Earlier this year, I bought my 5yo “Apollo” new shoes.
Apollo’s approach to clothing has always been pretty much functional. He’s gotta wear clothing to go out in public so whatever goes on his body works just fine. He’s occasionally been enthusiastic about a cool airplane shirt or whatever but mostly unconcerned with what he’s wearing. (Compare with my other kid who learned to dress/undress about fifteen seconds after she was born because we were choosing the Wrong clothes and she needed to show us the right ones. 😊)
So, the fact that his school has a uniform has never bothered him. Clothes are functional, school clothes are for school, it’s very simple and black-and-white.
But when I bought him Spider-Man shoes for non-school things, he really, really loved them. He immediately asked if he could wear them to school.
I explained that he has to wear his school shoes when he goes to school. I reassured him that he could wear Spider-Man ones after school if he wanted and he seemed to understand. I named some places that we could go where he could wear Spider-Man shoes and he was cool with it.
At the time, he was deeply interested in the “no” symbol — the circle with a line through it. 🚫 He had seen it at the indoor play place saying that you can’t bring food into the play equipment and we had explored it through various conversations since then. He’s also been fascinated by rules and what rules are, because he’s 5 and that’s developmentally exactly what he’s supposed to be doing!
I did actually feel like he understood and was cool with the shoe rules — this isn’t a story about solving a problem so much as it is a story about communicating on a level that felt native to my kid. After Apollo went to bed, in anticipation of the next day’s “getting dressed” potential battles and knowing that I wouldn’t be there (since my husband handles that), I decided to make a little “rule sheet” about the shoes. That’s what’s pictured. I drew a black shoe with a green circle around it and a check mark and wrote, “All black shoes OK”. I drew a Spider-Man shoe and a rainbow shoe and put the “no” symbol over them with a red X and wrote “No Spider-Man shoes. No rainbow shoes.” (To include little sister on the game, even though she doesn’t go to his school yet 😊)
I wouldn’t normally *speak* to my kid in these harsh of words.
I wouldn’t expect a piece of paper with a picture to actually enforce a boundary.
It is still our jobs as parents to actually help him get dressed and get him what he needs.
I did not believe that this would be an issue for him—he has traditionally not cared and he continued to seem to not be bothered.
I did this because I thought he would *like* it, and I was right. My rule-loving, symbol-loving, visual kid was delighted by the fact that in the morning he woke up and there it was! Written right there, by the shoes! An actual rules sheet that explained the shoe rules clearly and with pictures! It was magnificent to him. It took the idea from only the abstract in his mind — where he did seem to understand it and was fine with complying — into a physical representation that made even more sense to him. It was on a paper, so, gotta go with what the paper explains.
I share this more as an example of a way that I tried to communicate meaningfully to him, especially when something really just is arbitrary or societal. (After all, there’s no good reason he can’t wear Spider-Man shoes to school.) I do not share this as an example of how to trick your kid into obeying you or that this exact thing would help every kid. This was me in my knowledge of my own son, finding something that I thought he would like and be meaningful to him. And it was! The shoe rules hung for a long time by our front door. 😉