Sunday, May 24, 2009


A wonderful fellow blogger, Expat Mom , who is mother to two adorable little boys, asked a very good question in a comment in my last post: " do you deal with people who comment on Brian`s hair or think he`s a girl? I've had a lot of people thinking I`m mean for letting Dorian grow his hair out (they don`t think a 3 y/o is old enough to choose) and I`m not really sure what to say back!"

I tell people that we believe in choices. Giving the kids as many choices as possible (from 1yo up... I can remember them choosing between offered shirts - 3yo is definitely old enough to have likes and dislikes!) anyway, choices teach a child to be responsible. Not to mention, accepting. A kid who gets to choose their clothes (and I'm not talking complete crazy freedom, but a selection of reasonable choices) does not fight to get, or stay, dressed. I never had that problem. We try to include them in everything: "Green beans or broccoli?" (no fights about eating greens if they choose which one is for dinner), "Underpants and potty, or diapers?" (no trauma and drama; do-it-yourself potty training), "You're in time out! Do you want me to go away, or sit with you?" (this little bit of control seems to encourage them to regain control of emotions and anger). Sometimes they do NOT get choices. Sometimes they lose the chance to keep a choice that was already given because of behavior or some other reason, but that's part of the learning process. We give them as much as we reasonably can - and they know it.

Giving a child the chance to practice making choices about themselves and their life, as they grow, seems a lot kinder, than just dumping all that responsibility on them once they reach a randomly set age - "Ok, you're 10 now... be's all on you now, don't screw it up... GO!".

And it evolves... now I tell my son "You are messing around and not getting your homework done, you can continue this if you need the break, that's fine, but you're using up your after school playdate time - it's up to you." or to my daughter "You seem a bit tired and cranky - do you want to reschedule a playdate for tomorrow? Or go home and rest and play a little later, but for a shorter time?" I can't read their minds. I can't feel their emotions or physical energy levels. I mean, I am their mom... I am actually pretty good at that psychic stuff when it comes to my kids! But seriously, who is the BEST one to know what they really need, like, or feel? They are. They're not pros at this decision making now... they're kids! They still need our help and guidance, but they've had lots of practice at being responsible for themselves, so when given choices like this they will think about it and often make very good decisions, even if it means giving up a playdate because they know they're too tired. They are also learning to negotiate and suggest alternatives to choices in a non-argumentative, non-whiny manner: "I don't want to clean my room for 10 minutes now. If you let me do this instead, I'll clean for 20 minutes later." Sometimes we agree to their counter-offer. Sometimes not... just like real life! So, this is also a great skill.

And yes... mom and dad ALWAYS retain veto power.

We also sometimes face the "But I don't want to do that!", or "It's not fair!", or other back-talk, uncooperative, behavior that people often associate with kids who are given too much freedom... reality is, ALL kids do this. Whether you let them have choices or not. Pushing to be independent, or just pushing dad and mom's buttons(!), is what kids do as they grow and learn. Frankly, I believe that kids who have practice being responsible for themselves are easier. All I have to do is remind them that we DO allow them as many choices as we can - but they cannot make ALL the choices. Sometimes mom and dad must choose. I also remind them that they are given as many choices as we think they can handle... if they handle it well, we give them more... if they make bad choices, they get less. They do not like less. Our kids aren't perfect(!), neither are we for that matter... we just find that choices are a great tool that enable the kids to teach themselves.

Self-control is a trait that must be done by one's self! We can't do it for them. How else will kids learn self-control without being given CONTROL of their own SELF??? (Properly supervised by parents, of course :) !)

Anyway, Brian's hair. Simple rules. He must wash it and condition it when asked. No arguing. He must keep it neatly brushed and combed. No arguing. He must keep it in a pony tail for school PE, as well as Taekwondo class. No arguing. We have never had a problem in this regard, so he has not been forced to have a haircut. If he has a discipline issue regarding, say, the TV, we do not punish him by threatening his hair. We take away the TV. Punishment fits the crime in this house. He respects the hair rules, so we respect his choice. There's nothing wrong with teaching a child that he should be respected!

Bonus features of long hair for a boy: No sunburned scalp! He's fair skinned so this is a very good thing. Also, his hair stays out of his face better than any medium length cut. Once tied up, it stays back... totally unlike mine!

And how does Brian handle questions about his hair, or being mistaken for a girl... even when it's OBVIOUS (even to him) that the person is doing it on purpose...(note to people who do this: Just because a person is young, does NOT mean they are stupid.) Brian doesn't care. No, I cannot read his mind, but he does not even muster up the emotion or energy to get annoyed or excited about it. He is completely "whatever". If someone repeats the mistake more than once, he'll simply tell them "I'm not a girl, I'm a boy - I just don't like haircuts." (Or, "I like long hair"). Many people are genuine, and when corrected... even politely!... are very flustered and apologetic... Brian just tells them "It's ok, it happens all the time."

Kids can be very sensitive about their looks, their clothes, etc., and Brian is reaching the age where this is serious business! But I think he's built a solid foundation of self-confidence about his appearance and dealing with others who think he should cut his hair or otherwise conform to what they think is proper. I haven't been trying to encourage him to keep his hair long either. I have mentioned that if he wants his hair cut, I prefer that he does so because HE wants it cut, not because he is upset about teasing. (Not that that has ever been an issue. He tells me he understands and doesn't care what people say - it's his hair). I always offer haircuts. I always tell him that if he does cut it and doesn't like it short, he can grow it back. We'll let him.

Long hair isn't emotionally damaging. Nor is he effeminate, not that it matters. He is a boy, with long hair, and that's that... no more of a big deal than if he was a boy, with medium hair, or a boy, with short hair, or a boy with no hair. This "whatever" attitude concerning people who judge others based on their appearance is exactly what we want for him - he's not upset about them, not hateful about it, just "Whatever dude...." in a neutral manner. Long hair isn't physically damaging either. It's not like piercings or tattoos that could permanently scar. We'll protect him from those until he is old enough to have a job and drivers license... and then he can make his own choices. After all, by then he'll have had a lot of practice being responsible for himself.

Just for fun.. here's a favorite old tune by the Charlie Daniel's Band, poking fun at biased, ignorant, and prejudiced attitudes - remember this? Lyrics :


MsTypo said...

Interesting lesson in parenting for this non-parent. I'll have to book mark this post in case we ever go down that road. :)

Lloyd said...

Very inspiring, Connie.

I had long hair as a teenager, but at one point wanted to dye it. My parents said no as it would "ruin my hair".

Well, now I'm practically bald so I can't see it would have made any difference.

Matthew wants to dye his hair and grow it now, so I let him. "Enjoy it while you have it" I tell him.

Not sure about the music though... Lol!!!

betty-NZ said...

Since I became a stepmom, I know both kids are sick of hearing this: If kids didn't need parents to help them learn to make decisions, they could (and should) be out working and supporting ME!

I applaud your ethics of allowing the kids to have some say in things that they can handle.

That's how it is suppose to be done, as I see it, so that they can learn that there are consequences (whether they are good or bad) to their decisions, Bravo.

marina villatoro said...

You know my son had really long hair for a long time, and he has really long eye lashes, so everyone used to say 'ohhh what a pretty girl', not that i was worried that he'd have a complex, but his clothes coulnd't be any more boyish, nor his behavior!
SInce the custom in Costa Rica is to shave the poor boys hair off constantly, and to immediatley pierce girls ears, the only way people would be like, "oh, he's a boy," is when they saw that his ears aren't pierced!

Mama Seoul said...

This approach works! Every time I use this approach things happen gradually, gently and without pain. When I lose it and fight with him (as I did today) I lose. I can't believe how easy potty training has been. He's not 100% there (still having some problems with pooping), but he's getting there.

On punishment fitting the crime, I try to do that as well. For example, if he doesn't eat his dinner, he isn't "punished", but he is making a choice not to have dessert because he needs to eat healthy food before treats. I don't beg him to eat and I don't consider it a bribe, just the rule and a choice to be made.

3 Bay B Chicks said...

ExPat Mom is such a great blogger. I am glad that the two of you have connected.

I must also tell you that I found your post incredibly interesting and timely. I am facing these issues in my own home with my son. Your words were very inspirational to me, Connie.

Thank you.


rachaelgking said...

I LOVE this post.

My parents always let me dress myself (as long as I was WEARING clothes...) I distinctly remember my grandmother asking me if I was colorblind once, and I wore a tutu over my clothes for the better part of a year.

And it was awesome.

Expat Mom said...

Thanks for answering my question, Connie! (sorry I didn`t come by sooner, it`s been hectic!)

I love that approach to parenting. I`ve never set it out like you just did, but you said it perfectly, about giving kids choices and having them take responsibility from a young age for things they are able to do. Yesterday, Irving and I were talking about responsibility and I told him that I prefer to teach the boys how to do things and use stuff (like cooking, for example) rather than forbid it and have them sneaking around trying it and hurting themselves or becoming afraid to try it.

Connie said...

Thank you all for the wonderful feedback on this ... I've been meaning to respond each individually, but we've been going through a crazy week (see my next post!).

Raising kids is a tough business as they do not come with instructions, and each is so different from the other, even when they are very much the same! I am trying to follow what I know worked with me... and correct what I know did NOT work with me.

"Because I told you so, I'm the mom/dad and I know better" was one of the WORST things my parents ever said to me... not because I resented their authority...really!... but because they were NOT always right (who is?), so that made me question everything they said. That's who/what I am. I know that I am not always going to be right, and my husband will not always be right, so we shouldn't pretend to be... if we're 'lying' about this, what else are we doing to break their trust, right? And, we will not always be there. Eventually our little birdies will fly away and I want them as fully confident in their own abilities as possible... and in their trust in us to always be available to help them, to talk to them, and help them find THEIR solutions ... not just judge them and tell them what we expect them to do. We are not our kids and cannot live their lives for them... our job is to help them live their own lives.