As a young woman who used to be a little girl who now has a little girl herself, I am hyper-aware of everything that my daughter says and does. From the words she uses, to her tone of voice, to her actions, to what she wants to dress herself in for the day, I am scouting out teaching moments and looking for opportunities to not only teach correct behavior but also squash any little issues before they become big problems.
And it is never too early to begin teaching about modesty, grace, beauty (true beauty, not the stuff sold in magazine aisles), and discerning what's true out of these subjects.
I always wondered how I was ever going to "teach modesty." I didn't really see it fit to just make rules about dressing and leave it at that. But the beautiful thing about being a parent is that teaching moments happen everywhere, anytime, and if we take advantage of these moments, the rules we wanted to implement in the first place organically fall into place.
Here are a few of these rules that emerged from our own journey...
1) At this point, we always have our daughter wear dresses to church. This is partly due to the fact that dresses make her feel more special, you know like a princess, and we want her to feel like a princess when she visits her King. We also wear dresses because they set Sunday Mass apart from other days of the week. And if the dress is sleeveless, we wear a pretty cardigan over it, and we make the point to remind her that we don't show our shoulders during Mass - again, not just because it's a rule of the Church but because we dress special for Jesus and the only body that should get attention at church is Jesus'. There was a battle over the cardigan (because, let's face it, kids like to have the least amount of clothing on as possible) but that battle has been won by mom and dad.
2) Bringing up my last point (that kids like to be naked) we don't allow Avila to just run around in whatever she wants (namely Hello Kitty underwear and a tank-top). Because kids can't deal with the abstract, we set a general rule in our home that she has to cover her shoulders and knees unless it is really hot out (then she can wear a tank-top if she wants). We have fun t-shirts and we don't buy short shorts. She has never once complained about this rule and by starting it at such a young age it will feel like second-nature by the time she is older. She even brags about the fact that her favorite dresses don't show her knees. We also require shorts under dresses when going out because we all know how little girls like to spin around!
3) When it comes to swim suits, I won't ever buy Avila a two-piece. Oh my word, I remember (and still feel) the pressure to look good in a swimsuit and that is something I just don't want my little girl to go through. Plus, think of all the weirdos out there. No way do I want someone looking at my little girl when she's splashing around in the ocean. You can't protect them forever but you can buy them a modesty suit! All kidding aside there's lots of options. Right now we opt for rash guards (short or long-sleeved) and shorts. And as she gets older, we will make it a joint venture to find something fun for her and appropriate at the same time.
4) An important point to bring up is mom. Meaning, me. Meaning, do I follow all the rules of modesty I set for my daughter? The real answer is: I'm working on it. Do I wear dresses every week to church? No, but I always always make sure my clothing is appropriate (again, no knees or shoulders showing). I donated all the shorts (well, like one pair) I had that didn't meet the standard I set for Avila. Instead I wear sundresses and board shorts. I always make sure that Avila will only learn positive things from what I wear, as kids learn from what we do, not what we say.
5. Be careful of what your kids watch and always ask where they learn new words and phrases from if you don't know. Case in point: The Little Mermaid. We are very cautious of what out kids watch because they pick up on everything. One day, Avila started dancing provocatively (something she has never done) and singing the words "body language." I pulled her aside and, without getting upset, I told her that dancing like that was not OK - it didn't respect her body and dancing like that would never be done again. She got the point. I then explained what body language actually means, that we can say something with our bodies without using words. She got that, too. I then asked where she learned this from. She told me, The Little Mermaid. Never will that movie be watched in our house again! By limiting exposure to immodest words and actions from the get-go, we start the battle way ahead - you can never be too careful as a parent.
6. We never make comments about our kids' body parts. We don't say "look at your cute, chubby little legs!" (even if they are cute and chubby) and we don't point out things like pants that have accidentally sagged a little too low. We just fix the problem and don't point it out. This saves our kids from being embarrassed about what we tell them is private. As a woman who has struggled with body issues, I also make it a huge point to tell Avila how beautifully made her body is - that God created her perfect just the way she is. I tell her that her tummy is perfect (because what woman doesn't struggle with that?) and while they are fun, that she doesn't need hair bows and pretty dresses and nail polish to be pretty. By implanting these truths early, hopefully they will be super ingrained in her mind as to combat any negative messages she hears from the world.
These are just a few examples of how we teach modesty with dress and actions. I love fashion and Avila loves pink and we've found a way to mesh these loves with honoring God with our bodies. We also focus on virtues like kindness in how we talk (meaning no attitude) and putting other people first. When we have an other-oriented attitude - versus everything about us - everything else just seems to fall into place. Some may think that rules such as these are "so restrictive" but in my experience with our daughter (and in implementing them for myself) there is actually a freedom - a freedom to express ourselves in a healthy way that will draw others' attention not to ourselves, but rather to the Lord.
This post is mostly focused on girls, but a lot of the tips can trasfer over - such as polos and pants to Mass and pointing out to boys that a true man points to others, not himself. I would love to hear how other parents teach modesty to their children both at young ages and older ages.
May God bless us in our fight for our children's souls!!!