Supporting Your Child’s Self Expression

Welcome to the March 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Self-Expression and Conformity

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about authenticity through self-expression. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about Peaceful Parenting Applied.

Supporting Your Child's Self Expression:

It is not my place to tell my daughter how to live her life. Yes, she just turned 4 and yes, I understand that she is not developmentally capable of making sound decisions all of the time. However, it really is not my place to force her to conform to standards that *I* subscribe to so long as they are not causing her or others any harm.

Children are expressive beings. They try on different personas constantly as they grow and develop. They like to change their physical appearance, have control over their actions, and make independent decisions. Every child goes through this. It is a simple part of the developmental process of a human being.

Stifling self-expression seems to be something many parents do, either consciously or subconsciously. At times it may be warranted. After all, you really cannot take a child to the grocery store without clothes on. Child Protective Services would be all over you in a hot minute. But other times, a parent discouraging a child from being who they are in that moment is an act of control, and act of avoidance, an act of discomfort, or an act of fear.

Real life example time. Tiny sometimes likes to be without clothes. When we are at home, I could care less about what she wears or does not wear. If she wants to be naked, so be it. It is Tiny’s house too and it is her decision to wear clothing at home or not.

Rasta Daddy is not comfortable with her nudity. While her ‘tolerates it’ to some degree, he draws the line at meal time nudity. He insists that Tiny wears clothes to the dinner table.

Personally, having a naked wee one next to me while I am eating is not big deal. In fact, I appreciate it as it means one less outfit to launder. (Tiny is known for getting more food on her than in her). But Rasta Daddy insists that it is poor manners to allow Tiny to eat naked. When pressed, all he can come up with as justification is “people don’t eat naked.”

*I* know that Rasta Daddy is simply not comfortable with a nude child, specifically a nude girl. And while he tries other sneaky ways to get her to either remain clothed or put on clothes at other times of the day, he never insists on it. But meal times are a huge issue for him. Although I have tried to help him understand that it really is harmless, he won’t budge. And so, I go against my personal parenting philosophy and encourage Tiny to be clothed when Rasta Daddy is home for dinner. However, I will not be the parent that forces her to get dressed. Rasta Daddy can do that.

Tiny has asked me on numerous occasions why daddy won’t let her be naked. I explain that he prefers to eat dinner with clothed people and that he did not grow up in a family where people ate naked. She understands to a point but I can see he face fall a bit when she puts on clothes for dinner.

Another real life example is Tiny’s current enjoyment of dressing in costume when we go out. She is really big into “parties” and getting fancied up for them. We do not go to a lot of fancy parties mind you. This is just part of her current dramatic play. Since she is with just me 98% of the time we go somewhere, it is almost something I do not even notice. Sometimes there is a ballerina accompanying me. Other times a chicken. Whatever the character de jour, I support Tiny in her clothing and costume choices. I want her to be who she is!

Again, Rasta Daddy is not fully on that train with us. If the costume is low key, like a fancy dress or a tutu, he won’t say much. But the chicken costume and the pumpkin headpiece? No way. That pushed Rasta Daddy outside of his comfort zone. After all, people, strangers, may actually see our daughter dressed like that and wonder what kind of parent he is.

This type of thinking hurts my heart for several reasons. First, he is in effect, telling Tiny NOT to be who she is. He is telling her that she has to dress a certain way to be accepted by strangers. He is telling her that a stranger’s opinion of her carries great weight. And he is telling her that other people dictate how we live our lives in public.

Life is confusing enough for children. There are enough murky waters for them to navigate without us parents mucking them up even more. There is always such a big push for parents to boost their children’s self-esteem but then we go and act like Rasta Daddy in the above mentioned scenarios. From a very early age, we are instilling “people pleasing” behaviors in our children when really, we need to instill self-satisfaction and acceptance in our children.

Do I love going to Farmer’s Market with a chicken? Not always because yes, people do stare and judge. But you know what? 8 out of 10 people get a huge smile on their face. Why? People can see how happy Tiny is, out there being WHO SHE IS and not who I am comfortable with her being. And that is exactly how it should be.


APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

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(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 29 with all the carnival links.)

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  1. says

    My daughter is the same so far with the naked part, but not costumes yet. She’s not yet 2, but I let her pick out her own clothes when she’s interested and I love seeing what she picks!

  2. says

    My husband reacts in much the same way to our children’s outfit choices and also to their nudity. At just a few weeks shy of 7 my daughter is much less comfortable being completely nude around the house (seems normal) but often tries to come to dinner in just her underwear and an undershirt/tank top. I couldn’t care less but my husband always gets upset and insists on her putting something on her lower half. She’s mostly outgrown the costuming in public phase but does love to mix colors and patterns in ways that most people wouldn’t. Unless we’re really having to dress up for something in particular, in which case I might help her chose something less distracting, I don’t care what she wears. My only peeve is when they want to wear dirty or stained clothes. I do try to encourage that if we’re going to dinner or an event where most people will be dressed a little more nicely that they wear unstained clothes and clothes that are already dirty only get to be worn mucking about.

    The other thing that makes me crazy is my husband’s attitudes about hair, specifically our son’s hair. As long as their hair isn’t in rats nests I don’t care what length they wear their hair at but my husband doesn’t want our son’s hair to even be long enough to cover his ears. I figure the kids should get to choose the length and color. He’s more flexible with our daughter but I’m sure that’s because american society is typically more flexible with girls on the hair issue. With other decisions such ear piercing my “allowing” it or not has more to do with their ability to help maintain the piercings rather than whether or not I think they’re appropriate. I’m not entirely sure why he’s so caught up in “norms” for our kids as neither he or I has ever looked particularly “normal”. We both have tattoos, my nose is pierced, I wear dresses and skirts most of the time even when gardening, and he dresses like an old-time carpenter or like a logger most of the time and varies between a full beard, goatee, and mutton chops.

  3. says

    Our children have been numerous places dressed in various “attires.” I think it’s part of the fun of being a kid, along with figuring out who they are and what they like. I love that you continue to support her and that you are trying to help her understand her father without forcing her to conform.

  4. says

    Lovely post! As you know, I’m a bit of a nudist myself and my husband knows that my support of my kids being naked is major. We both, however, ask that she wear panties before sitting on furniture or climbing on us (or especially guests). Many a guest has been quite surprised to arrive and see a young girl running naked through the house! When we were staying with friends, it was a bit of a comfort zone stretcher for them. I didn’t even make her get dressed for them (beyond panties, eventually).

    Thankfully, he supports her wearing what she likes when we go out, but she doesn’t have a lot of costume pieces or even a very big wardrobe. We usually choose her clothes, but I try to remind her to at least give her options first.

    Ah, that makes me think of my teen. She has lots of costume wear for cosplay. She is welcome to wear it wherever, but understands that she might catch flack for it at my father’s home. He has also requested that she not dress “weird” when he takes her out to lunch. She is free to make a different choice (IMO), but understands its a bit of an exchange. If you want to be taken to lunch, its nice to try to stay within your host’s comfort zone. (She could totally choose not to go.)

  5. says

    I was going to say, before I read YOU say it, that going places with a chicken or ballerina always gets us a lot of smiles! I like going somewhere with a kid who’s in character, because it takes focus off me and puts it on my child, who’s usually more than happy to show off!

    Fortunately, my partner and I tend to be on the same page when it comes to self-expression/obedience issues. I can see how it would be really challenging to navigate having one who’s not. As you could tell from my post in the carnival, I already find it very challenging with people who are not my partner!

  6. says

    Nudity has always been allowed in my home as well, but we are currently reaching a point where it is necessary to get our daughter to wear clothes. It’s not fun, and it doesn’t make me feel very good.
    If it was just me and daddy and the little ones, we would let them run nude whenever they want, though I do ask for underwear at the dinner table. It feels unhygienic to me.
    With the two teens, however, they are not so comfortable nowadays that the little sis is getting bigger and still runs around naked. They also have told me that their friends are refusing to come over because even though we try to dress her when we see we have company, she will shed those clothes at a moments notice. And while I don’t see anything wrong with a bare chest on a pre-pubescent girl, pubescent boys all disagree.
    So, we are torn at the moment, between respecting the individual rights of some children and the comfort level of the others. ALL of our kids have a right to feel comfortable in their own home and right now those needs are in conflict.

    So, I totally share your frustrations between respecting the needs of Tiny and her Daddy.

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