered her walk, but she made the choice to throw her behind out and shake it back and forth as she walked.  We gave her one warning, "We walk by putting one foot in front of the other.  These shoes are making that hard for you.  If you can't walk properly, we will take the shoes away."


My daughter has ADHD, medical issues and is very clumsy.  Often, the sexuality is not the only reason we say no to an outfit, so we go with that.  The shoes, for example, made it more likely she would fall.


I really thought my daughter was the only kid who tried that line about thinking a tunic was a dress : )

post #8 of 13
Originally Posted by pumpkingirl71 View Post
I really thought my daughter was the only kid who tried that line about thinking a tunic was a dress : )

I know some grown women who can't seem to figure this one out!  :P


post #9 of 13

Yeah, and they work in my office!!!horrors.gif

Originally Posted by CrunchyChristianMama View Post

I know some grown women who can't seem to figure this one out!  :P



post #10 of 13

I haven't read all the replies, but wanted to add that I like your title... "teaching appropriate dress".

It is teaching no matter where your child has come from and I think all girls (and many grown women too) tend to desire inappropriate attention from their attire... and teaching is the key to it all!


Now, I am most likely a bit more conservative than most so you can take it or leave it and know that even the most conservative dressers need to understand it is a person choice.


But here are my thoughts.


1. Dress is a reflection of how your value yourself. I would make this the crux of what you impress on your daughter (but more at her age of how YOU value her). For instance, if she complains that you say no about an outfit I would say, "Honey, I love you too much to let you dress in that... (and go on to say why)... because you are a beautiful girl that doesn't need to wear short shorts to look pretty." Or what ever it is. I think my mom and dad did a really wonderful job of being both judicious, but also firm in what they thought was right and also expressing their choice on the matter was and always would be because they love me. I think I was always a pretty secure kid in how I felt about myself because of that.


2. Dress does effect people (boys/men) and appropriate dress is kindness to boys and men. That is probably where a talk about relationships is in order. But also I think once I realized that inappropriate dress was only good for getting guys that wouldn't love me and just wanted to use me, I was more serious about making good choices. But only you know when and if that talk is right for your daughter.


3. I also think that it is a bit more than jsut basic modesty too... I think when a girl is taught to do things to make herself feel pretty, like basic make up, to style her hair and to keep herself looking neat she can focus more on that than on looking for clothes and hug to tight, are to short and reveal too much. I think a lot of mom's tend to not be "fixy" and sometimes fail to teach their girls how to keep themselves neat looking.


4. Lastly I also think modeling (as in a mother's example) is important. We all know lots of grown women that let their butt cracks hang out, wear "tunics" as dresses and like a recent lady in walmart I saw was wearing see through leggings with a thong... it was like the Kings New Clothes... she might have well just been walking around walmart in nothing but a thong. :-) And I think it general on going discussion about how we view and value ourselves is one way moms and daughters can come to agree and learn together about dressing in a beautiful but appropriate way. Shopping can be come a "mission" to find the right length shorts or sewing to make old pant the right length shorts. 


That said, I am sort of a "low mantenance" girl myself. But I know when I paint my toes or curl my hair I feel pretty and more confident.

But I also don't ever want myself or my girls being judged or judging themselves by how they look. It is their heart, love for others and their mind that is important.


Don't know it that is a help or not, but it might be a different way to look at things. 

Your a great mom for caring and for loving how your daughter and others will view her. What a great gift to give her! 


post #11 of 13

Personally, I would just ignore her outfits for a little while.


I know you feel really uncomfortable about the way she dresses right now, but really, I don't think there is any magical words or tricks that will suddenly make her listen to you and be a good girl. This is after all about not being a good girl, ticking you off,  and asserting her own personality. My bet is that if you ignore her outfits for a month, she will start sporting more acceptable combinations eventually. Especially if you make a point of really praising her, telling her how pretty she looks in a certain combination, certain colour...whatever you find praise worthy when she does choose an appropriate outfit. Put it in terms of looking nice and being pretty, making sure not to mention anything about having chosen an outfit you approve of from a modest point of view.


Whatever you do, do NOT punish her for dressing the way she does. It will only make matters worse.


Finally, I do second what the others have said about seeing a therapist of some sort. Since I feel, from what you describe of her dress, that the issue is not so much the way she dresses (we are not talking a sexy bra under a white t-shirt nor hot-pants and stiletto boots) but rather what you know about her past. This knowledge is really something you have to get to terms with, especially since your daughter will grow and hopefully she will do so learning to like whom she is and what she is and be proud of it.

post #12 of 13

The parents of any adopted child who has been exposed to sexual abuse should not try to "go it alone."  Even if a child seems to have emerged from the abuse relatively unscathed, he/she may well develop symptoms down the road, and especially in adolescence.  That's the way post-traumatic stress works, and professional help is usually needed, early and late, to minimize the lifelong impact.  And the parents, themselves, may also benefit from therapy, because they will tend to view all of the child's negative behaviors as related to the sexual abuse, when, in fact, some of them may be related to post-adoption grief, or even just normal adosescence. 


A lot of what your daughter is expressing right now seems to be related to an internal conflict among three powerful sets of emotions -- feelings that sexual abuse damaged her and made her irreparably "different",  feelings of grief about losing her biological family (no matter how flawed). and feelings that she wants to be part of your family, but isn't certain that you will ever fully accept her.  Professional help will be critical in helping her sort out her feelings -- AND in helping you respond appropriately.


Meanwhile, when your daughter says that she "can't" chew with her mouth closed, because she is different, reassure her that she is a human being and that human beings can chew with their mouths closed.  And say that, while you know she has different genetics, she is a full member of your family and fits into it just fine.  You are working on table manners, and it has nothing to do with whether or not you want her to be in your family.  Make sure she hears, early and often, that she is your daughter and that you love her.  And spend more time telling her about the good things she does than about the bad things.


When your daughter dresses provocatively, let her know that you love her, but want to protect her and help her to be successful.  Also let her know that you want to be sure that she fits in at school and among her friends, and that the clothes she sees on TV and in fashion magazines are NOT what most parents let their kids wear.  Ask why she wants to wear the clothes you don't like.  Are they a way to remember her former family?  Are they a way of expressing the fact that she isn't happy with her body or appearance?  Are they a way of expressing anger towards you?  Listen.  Even if she says, "I don't know," or goes into her room and shuts the door, SHE WILL HEAR YOU, if you talk with her early and often.  And be available to hear the answers..  Create opportunities to do things that won't bring out confrontational behavior -- making a pie with her, going to the zoo with her, etc. -- so that she may relax enough to talk with you.


All in all, reduce the criticism of your daughter, substantially increase the praise and the reassurance that she is just perfect for your family, try to talk non-judgmentally with her, and listen to her.  But even more importantly, get professional help.  You won't regret it.




post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 

As always, I appreciate the responses.  There is so much wisdom and experience here!  As I've mentioned before, we are seeing professionals, both my daughter, my son, my husband, and me.  And they all work as a team.  It keeps us very busy! 


Since posting, things have improved dramatically.  I was able to really simplify all the nuance for her, thanks to some of the suggestions posted here.  I offered to write the basic rules down but she declined.  I did tell empathize with her that sometimes it gets a little confusing of what's ok and what's not, and that I was happy to remind her once with new clothes, but that after that we'd have to put them away until she's another year older.  The combination (simplification of rules and of consequences) seems to have really helped, as well as my own reduced stress about it.  Thank you for your empathy and for those of you who were able to say "yes, mine too!"  Sometimes that normalizing is so so helpful. 


(and if anyone's wondering, the simplified rules are: heels are only for fancy occasions; boots are for when it's chilly out; skirts come to right above the knee or below; if something is shorter than that, it's a tunic and worn with leggings (not tights); tunics should cover your bum; bras are not for show in any way; nor are bellies (she wholeheartedly agrees about this one!); shorts come to mid-thigh or below.)  So far it's been helpful.


Also, over the past month or so, we as a family have had a chance to re-process her abuse.  I think it's been good progress for all of us, though hard and sometimes lonely.  After all, it's not exactly the topic to discuss with people who know both me and her (which is: everyone in our social circle!) since it's so private and not my story to share.  Thankfully my daughter does seem to be settling down a bit again.  We've been doing lots of projects, hikes, and field trips together.  We're definitely close in general, but when she gets really triggered, our relationship becomes a bit more contentious :(  Thanks for your support as I reached out!



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