Sometimes it pays to think like a 2-year-old.
When Deedee Granger's daughter wouldn't take off a beloved dress for a much-needed shower, Ms. Granger made an offer.
Want to shower with the dress on?
So in went Kristin, wearing the bunny-bedecked frock her aunt had made, the one she called her "ballerina dress." Once she got wet, Kristin happily conceded that the dress had to come off.
"Then it was fine with her," said Ms. Granger, of Irvine, Calif.
And you thought it was just your kid who is passionate, picky and downright goofy over clothes? Naive one, you are.
If tales from parents and the author of a new book about children's dressing habits are any indication, kids from 2 to 12 are saying something by what they choose to wear -- or not wear.
So if they say the darndest things, it's normal that they also sometimes wear the darndest things, said Marilise Flusser, author of "Party Shoes to School and Baseball Caps to Bed" (Simon & Schuster, $12).
Children's clothing choices send messages about everything from how they feel about power, beauty and gender identity to scratchy labels and itchy wool, said Ms. Flusser, who interviewed parents, psychologists and teachers for her book. Watch what a child wears, and you learn a little more about that child.
"I support self-dressing as early as possible. It tells you clues about how they feel about themselves, clues about who they are," Ms. Flusser said.
It's no secret to Cindy Escallier what's up when her young son rushes in to put on a favorite superhero shirt before going across the street to visit his pals.
"He says, 'I have to go put on my Batman shirt.' It gives him power, strength. Batman's strong," said Ms. Escallier, of Irvine.
But what inner thoughts are they expressing when they insist on wearing shorts in chilly weather? Why won't they wear the sweater/jacket/dress/shoes they swore they would always love when you bought them?
Well, if parents start thinking how their children act in other arenas of life, they can begin to piece together the answers, said Ms. Flusser, a children's fashion consultant for companies such as Sears, Reebok and Hush Puppies, and former junior fashion coordinator for Saks Fifth Avenue. She's also the wife of menswear designer Alan Flusser.
Does that same child who is fickle about clothes tend to be hot and cold on friends, too? Maybe he's more distractable than most kids. Hide the clothes for a couple of weeks and spring them out to see if they seem interesting again, Ms. Flusser said.
Does the child who grumbles at the sight of a scratchy sweater also seem to overreact -- in parents' eyes -- to every bump and boo-boo? Maybe they're not overreacting, but just more sensitive to the tactile world. Clip labels out of shirts and look for more lightweight fabrics.
Likewise, the kid who shrugs off bumps and bruises may not feel the cold weather the same way parents do. Or such children may be the types who dislike any change in routine, even switching over from summer to winter clothes, Ms. Flusser said.
Not every outfit is a Freudian slip. Children also find fantasy and just plain fun through their clothes.
When adolescence hits, children's desire to experiment collides with their need to fit in with a peer group and deal with their changing bodies. Parents who fancy themselves to be free spirits born out of the '60s and '70s often are chagrined that their children fall in with the pack, Ms. Flusser said.