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Back to School Shopping with a preteen/teen girl

This past week I happened to be in a store watching an interaction between a mother and daughter. I am pretty good with age so I will put this daughter at 8th or 9th grade level. Mother kept picking up things and the daughter would either give a grunt, eye roll or reply with a curt no. This went on for a while and I gave the mom props for sticking with it and making an honest attempt to find things she thought her daughter would like, without any success. I knew what was coming and I knew it would be soon. Then, it happened.

Mom - I am trying to help you and you are giving me nothing to go on but attitude

D - I am not giving you attitude you’re just picking out clothes that a 5th grader would wear.

Mom - Fine, we are done.

D - Fine, whatever….

Both walked away one looking angrier than the other and the shopping trip was over.

We all remember with joy the days of Gymboree, Gap Kids and Children’s place. We had complete control and our kids always looked so cute. Then you may have gone through the horror of Justice or Limited too as it was called for my children. Everything was a bright gaudy color with peace signs everywhere. Neon pants and bedazzled cat t-shirts. I pass that store and smile that I will never have to go in there again. That stage was the process of us losing the cute and getting a child that was establishing their own style.

I know you were different when you were a teen. Not like these kids today, but let’s just say there were some teens back in our day that would wear clothes out of the house and change and put makeup on while they rode the school bus. Not me of course the other kids. We would say our parents didn’t get it as we changed our style mid ride to school. We challenged our mothers with mini skirts and jeans with rips. I still remember my mother saying why would I spend good money for clothes that already have tears in them? We are just on the receiving end now and that end is not so much fun.

There are ways to make this process a little less painful.

Steps before shopping with a Middle/High school girl.

  1. Set expectations before back to school shopping. Have an upbeat conversation. I cannot wait to take you back to school shopping but before we go can you make a list of what you think you need. If the answer is I don’t know, then she doesn’t need anything and you are done! Whohoo. Tell her that and I guarantee you will get a list.

  2. Sit down and go over the list. Talk about things you think she is missing and pare down things that she may have too much of already. This can go smoothly if there is give and take and come up with a list you both can somewhat agree upon.

  3. I then would have my daughter try on a pair of shorts/dress that she already had and she loved. I took a sharpie and made a small line on the outside of her thigh where the item of clothing fell. This was the "must cross line". Anything that was purchased must cross this line or it was a No Go. Now the length of clothing has been set and agreed upon before we entered a store. This prevented me from being the bad guy. If she went into dressing room and tried it on and it did not make it to the “must cross line” she just took it off and moved on if it did not meet the standard we set.

  4. Set a budget before you go shopping, even if you are not worried about money. This will teach your daughter boundaries and limits. She will then get to start making decisions about a tank top at Abercrombie for $35 or one at Target for $8. Tank tops are not noticeably different have her make the connection and become a smart shopper. She may not like the budget, but frankly, who does? She will need to figure how to work within it and you can make suggestion on how to make her money go further without sounding like you are lecturing just trying to help her make the set budget.

  5. The key is to remember the goal. Shop for some clothes that are appropriate and make her happy. That is it. It’s that simple. It is not about what you think she would look cute in or that blue brings out her eyes and everything doesn’t’ have to be black. You are not her stylist, you lost that job around 9 years old. Be her non-emotional adviser and the shopping will be more enjoyable for you both.

  6. Stop making suggestions! Enter the store go to the department and smile & watch. I am saying this for your own good, your job now is to follow and be supportive. WE are not in Gymboree anymore. We often try to “help” by offering up item after item and while we are trying to be helpful, every time you hold up an item and see an “eye-roll” you lose credibility. Wait and see what she starts to pick up. Smile and make mental note when you see what she likes, you now will know the look she is going for, even if you hate it.

  7. Try and make sure she thinks of outfits when shopping. I must remind myself when I shop and see a top that I love to make sure that I have things to accompany it and change it up for different looks. Gentle reminders work. That top is good, do you have something to put with it or do we need to look for that while we are here.

  8. Pick a few stores to go through. Let her lead the store choice and start with the most reasonable priced store. This will allow her to get many more yes items before budget comes into picture. If she starts at Lulu or Madewell then this will be a short trip.

  9. By sitting back and not leading you are giving an unspoken communication that you trust her style and it is about what she likes and not what you think she should be wearing. If she picks up a top and says what do you think? I first go to the safe, let me see it on you. If she puts it on you will be able to tell by her facial expression if she likes it or not. I then used to say, so what do you think? This will help you gauge what her reaction is and won’t have her making you the enemy if you say something negative about a choice she made. I say if you love it then get it, if you only kind of like it then let’s keep looking. Make the decision her decision.

  10. Don’t post your shopping dismay on social media. I know you want to share your pain but they see that and know you are complaining about them for all to see and comment upon. How do you think that would work if someone was having a hard time with you and posted it for all to see?

  11. Shop for yourself while she is shopping so she does not feel like you are just watching and waiting for her to select everything. It’s good for them to see you have your own thing and it’s not just about them.

  12. Take breaks often and get a treat to keep blood sugar high. A teen with low blood sugar is a recipe for disaster in the middle of Nordstrom’s. Fighting happens when you are Hangry.

  13. Pick one thing you don’t care about. I always picked shoes. I could care less if they told me they were buying 4-inch heels. My standard answer was, if you think you can walk in them and they are comfortable then go for it. They always were put back and some other shoe was picked. I never cared if I didn’t like it. That was my No care item.

  14. If you get in a disagreement about something. Stop for a second, take emotions out of it. It should not be about feelings. If she says she likes something and you think its not appropriate make her tell why she thinks its fine and it cannot be “everyone else wears this”. Talk it through tell her honestly your thoughts. If the shirt is see through I would say. Hey if you have a break out on your back, you can see that right through the shirt. You are to look out for her not judge her, make sure your words match that motive.

  15. Keep in mind that while this can be stressful, this is memory time you are making. It will get easier as they get older and if you have a good time when they are in this stage you will set the stage for many Mother/daughter shopping trips in the future.

You ultimately decide what you will purchase for your child. If you have some definite no way items, then stick to them, just make sure you are calmly explaining your reasons. If you can be flexible on some items show her that calm, rational discussion gets results.

Happy Shopping!


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