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  • Maritza Pardo M.A.,BCBA

Dressing For Conversation: How to use your children's clothing items to encourage conversation

Whether you put much thought into your wardrobe or not, what you wear has the power to draw attention and start a conversation.

Marc Jacobs is a famous designer who said, “To me, clothing is a form of self-expression. There are hints about who you are in what you wear.” Many of us have come to realize this as adults and therefore choose our own clothing items with care. But is this relevant to children? For many parents, a child’s wardrobe is about necessity, and what they wear may be determined by the weather or special occasions. However, a clothing item or accessory can actually be an effective prop for helping children engage in conversation.

A study by MIT cognitive scientists provides evidence that conversation has a direct impact on brain development. This study is important for parents and educators to consider amidst the rise of identified language delays. Research has shown that by the time they are 3 or 4 years old, a child should typically be able to engage in simple conversation.

As a developmental assessor, I often see those who exhibit language delays due to a lack of learned skills or the opportunity to use those skills. While the first area may require support from a professional, such as a speech and language therapist, the second can be easily addressed. A child can be encouraged to use language skills not only with their peers but also in the safety of their home. The daily routine at home may seem mundane; however, it is ripe with opportunities.

Each child is unique in regard to personal interests and motivation. If you can identify a child’s interests, you can use them as motivators. For example, a child’s interest in PJ Mask may be used to motivate them further to use their vocabulary. You could say, “Look! That backpack has PJ Mask on it!” When I observed children in a preschool setting, I saw even the most shy and reluctant child become excited when another student wore a shirt featuring their favorite character. So, my goal as an assessor is to encourage caregivers to find naturally occurring ways to set their children up for success. Below are a few tips:

1. Consider your child’s interests when purchasing their clothing.

It is tempting to buy children’s clothing that is trendy or aligned with our personal preferences. However, it’s important to keep in mind your child’s favorite character, texture, color, or slogan. This will help build a wardrobe that is ripe with motivation. We want our children to be able to name what they are wearing and talk about why they like it; this is how conversations begin. A Child may be at the stage where they are just learning how to name or label characters vocally. However, vocally identifying or labeling items often leads to the use of adjectives and comments.


2. Allow your child to choose their outfit for the day.

Giving children a choice between pre-selected clothing pieces (that are appropriate for the weather and occasion) can give them a greater sense of autonomy and ownership. I cannot tell you how often a child has told me, “I picked this out myself.” And though the outfit may not match in color scheme, their pride in choosing a specific pair of socks, hairpiece, shirt, and (nowadays) face mask has led to a conversation that may have never occurred so easily.


3. Model conversational skills.

You can set a good example for your children by starting conversations based on your observations. This will encourage them to do the same. When out in the community or simply taking a walk in the neighborhood, you will find many opportunities to point out your child’s interests as a topic of conversation. The popular game I Spy is an incredible way to use visuals for social interactions and conversation. The same can be applied when pointing out your child’s preferences worn by others (e.g., “Look—the girl over there is wearing a sparkly unicorn!”). In turn, your child will learn to point out their preferences when they see them.

Understanding how your child’s favorite character and textures can be conversation starters makes the wardrobe concept much more functional. So, consider your child’s interests when browsing through clothing items and accessories, and you’ll create a fabulous wardrobe for them and an opportunity for dialogue.

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