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Personal style: help your child celebrate individuality

Personal style: help your child celebrate individuality 

Giving your child freedom over what they wear can be a great way to build confidence. Follow our action checklist, and watch their individual style and self-assurance grow.

Individual style = personal growth

As your child gets older they're likely to start experimenting with their style and appearance, taking control of their own look and figuring out what works. But with so many influences, from media and celebrities to peers and personal interests, some of these experiments will be more extreme than others – and some may test your patience.

Allowing your child to express their individuality can help their self-esteem. All too often young people struggle to be different as there's huge pressure to conform to a look their friends accept. Allow them some freedom of expression to help their personal development, and give them the confidence to be their own beautiful self. Eventually they’ll find a style and look that suits them.

Build self-confidence by supporting individuality

"Try to see past the latest craze or fashion phase and look for the benefits in each stage of her experimentation," advises agony aunt and teen self-help writer Lisa Lister. "If she's dying her hair dark and painting her nails black to stand out from the crowd, recognise her strength of independent thinking. If she's customising her clothes by cutting them up and drawing on them, appreciate her creativity."

Ask yourself, is it really so bad that she wants to wear black nail varnish or he wants an asymmetric haircut? It might not be the look you'd choose, but that doesn't make it wrong. This latest style may be one of several in quick succession, but equally it could indicate a personality trait that's important for you to recognise.

Resistance is probably futile – so offer words of encouragement instead

Suki says she's always encouraged 12-year-old daughter Mai to be her own person and not follow the crowd – and it’s paid off. "She isn’t afraid to express herself," says Suki. "She recently took the lenses out of 3D cinema glasses, painted the frames and wore them to school. She looked quite funny but she didn't care – and then all her friends did the same thing."

Rather than railing against your child's expressions of individuality, value their ideas and help them have fun exploring different looks – it's a great way to boost self-confidence. Nurture an appreciation of different styles that go beyond stereotypes of beauty, so they enjoy the process of discovering their own identity.

To protect privacy we've changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but the stories are genuine.

  • 1

    Hold your tongue

    Next time your child dresses in a way you don't like, ask yourself: does it really matter? If their safety isn't at risk and there's no other good reason to disagree with their choice, don't say anything

  • 2

    Give them a say

    If it really isn't appropriate for them to wear the micro-mini skirt or ripped jeans, give them some say over smaller details, such as accessories, to show you respect their ideas and choices

  • 3

    Explore their individual style

    By talking to your child about how they express themselves through their appearance, you'll help them recognise that outer fashions can be a way of expressing inner personality and feel more confident about experimenting with their style

  • 4

    Get out the sewing machine

    If you enjoy sewing, take your child shopping for fabric and teach them how to cut out patterns and use a sewing machine. Or find an old garment they don't wear anymore, and help them customise it into something new. Perhaps there’s something in mum or dad's wardrobe they could modify?

  • 5

    Go on an 'unusual' shopping trip together

    Perhaps set yourselves a budget to buy accessories to spruce up an old outfit, or only go to charity shops

  • 6

    Enjoy yourselves

    Have fun and encourage your child to see beyond narrow beauty ideals. Finding their own sense of style will give them greater self-confidence to reject what society tells us we should look like

next steps

  • Use our action checklist (above) to help manage your reactions to your child's style experimentation
  • Share these self-esteem boosting activities and give your child freedom of expression to show their unique personality
  • Discuss what inspires them and how they'd describe their personal style? Are there any similarities with trends and fashions from your own teenage years?
  • Encourage them to be confident expressing themselves, and to have fun experimenting with different looks when out shopping with friends
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