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Your Biggest Back-to-School Questions, Answered

Homework hassles. Clothing wars. Scheduling conflicts. Sending kids back to school can mean major drama, say our readers. Calm the chaos with our smart strategies.

By Gay Norton Edelman

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Q. I get way too much pushback from my kids about clothes—my daughter complaining that she can't wear flip-flops to school or my son refusing to put on a coat. There has to be a way to make them cooperate.

A. Every mom has those cringe moments when she sees what her teen is wearing, says Kimberly Renk, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "But you have to think, 'Do I really need to argue about this?'" she adds. "Clothing is one of the main ways teens can feel a part of their peer group, express their individuality and have a sense of control over their lives." Set a few clear boundaries about what isn't allowed, based on your family values and the school's rules (which are usually posted on its website)—such as no rude sayings on T-shirts; no gang colors; nothing unsafe, like 5-inch heels; and nothing provocative, like a miniskirt or tiny, tight shorts.

The parents Borba advises get a lot of mileage out of her "B" rules. "When you have to send a girl back to change," she explains, "just announce, '3B!' which stands for 'boobs, butt or belly.' For boys, use '2B!' meaning butt crack or bad language on a T-shirt. Do it with a smile and let humor dispel any crankiness."

As for coats, if it's frigid enough, teens will put one on. "You don't catch a cold from being cold," says Janet Taylor, M.D., a psychiatrist and member of the Family Circle Health Advisory Board. "But with kids under 12, who don't yet have the maturity to make their own decision, and with teens who might be coming down with something or who have cold-induced asthma, give firm consequences for noncompliance."

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