This is one of areas I deem especially vital to be adamant so that you might make a significant difference in a child’s life. There are several reasons for this. First of all, children are often ushered into a particular group in school based on their appearance and how they dress. At times, this is not the group that you would most like for them to join. Second, many children who have no pride in their appearance suffer from low self-esteem. Taking pride in their appearance often has the effect of increasing their self-esteem, which is something that all children in foster care can benefit from. Most foster parents and staff at group homes do not think it is worth the battle with children over clothing. They feel there are more important issues. I can tell you as a teacher, I have witnessed on many occasions that clothes are often the catalyst for the group that a child is taken into and thus the problems or lack thereof that they will experience in school. When my children first came to live with me, one of the girls would only wear boys’ clothing and wore a jacket in both summer and winter. Another had never been taught how to match clothing, For instance, they would pair stripes and plaids together. One girl dressed in loose-fitting clothes and preferred a very tomboy look. One of the boys dressed like a “gangster.”
In our home, obviously we have the rule that all clothes must comply with the school dress code. However, this is where many foster and group homes stop. We have a few other rules as well. The rules were specifically written in such a a way that they might bring humor to what could otherwise be a more tense conversation. They are not meant to stereotype or offend only bring humor to the conversation.
1. You may not wear clothes outside the house that have been written on, stained, or torn.
2. You may only wear clothing designed for your gender.
3. You may not wear jackets in the summer time.
4. You may not wear clothes outside the house that have been written on, stained, or torn.
5. You may wear shorts only from March 1 – October 31 and only if the high temperature is going to be 70° Fahrenheit or greater. (This only applies to elementary and junior high ages)
6. You may not sag or wear oversized clothing. We word this in our family by saying that you can’t look like you just robbed a liquor store.
In our family, early on, there were some knock-down drag-out discussions over these rules. It is important, though, not to give in or purchase anything of which you don’t truly approve. In addition, do not let the kids leave the house in anything that you do not approve of regardless of who purchased it or where it came from. I can offer encouragement in saying just a year later we laughed together at some of the outfits the kids used to wear before they came to live with us. They absolutely appreciate that I loved them enough to care about their appearance even when they didn’t.
I have also learned a few guidelines about shopping along the way. Most of the time, it is best not to take boys shopping with you. They generally don’t care what you buy them as long as it is in style and fits well. Purchase what you want them to wear and bring it home to them. Boys tend to really like jeans and shirts with sports teams on them or sports jerseys. Girls are a bit more difficult when it comes to shopping, but they are also much more fun to shop with. Take only one girl shopping with you at a time and plan for it to take the entire day. Take her only to stores where you approve of most of the clothes. I really like Cato and Academy. Their clothing is reasonably priced and in style. Let the girl pick out anything she likes and then try it on. Have her come out of the dressing room only in the outfits that she would like you to purchase. If you approve of it, then purchase it. If not, then don’t. No discussion needed. If she says that she can’t find anything that she likes and you approve of, then say okay and leave. Do not try to convince her to change her mind. Do not plan an extra trip to take her shopping again before your usually scheduled times (i.e., before school starts, change in season, etc.). If she tells you that she has “no clothes to wear,” remind her that you took her shopping, and she couldn’t find anything that she liked. Leave it at that. It may take time, but eventually she will figure out that she would like some new clothes and that you will only purchase clothes of which you approve. By approve, I mean that you think that the clothes match and that they are relatively attractive, in addition to being appropriate for school. Foster kids may have never had anyone care about their appearance or take the time to teach them what is flattering on them. They will later thank you, but trust me it may take a year. Be ready.
I can encourage you, however, that it is now a joy to shop with my girls. I love, as do they, almost every outfit they pick out. They now do things such as select clothes that fit, highlight and style their hair, and take pride in their appearance. In addition, I have seen their self-confidence skyrocket. They not only participate in clubs at school but run for leadership positions. They are able to shake hands with and introduce themselves to strangers. These kids have made a 180 degree turn in their self-confidence and how they carry themselves.
I credit a great deal of this to the fact that I was willing to battle over the clothes they wore and insist that they style their hair before leaving the house without their hair styled. How you look affects how you feel. How you feel affects how you act. How you act affects the way that others view you and, in turn, how you view yourself. Love the kids enough to make them have standards. They will love you for it. (It just may take awhile.)