Taking children shopping for clothes can be a trying experience for parents and children. On a scale of 1 to 10, this sort of shopping trip can rank a minus 3. You tell your son he needs a shirt, and he picks out pants. You tell him he doesn't have anything to go with electric-green pants, and he insists he wants them anyway.
Show what he does need and he's likely to say, ''You can get it, but I'm not going to wear it.'' Or, ''That's sissy stuff.'' Or, ''But the other kids will laugh at me.''
He might be right. Even though we may pick our children up at school every afternoon and, in the process, see lots of children other than our own, we can miss subtleties of dress that our children are all too aware of.
After many years of frustration and frayed tempers, my husband and I have hit on what, for us, has been a solution to the shopping problem.
We make a list of exactly what our son Morris needs. We allot an appropriate amount of money for these items. Then we turn him loose to do his own shopping. (We hold the money!)
He picks out his own clothes, because he knows better than we do what he wants and what he'll enjoy wearing. We check them only for fit. As long as what he selects is in his price range and isn't actually dreadful, we let him have it.
The last time we took him shopping he needed a pair of sneakers, several pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, and two shirts. We told him how much money he'd be able to spend.
We also gave him his choice of stores, explaining that he could get more clothes for his money at a discount store, but that the quality was likely to be better at a medium-price department store. He chose the department store.
He found his sneakers and socks first, and spent almost 40 percent of his money on them.
Next he picked out a pair of pants and two shirts, which used up the rest of his money. The pair of pants he had chosen left a lot to be desired - for us, anyway. They were a color I can best describe as a day-glow yellow. If he were a large child, he could probably have passed for a school bus in them.
''But you need two pairs of pants,'' I said. ''This pair is too expensive.''
''You said I could pick my own clothes,'' he reminded me. ''Besides, I don't see any others I like.''
''But you haven't looked at all of them.''
''Yes, I have.''
I made one last stab at it. ''But Morris, I don't think you have anything these pants will go with.''
''I have lots of stuff they'll go with,'' he insisted. (It turned out he was right.)
''But if you get these, you won't have enough money for another pair, too,'' my husband said.
''I'll get by without another pair.''
We agreed to let him have them, if he would promise not to complain later. He promised.
And he kept his word. What's more, he's thoroughly enjoyed his day-glow-yellow pants. I'd never have picked them out if I had been doing his shopping - and he'd never have gotten to enjoy them.
We've been letting Morris do his own shopping since he was 11. He's 14 now, and we've found that this frees us from a lot of hassles. It has also helped him learn some lessons.
He's learned how to make decisions and stick to them. He's learned to compare price and quality. (I've often wondered what the sales clerks must think when he drops a price tag in horror and says, ''No way!'') And he's learned to budget. All of these are useful lessons.
As a bonus, we no longer have a closet filled with two kinds of clothes: worn out and untouched. He enjoys all of his clothes now, not just some of them.
Shopping with him for his clothes still won't rank higher on the scale than maybe a 5 or 6 (but then I don't enjoy shopping for my clothes, either). But it's a lot better and a lot more pleasant for all of us than it used to be.