Opinion / Kim Lee

Haircuts, freedom and responsibility

By Kim Lee ( Updated: 2014-04-17 09:48

The most important thing to remember when facing the “how much is too much?” freedom question is to start small. The choice to wear uneven ponytails or clashing neon colors doesn’t have an impact on a child’s health or a family’s harmony. These small amounts of freedom can be earned by a child who demonstrates the ability to wash his or her hair or get dressed independently.

Children should not be free to make decisions that are harmful to their health, impinge on the rights of others or exceed their capacity for responsibility, such as eating unlimited amounts of junk food, treating others disrespectfully or dictating the schedule for the entire family. However, parents must still strive to provide appropriate opportunities for children to exercise their decision-making skills. The hair salon, the park and the book store are all great options.

The “freedom entails responsibility model” actually helps you avoid a lot of battles on the parenting front. I’m happy to cook things that my children like to eat, but at the same time they are always happy to eat whatever I cook. They would never dream of refusing to eat a meal that I prepared, let alone demanding a replacement. This is because they understand the right to choose the dinner menu belongs solely to the person responsible for doing the shopping and cooking. Kids who are picky eaters quickly lose this habit when faced with the calm choice of taking up the responsibility for cooking dinner or getting used to the feeling of hunger until breakfast. (Warning: You may need to pack Grandma and Grandpa off for a sightseeing vacation lasting a few days before trying this approach). Older children who consistently put their maximum efforts into schoolwork deserve to choose their own leisure activities and the chance to manage their own time.

Parenting is like a long journey to an unknown destination. We should expect some challenges along the way, but we should also strive to “enjoy the trip” as much as possible. One way to do this is to stop micromanaging. Pull back and give children some space. Let them choose their own hairstyles, bedtime stories and the color of their sports shoes. Let them read a comic book instead of “5 Steps to Becoming a Nobel Prize Winner”. Save your energy and guidance for the issues that really matter. One day, you just might walk into the kitchen to find your 12-year-old preparing dinner because she wants to “give you a day off” from cooking. And you just might shed a tear when you realize that the capable, responsible young lady happily chopping vegetables in front of you is the same little girl who used to slide across the kitchen floor in mismatched socks.

Kim Lee is a writer and teacher specializing in family education. She lives in Beijing with her three daughters.


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