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Home Family Parenting Advice When a child wears mismatched shoes — Good Parenting

When a child wears mismatched shoes — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

It seems like a little thing, but this is causing much stress at our house. Our almost 4-year-old son wants to wear two different shoes. I see nothing wrong with this. It’s just self-expression. My husband, however, thinks it crosses the line of societal norms or something and won’t put up with it.

What’s your opinion here?

A Shoe is a Shoe

Don’t miss last week’s column Reducing sibling rivalry — Good Parenting


I had a similar conflict with myself concerning an almost 2-year-old. He was so proud of putting on his own socks. And even prouder that one was red and one was blue. I coaxed and fussed for about 20 minutes before my rational self declared, “You’re just taking him to see his grandmother and she’ll probably think it’s adorable. If she notices at all.” (By the way, about 30 years later, unmatched socks are in vogue.)

When you have options as to what to wear, fashion is a matter of personal expression. It’s also about the weather, body comfort, social status, respect for others, a bid for peer acceptance and can, at times, represent a power struggle between and child and his parents. Apparently your son’s shoe combination looks good to him, or just feels good (or makes Daddy good and mad).

An interesting child-development tidbit is that at the age of first walking — which is usually when shoes are first applied to little feet — toddlers routinely take one shoe off. This has been going on since the beginning of shoes as evidenced by the following nursery rhyme:
“Diddle Diddle Dumpling, my son John.
Went to bed with his stockings on.
One shoe off and one shoe on,
Diddle Diddle Dumpling, my son John.”

The shoed foot gives traction while the socked foot gives spin. If challenged, the child himself couldn’t possibly explain this. But those of us who trust that sometimes children know so much more about themselves than we do, just let it be.

My opinion, you may have guessed, is to leave it alone when it doesn’t matter. Since it seems to matter to Dad all the time, however, you and Dad will have to come to some agreement. Good parenting takes good teamwork and that can mean compromise at times.

At the minimum, your Dumpling could mismatch his shoes at home whenever he wants. Or if that’s too much for Dad, choose a day of the week when crazy shoe pairs are permitted around the house. Or maybe Dad could concede that there are many venues in Dumpling’s day where the family will not be too harshly judged by this act of nonconformity (i.e.: shoes must match when you go to church on Sunday).

Those who dare to be different are often the bolder, more creative among us. Just last weekend I noticed shoes of two different colors on a musician – Julie Slick of the Adrian Belew trio. One high top sneaker was turquoise, and the other iridescent yellow. After the show I asked her about them. She had seen shoes sold that way while on tour in Japan. And noted they were outrageously expensive. Before she invested in buying two pairs of matched shoes just to achieve the mismatched effect, she came across this trendy pair online.

If your son has an artistic bent, be prepared for future friction. Dad’s discomfort with creative flairs in fashion could rock their relationship — in a bad way.

More harm is done with over criticizing and over stifling a child than with yielding to a child’s idea of what is best for him to do. Better to grant this small contravention and save your parental forces for more critical nonconformities to come.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com


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