Ending Dressing-for-School Dread for Dad and 5 Year Old Little Girl

Share the News

Hey Whit,

Maybe you can help me with my daughter, who is five. Growing up as a boy with no sisters, I really am now kind of lost with little girls and don’t know exactly what tack to take with her.

For example, when I occasionally get her ready for school in the morning, I feel like we’re gearing up for a fashion show with all the clothes that we both take out before she finds what she wants. It’s seriously at least six sets of clothes sometimes. If I don’t hurry her up, we won’t be ready for school on time. It drives me so nuts that I just want to shout, “Livy (not her real name), it doesn’t matter that much—just pick something out!”

I know I shouldn’t shout or get so impatient.  I just can’t help but think about how my wife will think I can’t handle what seems to be a simple, parenting task. With my son who is eight, all I have to do is take out whatever I get my hands on and throw it on the bed, and he’s good to go.

Now, I am starting to dread dressing-for-school time with my daughter, and that’s making me mad at myself because of course I love my daughter.  What do you suggest?

Dreading Getting Ready for School

Dear Dreading:

First of all, I commend you for going into the cage and putting your head into the lioness’s mouth by performing this death-defying act—understanding women (including pre-women) and clothes. Now, listen carefully if you want to come out in one piece. When you know that you are about to have father/daughter time in the morning before school, here is the mantra I want you to chant, “Girls are different from boys. Girls are different from boys….” however may times it takes for you to get into the “zone” of outfit-selection with your daughter.

Consider this: You won’t have much longer until you won’t have any role at all in what she wears. In fact, before too long she will probably shrink at the thought of discussing with you anything having to do with her “look.”  Realize that your daughter is a completely different being from your son, and think of these morning sessions as Clothes Encounters of the Girl Kind, chances to explore the myriad ways she will show you how her female brain works. This window of opportunity won’t stay open long.

Years from now you don’t want to look back and wish you had had more patience because regret is a type of crab grass that sinks deep and spreads wide. You can’t get rid of it until you root it out by forgiving and forgetting: forgiving yourself for not doing what you think you should have done and then forgetting about what could have been. You can’t change what you did, but you can change what you are going to do. So what you want to do is to avoid the need for that whole heart-splitting, head-messing process of having to forgive and forget by coming up with a sensible strategy for your daughter’s morning, wardrobe selection—right now!

Here’s what I want you do: The night before, maybe after dinner and before she starts to get tired, you say, “Livy, let’s pick out what you are going to wear for school tomorrow.” Then while you both have time and patience, you collaborate on what she will wear the next day. You’ll discover, I think, that the whole process is less trying and more fun (for her and you) because no one is under any time pressure.

It also has the side benefit of being an activity that you and your daughter do together exclusively. You and she will understand each other better for your having come up with a workable resolution of her clothing conundrum. That working-it-out-together exercise and experience will set a precedent.  It will keep you and your daughter from crying, shouting, or screaming at each other in the morning before school and also for a long time after that when the stakes are about more than just kindergarten fashion statements.

Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]



Share the News


  1. I have one word for this advice: WISE. I wish I had been married to a man who thought like that when my kids were small. But then, that kind of thinking is crab grass, right?

  2. Brilliant strategy! If only Whit’s End had been around when I was at MY wit’s end 20+ years ago — I’ll save all of his sage advice for my grandchildren.

  3. Loved this column!! So original…never seen this common issue discussed before. Really brilliant!! 90% of parents go through this experience.

  4. wise advice. My fashionista four year old eventually found a uniform of sorts for school. Since she only went three days a week no one noticed she had the same thing on every time.

    • The strategy probably wouldn’t have worked with my daughter when she was that age because she was going to decide what she was going to wear, no matter how long it took or how impatient anybody else became. Although I do remember at some point hearing her say that wearing a uniform was intriguing because of all the time it would save before school.

  5. I’m a father of 17 year-old girl, and I recall feeling just as confused and upset as Dreading when my daughter was in her pre-teen years. Whit’s hang-in-there advice is right on target: it helps build father-daughter trust and respect that pays dividends down the road!

    • Thanks for your endorsement, Paul. Like you, I’ve got a tight bond with my 22 yr old daughter from all those years of hangin in there.

Comments are closed.