We had a small uprising in our home a few days ago between my son and my husband. Oddly enough, it was over hair. A troublesome cowlick had given my son an interesting style which he embraced as looking like “Angry Birds.” My husband, on the other hand, told him several times to go wet it down. Water did no good. I felt fine as it was, especially since he loved it, but my dear hubby was very concerned about him going out with crazy hair. It got me thinking about how we decide what is appropriate for hair and clothing self-expression.

I took a trip through the Internet and found that some parents have excruciatingly long list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to appearance. Some parents seem so worried about inhibiting their children’s natural exuberance that they do nothing. Others go the opposite extreme and mandate all wardrobe selections. As with most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. In fact, I’m a pretty firm believer in there being different answers for different families. We all face a unique set of circumstances based on experiences, expectations, and familial culture. Rather than dictate what kids should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, I thought these guidelines could help us each arrive at our own answers.

Analyze Your Own Motivations

If you react strongly to a style choice for your kids, ask yourself why. What is the issue you really have? Maybe you have ideas that carry  over from your own childhood that no longer apply. Or perhaps you know something about this choice that your kids don’t. Ask yourself if it’s worth the confrontation. Whether or not you change your mind, it’s good to identify the rationale behind your decision and be able to verbalize it to your kids.

Give Background Guidance

We all know that the clothes we wear send a message. Those of us with more experience are also more aware of those perceptions. Teaching your kids to consider the context helps them make good choices but keep their unique style. They will probably want to wear a different outfit for a party than a job interview. It’s important to note, and teach your children, that style choices never give permission to make assumptions or act against a person’s will.

Develop Respect

Beyond just sending a message, there are times when style choice can be made from respect. A friend of mine went to the Middle East recently and wore a head covering in deference to the culture. Similarly, there are times in our lives when an elderly grandparent or a family friend might have trouble with more non-traditional looks. By framing the decision as one of respect rather than bowing to pressure, you set your child up to make a reasonable decision hopefully both sides can appreciate.

Take Your Child Into Account.

Like most of life, personal style has a learning curve. There’s a point when our kids just know, know what they like, know how they want to be perceived. Giving them a say will allow them to express themselves as well as develop their own standards. Of course, if they just know they need designer everything, those standards might include a job!

Offer Role Models

Self-expression can be fun! The world is full of people from every walk of life that have embraced style in a healthy way. Hold these people up as examples rather than a long list of rules. Even the toddler set has Fancy Nancy who never leaves the house without glamming it up!

What it comes down to is finding a balance that your family can live with. It’s okay to say no. It’s also okay to say yes. The key is that you’ve thought through your own convictions as well as considering your children. Maybe after thinking things through (and a raised eyebrow or two from me), my husband will decide “Angry Bird hair” is not such a big deal after all.