How many times have you said to your child, “When you’re four, you can go out back by yourself”? Or, “When you’re ten you can get your ears pierced”? Or even, “When you’re 16, you can drive a car”? We all say these things and perhaps even fulfill these promises, but I caution you against allowing freedoms based on your child’s age alone.
I remember getting my ears pierced when I was seven years old. Was there something special about that age? No. It just happened that my sister was dying to get her ears pierced and I suppose my mom figured she would kill two birds with one stone. My sister was plenty responsible for taking care of her ears, twisting the studs and applying rubbing alcohol every night. Did I do the same? No. I ended up in an urgent care clinic because the back of the earring got embedded in my ear lobe.
So what’s the lesson here? Award freedoms based on your child’s level of responsibility, not his age. Have your child prove to you that he is responsible for a certain freedom before you award it.
Let’s use the same example. Say your daughter has been asking to get her ears pierced. You tell her that she can get them pierced when she has shown you that she can be responsible for the freedom. Let her decide how she will prove that responsibility. Maybe she will walk the dog every morning. Maybe she will take good care of her other jewelry. The responsibility doesn’t necessarily need to relate to the freedom. It simply needs to show that she is responsible for other duties that would require the same level of responsibility as the freedom. If she forgets to walk the dog two days in a row, that shows you that she doesn’t have the consistency required for the daily care of newly pierced ears. You might want to see three weeks (or more) of consistent responsibility before you agree to the freedom.
When you consider responsibility over age, you might have a younger child who has the freedom to do something your older child does not. Your four-year-old son might have the responsibility to choose what he will wear in the morning, but your six-year-old daughter might not. Your daughter is likely much more interested in what she wears and might challenge your authority when you ask her to change or if you suddenly decide to choose her clothes for her. If your four-year-old son can handle changing his clothes when you ask without putting up a fuss, he is likely responsible enough for the freedom.
Now almost five, William is allowed to choose what he wears in the morning simply because it doesn’t matter to him what he wears. He chooses the shirt and pants that are on top. If I don’t like what he has chosen to wear and ask him to change, he will do so willingly.
Take the time to think through your child’s freedoms and ask yourself if he is truly responsible enough for the freedom. Does he whine and complain when you choose the wrong TV show for him to watch? Does he fuss when he isn’t allowed to brush his own teeth? Does he throw a fit when you tell him to ride his scooter instead of his bike? Perhaps these are freedoms and choices he shouldn’t be allowed to have.
Always, the true test of whether a child is responsible enough for a certain freedom is to take that freedom away. What happens? If he handles it well, he can be allowed the freedom. If he throws a fit and challenges your authority, it is clearly a freedom you need to take away until he is more responsible. He needs to show that he can submit to your authority and handle it graciously before he can be allowed the freedom.