Teaching tzniut to my 9 year old daughter

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Please give us some guidelines to better teach our 9 year old daughter. Her teacher always comments that her skirt is too short. She does not show enthusiasm in keeping most halachot. Plus she is aware that I dressed “less tnius” when I was her age.
Also, what do I say when we visit my family and she sees that they’re not dressing according to our standards?

Thank you!

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Asked on June 6, 2023 8:11 am
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This is a complicated question that is not just halachic. It depends on you and your husband, your daughter, and your community. If you'd like to share more details about your location, we can try to help connect you with someone local with whom you could discuss this further.

Important elements of teaching tzeniut to one's children resemble keys to chinuch in general: role modeling, good communication, setting thoughtful and consistent standards, and making room for autonomy to the extent possible.

It sounds as though you come from a more liberal Jewish background than your current community. Though that can pose additional challenges, those who grew up in a given religious community don’t necessarily have easy answers to these questions, either. If your family of origin follows a valid halachic tradition, you can simply point out to your daughter that there is a range of halachic opinions, and you follow different opinions than they do. If the religious differences are greater than that, then tzeniut and dress are pieces of a larger conversation about relating to religious differences with clarity, love, and respect.

The biggest issue that you raise, going way beyond education for specific issues, is that your daughter “does not show enthusiasm in keeping most halachot.” It’s normal for kids of all ages to have a range of feelings about Halacha as a whole and about observing specific halachot, so this could mean many different things. Still, we suggest that you take some time to speak with your husband about where and how you see this issue come up, why you think she feels that way, and how the two of you could work together to help her build a more positive connection to Halacha overall.

Regarding dress, it could be helpful to speak with your daughter. Start by asking her how she feels and what her current priorities are in choosing how to dress, with a focus on hearing her out. Keep in mind that, for a girl of your daughter’s age, skirt choice typically has more to do with comfort or with personal taste than with Halacha. It’s also common at this age for a child to outgrow clothes at a fast pace, and many children resist giving up beloved clothing.

Once you understand more fully where she is coming from, find a time to share with her how you personally understand tzeniut in general (not just as related to dress), what you think is important in choosing dress and why, and how you feel now about your dress as a kid and in your family’s community. Our pieces on tzeniut and on the basics of dress may be good resources for you.

It’s important to give your daughter as much say as possible in how she dresses, so that she feels that her preferences matter. Lay out the basic guidelines and then, working within those guidelines, allow her to choose clothing and accessories that she likes and finds comfortable. (Sometimes online shopping provides more options.) You can even explore altering older skirts so that she could wear them for longer.

If your sense of what’s appropriate differs from school policy, you can discuss that with her, too, while being respectful of the policy and explaining why it’s important to honor school rules on school premises or at school events.

All that said, please speak with her teacher. Find out what is troubling the teacher and ask the teacher to share concerns about your daughter’s dress with you rather than with your daughter. If the teacher’s position is more stringent than school policy, then you can share with her that the school policy is your personal standard. If her position is in keeping with school policy, you can still point out that the comments have not been helpful to your daughter and that you are the best address for them.

Remember that education is a long term process, and that your daughter is young—and trust your instincts in guiding her. Often our children are absorbing and internalizing values that are important to us even if they don't always express them in the short term in the ways we would hope for.

Please let us know if we can be of further help.

See more Q&A here.

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Answered on June 6, 2023 8:07 am