Aug. 9, 2010— -- Let's face it. It can be hard for parents to come to terms with the idea that their little boy or little girl is no longer "little." But experts say parents should try to take a step back and let kids make their own decisions about how they dress.
"It is particularly important in middle school and in junior high to begin to let your children forge their own look," says "Good Morning America's" parenting contributor and ABC News Now parenting host Ann Pleshette Murphy.
A child's personal sense of fashion is important not only to his or her self-esteem, but also to a kid's developing sense of individuality.
From wanting to wear baggy clothes to sometimes wanting to wear no clothes at all, a child's "look" -- like his or her personality -- is constantly evolving. Driving this transformation is the onset of puberty, which scares a lot of parents.
"Talking about clothes, like talking about sex, can be a great opportunity to share your values, including helping kids withstand peer pressure and find ways to assert their independence without dressing in a provocative way," said Murphy, who is the author of "The 7 Stages of Motherhood: Loving Your Life Without Losing Your Mind."
Before you sit down with your child to talk about clothes -- and perhaps other aspects of adolescence -- it's critical to think through what you want to say. "You should talk when you're both calm and not in the middle of a clothing battle. Your goal is to listen more than lecture," says Murphy.
Focusing too much on what your child is wearing is rarely a good idea.
"No one wants to hear their Mom or Dad bark, 'You're wearing that?!' as they head out the door. Try complimenting other aspects of their appearance -- how nice they look when they smile or how confident they seem," Murphy suggests.
Staying on a Budget, Managing Your Kids' Expectations
For many parents, the clothing war is also about family finances -- spending wisely and learning to shop for things that last. The time to discuss budgeting is before you step foot in the stores.
"Certainly by junior high school, kids can be given a clothing allowance and the responsibility of making that work," says Murphy.
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She further emphasizes that parents need to question how much they are willing to spend for their child and to also understand why they might draw the line and say "no."
"It helps if you kept track of what you spent on the kids' clothes the year before and to talk to other parents about how they handle it. Don't say you can't afford something if the real reason for the 'no' is that you think its cheap looking or won't last. It's far better to tell the truth, 'I don't think you should spend X on those shoes because they're not well made and you will only be able to wear them to parties.'"
It is not only important to be honest with your child, but to shop in a way that helps them choose clothing for the right reasons -- clothing that's not too inappropriate that you wouldn't want to leave the house wearing them.
For some parents and their kids, shopping together is more fraught than fun. In those situations, Murphy suggests, "Ask a friend or an aunt to take them shopping. Maybe there's a parenting job they can delegate to you in exchange."