As parents, we are constantly faced with tough decisions that shape our children’s lives and well-being. One of the most hotly debated topics in parenting circles revolves around the idea of seeking our children’s permission before making decisions that directly involve them. It’s a controversial issue that sparks passionate arguments from both sides of the spectrum.
Picture this: A young child being passed around a roomful of relatives, forced to endure endless kisses and hugs despite their clear discomfort.
On one hand, some parents argue, “I’m the parent; I know what’s best for my child. Why do I need to get their permission?” But, taken to the extreme, this stance can lead to disregarding a child’s boundaries and preferences, overlooking the importance of consent from an early age.
Conversely, some firmly believe that seeking a child’s permission for everything is essential to preserving their autonomy and self-respect. Taken to the extreme, people who believe this may even get to the point that the child doesn’t brush their teeth anymore “because they don’t want to”. And of course, when the teeth decay, they can’t even go to the dentist because what child will say yes when asked, “Do you want your teeth drilled?”
Every parent may be at a different point along this spectrum of opinions. If this is a dilemma for you too, here are some tips that can help you resolve this based on an understanding of child development and positive parenting.
Discern Between Negotiables and Non-Negotiables
Ask yourself: “Is this action truly necessary? What purpose does it serve for my child?”
Taking the instance of toothbrushing, it undeniably proves essential and beneficial for the child’s well-being. Hence, toothbrushing must be treated as a non-negotiable practice.
On the other hand, let’s examine the scenario where a child is kissed by a roomful of relatives. Does this genuinely serve the child’s best interests? Is it truly necessary? Numerous alternative methods exist to demonstrate respect without intruding upon the child’s personal space and risking the spread of viruses among individuals!
Look At The Situation from Your Child’s Perspective
By considering this, it becomes evident that insisting on toothbrushing remains essential, regardless of your child’s protests. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that it can sometimes be uncomfortable for them, so you should communicate and guide them through the process.
Likewise, understanding this concept will lead you to realize that forcing your child to hug and kiss everyone at a gathering is not appropriate. Just as you wouldn’t want to be put in such a situation if you weren’t comfortable, respecting their boundaries is crucial.
The same principle applies to situations like taking a toy from one child and giving it to another without permission, and then later labeling the first child as “selfish” if they object. Empathizing with the child’s perspective helps us recognize that we wouldn’t appreciate having our belongings taken away either!
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Give Age-Appropriate Choices
Even when emphasizing the importance of certain tasks, such as toothbrushing, it’s essential to promote your child’s autonomy. Encourage them to make choices, like selecting their preferred toothbrush or toothpaste. Instead of simply asking for permission to brush their teeth, try offering options like, “Would you like to use the Cars or the Frozen toothpaste?”
As pediatricians, we employ a similar approach during examinations. While it’s necessary to use a stethoscope to examine a child in the clinic, we strive to gain their cooperation. Different doctors may employ various techniques, such as examining Mom or a stuffed animal first, or even turning it into a playful game to make the process more engaging and comfortable for the child.
Consider these sample situations where seeking your child’s permission is a prudent approach:
- Whenever your child encounters difficulty in performing a task, like putting on a shirt or completing a puzzle, avoid immediately intervening to help. Instead, consider asking, “Would you like me to assist you with that?”
- If your child appears upset, refrain from rushing to solve their problems. Instead, offer your presence by sitting quietly with them. You might also inquire, “Would you prefer me to sit beside you or give you a hug?”
- Foster age-appropriate independence by allowing your child to make decisions, such as choosing whether to bring a toy along and which toys to bring, when heading out, rather than making those choices on their behalf.
Advocate For Your Child’s Boundaries
Frequently, it is not the parents who overstep a child’s boundaries, but rather others. As a parent, you have an intimate understanding of your child, and your instincts guide you in discerning what is acceptable and when a boundary has been crossed.
I am uncomfortable when strangers or acquaintances suddenly start snapping pictures of my child, especially if the photo seems to focus solely on my child without any consideration for privacy (though I may be more lenient if their kids are also in the picture).
Despite being labeled as “mean” or “paranoid” by some, I firmly choose to take a stand on this matter without apologies. I confidently express, “Please refrain from taking photos of my child, and kindly delete any pictures you may have already taken.”
There have been instances where I remained silent and later regretted not speaking up. Sharing this experience is my way of encouraging all of us to find the courage to advocate for our children in similar situations.
You might have questions about how to handle tantrums. Or how to help your kids learn to talk, or get them started learning to read. But you don’t have hours to sift through all the competing online resources! You might be feeling the pressure of advice from others, or feeling guilty that your life is not like that of other parents.
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