Stop Micro-Managing: How Letting Your Kids Choose Makes Them Winners

Take Charge on 02.03.12
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Photo: Rene Syler

The other day, my daughter, with her long, naturally curly locks, told me she wanted to chemically straighten her hair. Now some of you know my story; needless to say, given all I've gone through with my own hair, I actually felt lightheaded when she told me what she wanted to do with her own. I thought about it, worried about it, tried to come up with arguments that would deter her and talked about why it wasn't such a good idea, given that she has beautiful hair already. In short, I almost made myself sick about it.

Then I had an epiphany. Casey is almost 16 years old. It's her hair and she has to take care of it. Letting her choose what to do with her own hairstyle and grooming is right in line with my beliefs that letting kids make choices (starting with the little ones), is a good thing.

I started this years ago, as soon as my kids were able to walk over to the closet and pick out their own clothes. Seriously, what's the harm? Were they the things I would have chosen? Not necessarily; clearly I was too tied to the rules of convention and fashion to see the simple beauty of a one-piece bathing suit paired with snow pants. But I let them do it anyway and found a few things that happen when I let them make their own decisions:

  • It teaches responsibility:  The other day my husband and I were having a "spirited discussion" about our teenage son, who was wandering the streets of our small town with a sweatshirt on but no jacket. Buff told Cole (in front of Cole's friends) to put his coat on. Of course Cole bristled and the fight was on. Later I explained to my husband that Cole was a teenager, fully in control of his senses. If he gets cold, he'll put on the coat that he had shoved deep in his backpack.
  • It gives them control: Kids, particularly little ones, have so little in their lives that they actually have a say over. When Cole was little, he loved all things camouflage. Shirts, pants, shorts, underwear, bed sheets, hats gloves, it all had to have that familiar look. I never took that as a reflection on my parenting as much as a reflection on the fact that he loved camoflauge. He has since outgrown that (whew).
  • It boosts their self-esteem: When they choose what they like, they get a boost, evident by their little puffed up chests. And, if someone compliments them on their choices, well, there's nothing else to say, is there? Building self-esteem over little things like this will help when they're faced with the bigger ones, like choosing a college or saying "no" when someone offers them beer at 17. 

The tricky part is learning when to let go and let them make those decisions. I've always followed the rule of thumb that if it wasn't going to hurt them, I'd go ahead and let them choose. Which brings us back to the hair debate.

If Casey wants straight hair and decides to put chemicals on it as much as it will hurt my heart, I'll let her. I'll help her find the least damaging way and show her how to care for it afterward and I will rejoice in the fact that she is putting into practice the very thing I've spent my years as a parent trying to do, teach them how to be responsible. 

Do you micro-manage your kids' lives? How good are you at letting go and letting them make their own decisions?

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