Even before parents talk to their older children about dressing modestly, an essential foundation to lay is the importance of modesty. Around the time kids are three, they may start to resist being changed or changing in public. Respect their comfort level and look for a restroom where they can change in private. If you really need to change them in public, try to do it discreetly and quickly.
From time to time, you and your spouse may also change in front of your child. However, you should try not to be naked in front of him or her by the time he or she is around two years old, especially if your child is of the opposite sex. Modesty in parents is a good practice for children to observe from an early age.
When kids are around the age of five, they tend to start to have a greater sense of privacy. They may feel uncomfortable being naked in front of other people. Again, it is important to show them that you honour their wish for privacy.
Through your actions, you are demonstrating to your child the value of modesty, and this can set up the trust and basis for conversations about dressing modestly when your child is older.
As children grow older, they become more conscious of how they look and may have strong views on what they want to wear. They may want to follow the latest styles they see on social media. It is good for parents to note that not everything about fashion trends are bad; the key here to remember is dressing appropriately. So parents need to balance between giving their kids the space and freedom to pick out what they want to wear and weighing in when they pick out something that leans toward something immodest.
Every family has different guidelines on what is modest and immodest wear, so it is useful for parents to make clear these expectations beforehand, instead of reacting when their kids cross a line they may not even know was there. This applies to both boys and girls; modesty is not the sole responsibility of girls.
When it comes to clothing that is clearly inappropriate, parents need to explain their thinking behind the objection to such apparel. Does it show too much skin? Is it too short? Might it easily expose them unnecessarily? Simply saying what makes it inappropriate may not be enough. Parents can take this opportunity to share with their kids the reasons behind why certain pieces of clothing are considered inappropriate.
It is important that while we help our children to learn the skill of modest dressing, we do not convey that certain parts of the body are to be ashamed of. Rather, what should undergird modesty is how valuable we are. Specialness, not shame, is the reason for modesty.
As this stage, you may wish to begin chatting with your child about the idea that how we dress is a form of communication. Encourage your teenagers to think about how different ways of dressing send different messages to those around us.
Such conversations may start off with seizing teaching moments when an advertisement comes up or during certain scenes of a show you and your child are watching. You may ask them: “Look at this character and how he (or she) is dressed. What do you think he (or she) wants people around them to think about them?”
This may then open the way for parents to discuss with their teens what they wish to communicate with their clothing decisions.
As you build on this conversation, you may want to introduce the idea that men and women tend to be wired differently. Most men’s attention is directed visually and most women’s interest lies in relationships. Just as we take care to practise healthy relational boundaries, how can we also practise wise boundaries by what we wear?
Both sons and daughters need to be made aware of the possible effects of their dressing on people of the same sex and opposite sex. While they are certainly not responsible for how others may unhelpfully react toward them due to what they wear, they can learn to be thoughtful toward others through being mindful of the impact of their dressing.
With adolescents, it may not be helpful to be too directive by telling them specifically what to wear and what not to wear. Instead, it could be more useful to offer them choices within clearly-communicated guidelines. For example: “Would you like to choose one from these five pieces of clothing?” or “You can wear anything you like as long as it fits the modesty guidelines we agreed upon.”
Finally, a powerful—perhaps the most powerful—way of education is role modelling. Parents themselves need to practise modest dressing in order to show their children what the virtue of modesty looks like. Doing so prepares them to better understand and catch on to the family’s modesty guidelines.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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Check out the Talk about Sex series for more essential conversations with your children.