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Flower Girl Fears

Flower Girl Fears

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

Congratulations on the gorgeous new baby!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesSpeaking of big life events, my sister is getting married in a few months, and she has asked me to be the matron of honor and my daughter (who will have recently turned 2) to be the flower girl. Yay! All very exciting things. However, I’m having a challenge right now that I can’t figure out, and I thought you/your readers may be able to help me out again (you all saved me a ton of breastfeeding stress back in the early days, when I was struggling with using a nipple shield).

The problem is my daughter’s reaction to the flower girl dress. My mom and I bought one back around Easter when we could get a white dress at Target instead of getting an expensive one at a bridal shop – we thought we were geniuses. A few weeks ago we decided to try the dress on my daughter to see if it fit. She protested, but she’s in the stage where she HATES getting dressed right now, so I just popped it on her anyway. That turned out to be a big mistake. She hated the dress, and sobbed, and even now she remains scared of it. It’s not itchy or anything inside (I checked the lining all over), or tight/uncomfortable in any areas – she’s just having a strong negative reaction to the dress. She’ll see it and say “no mommy, no dress” and start crying. She has a similar reaction whenever I try on my matron of honor dress, which I had put on at the same time.

I thought we might have to give up on that flower girl dress and stumbled across another one on clearance online, which is beautiful and looks different enough from the other dress that I hoped she might be more amenable to it. But when it arrived and I took it out of the box to show her, she said “no mommy, no dress!” again. She won’t go anywhere near it – I guess it’s similar enough in that it’s white and fancier than her normal play dresses. I haven’t tried putting it on her, but I’ve tried hanging the new dress in the hallway where she walks past it, talking about it as the dress she’ll wear to her aunt’s party and how pretty she’ll look, asking her to her tell me the color and the decorations, asking if she wants to touch it, etc. She remains stubbornly opposed and upset at the very idea of the dress, and she’s too young to be able to tell me why.

I thought about putting it in the closet and forgetting about it for now, and bringing it out just before the wedding, hoping she’ll forget whatever has traumatized her about these flower girl dresses, but she has a crazy good memory so I don’t think that will work. My mom is making a sash to go on either dress that will match the bridesmaids’ dresses and is hoping that adding some color will make it look different enough that my daughter will wear it, but I don’t want to count on that. Besides preparing my sister for the possibility that she just may not wear either dress and/or be able to be a flower girl (which she’s very understanding about, but would make me sad), is there anything else I can do here? Or did I eff this up completely and we’ll forever be locked in a power struggle? I’m in uncharted territory, but I thought you may have some ideas based on your experiences with Noah and helping him become okay with things he used to strongly object to, especially when you couldn’t figure out the reason and he couldn’t explain it.

Thank you! (Also, if you or anyone has advice on how to survive this whole wedding, with balancing matron of honor responsibilities plus being the mother of a reluctant flower girl who clings to me when strangers are around, who I never bring to fancy adult events like this because it’s not fun for anyone, that would be greatly appreciated. I can’t even think about that part yet.)

Hmm. I’m wondering: How has your daughter reacted to Halloween costumes in the past? Or to the sight of adults in costumes as mascots or at parties, etc.? Scared, clingy, maybe even a tantrum or two? Does she ever play dress up or does she even seem to resist the usual play costumes/hats/fairy wings and such?

Because that was Noah, BIG TIME, from the time he was a small toddler to…well, this year, more or less. It was supposedly (according to his teachers) stemmed from him being unable to define the boundaries between make-believe and what’s “real.” AND the fact that he generally has a lot of anxiety about things being “different.” People “changing” in some way, even if it’s just wearing something unexpected.

Add on to this his trouble with any structured situation where adults are putting demands and expectations on him (dictating the play schema or simply requiring him to say “trick or treat”), and you basically have the perfect storm of sensory processing/anxiety wig out.

It could be that your daughter senses this wedding is a Big Deal to everybody and that a lot is going to be expected of her and she’s preemptively rebelling against the whole thing. “No dress” might also mean “I’m scared of what you’ll make me do once I have that dress on or that I won’t do it right and people are going to be looking at me and etc.” You say she’s pretty shy, so asking her to be a flower girl might translate in her little world to say, someone with a fear of public speaking being forced to give a keynote address in front a thousand people. That might explain why she is upset at the idea of ANY of the flower girl dresses you offer, and not just the original one that you forced on her.

Though don’t beat yourself up too badly about that. I did the same thing with a Halloween costume one year, when Noah had just turned three. I thought I was dealing with typical toddler stubbornness and once he SAW the costume on he’d understand that it was just clothing and fun and pretend and all that. He didn’t. Instead, he screamed until he vomited. MOTHER OF THE YEAR, RIGHT HERE, YOU GUYS.

So basically, I really, really sympathize with you here. I’m sure a lot of people might say, “oh, just force her, you’re the mom and in charge, she’ll get over it.” I am not one of those people. A child’s fears and anxieties can loom very, very large in their lives, and deserve to be respected instead of being thought of as silly or something they just need to get over because we’re the grown-ups and WE SAY IT IS SO.

Honestly, I think your daughter might just be too young to be a flower girl. It’s a lot to ask of a recently-turned-two child, when you think about it. Getting put in weird clothing, walking down the aisle while everybody oohs and ahhs and takes pictures, then being forced to pose for MORE pictures and then a reception with tons of people and non-kid-friendly food and everybody is talking about cake but they won’t give you any cake yet and you’re up past your bedtime and Mommy looks all different and can’t hold you every time you want her to and and and ETC.

Some kids can probably totally handle all that at two. But it’s really okay — and not at all surprising or unusual — if your particular kid can’t. If someone asked Ezra (my perfectly verbal and hammy and typically developing almost-three-year-old boy) to be a ring bearer, I’d still have a real problem committing him to that, because he’s a typically developing almost-three-year-old boy, which translates to unpredictable as all get-out.

Noah, on the other hand, still doesn’t like looking at my wedding photos. He loves Harry Potter but hides behind the couch at the mere mention of the Polyjuice Potion. He freaked out at his preschool graduation because kids were wearing construction-paper caps. And even Halloween is still kind of hit or miss — he’ll agree to wear a costume because he now understands there’s candy involved. He still hates wearing a costume, but his love for candy tends to win out. This is…just who he is, though. And it’s okay. Even at almost-six, he still won’t be anybody’s ring bearer anytime soon, but that’s okay too.

If you’re really not ready to pull the plug on the flower girl plans, I would try encouraging your daughter to engage in some dress-up and pretend play. Don’t start off with anything princess-y that might remind her of The Dress, but maybe some stuff that she’s already interested in, like wearing a backpack like Dora or wearing a white coat and playing doctor. Baby steps. Join in and dress up with her so she sees that costumes and different clothing are, in fact, a temporary state and nothing to be scared of. If she cries and hates it, DROP IT. Then back up and encourage her to play make-believe play scenarios without costumes, like restaurant or something.

For the actual wedding, try creating a social story for her, with pictures. Here’s an example for a slightly older child attending a wedding as guest, but it might give you an idea of how to write one for her. You can use clip art or cut pictures out of a bridal magazine or both — pictures of brides, bridesmaids, flower girls, decorated churches, etc.  Keep it simple and step-by-step, walking her through the day start to finish. (You can include a photo of The Dress, too.) Social stories are sooooo much more effective, I’ve found, than all the talking and talking and explaining you can do until you’re blue in the face. Give the situation some pictures and storybook-like language, though, and you might really get through to her and help her work through her fears of The Dress and The Day.

In my experience, though, that’s about the most you can do when you run into fear-driven toddler roadblocks. Be flexible in the face of their rigidity, even when it drives you nuts. She might suddenly snap out of it and be the cutest little flower girl the world has ever seen. Or she might not, and thankfully it sounds like your sister will be understanding and accepting of that. And you don’t even have to get into the whole thing about her terror over the dress — she’s a very young two and she’s shy. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, or her, or you.

Published July 29, 2011. Last updated March 12, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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