Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Respecting a child's choice

I recently read about Will Smith talking about why he let his daughter cut her hair off. (Couldn't find the original link.)

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

This resonated with me especially because Puttachi has declared that she wants to grow her hair.

For as long as she had no particular choice, I kept her hair short, because I found it easier to maintain.  But now that she is old enough to know what she wants, she told me that she wants to grow her hair, and that is fine by me.  I know it is going to be a little difficult - I have never dared grow my hair because I find maintenance too tedious.  But if Puttachi wants to grow hers, then that is her decision and I will help her with it.

People have asked me why I indulge her.  Just cut it off, they say.  Anyway, you are the one that cuts her hair - just tell her that you are trimming her hair and then cut it off.   People told me this even when she was three years old, and was aware enough to insist that she wants hair long enough in front - because she liked wearing clips.  They felt she looked cuter with her hair cut in a fringe, and told me to just cut it off, what would she do about it?  I was shocked, because even a three-year-old is a person with a say over what she wants - and this is such a harmless thing, it is not like she is insisting on eating only ice-cream for every meal!  So I refused to do anything to her hair without her permission.

That doesn't mean that we will let her do anything she wants.  There has to be a line somewhere and we will draw it, but we will tell her why we are drawing that line.  And since, from the beginning, I have explained to her in detail why I do the things I do, she already knows that there is a reason for everything we do, and I'm sure she'll respect it.  In fact, she is always open to logical arguments.  Now that she is growing her hair, it started falling into her eyes, and she is frequently too busy in her own world to realize that it is obstructing her sight, and so she doesn't always push her hair back, or tighten her clips.  So I told her that I would have to cut her hair short in the front, and she can grow it long at the back.  She saw the sense in my argument and agreed.

My mother tells me about a child who came to my first birthday party with bindis stuck all over her face.  I find that very impressive, that the girl's parents let her be a child, follow her fancy, and go out to a party with stickers all over her face.  I mean, it is so harmless, and if the child likes it, so what?  If the child wants to choose her own clothes, so what?  If the child wants to wear twenty clips on her head, pink on one side and red on the other, and go out of the house, so what? (Puttachi has done that.) 

This might seem a small thing - but it is just a foundation for the future.  If we don't allow our children to take simple decisions about their own bodies, about their own lives, then what can we possibly teach them?  What do you think?

13 comments:

rajk said...

Wow Shruthi, I'm so blown away by this post. Such a small thing, but you've made me think about it. Thanks!
Hey, ever thought of writing a book?

Radhika said...

Same here. Few months back Ananya got her hair cut though I wanted her to grow her hair (as she is learning classical dance). I too would love to give enough space for her to take her own decisions. But wher to draw the line?

Gopal M S said...

Must send this link to ACP Dhoble who wants to teach girls in Mumbai how to dress

Sumana said...

Same here with my daughter who does not want to cut here hair. I think it is a part of respecting them as a person they are shaping up to be. They would inturn learn to respect others i feel.

Veens said...

I have a 2 year old strong willed guy who wants to make his own decisions... :) I guess they are little people, and indulging them means we give them choices... I know I get frustrated most of the times with mine, but I am happy when he makes a good choice... though I am still working on getting him to see good choices v/s the bad ones :)

I really like what Will Smith said, and I think that is a good thing to do... and you are doing it right too :)

And I am sure your girl would look cuter in her long tresses :)

Veens said...

I have a 2 year old strong willed guy who wants to make his own decisions... :) I guess they are little people, and indulging them means we give them choices... I know I get frustrated most of the times with mine, but I am happy when he makes a good choice... though I am still working on getting him to see good choices v/s the bad ones :)

I really like what Will Smith said, and I think that is a good thing to do... and you are doing it right too :)

And I am sure your girl would look cuter in her long tresses :)

Anonymous said...

When you talk about giving choices to children, one good practice is to give them maximum three/four choices. Otherwise, they won't be able to make a good decision....too many choices confuse children, and they tend to ask for different things at different times. And, they learn that their parents can be manipulated easily....As a parent, you choose three good options, and then give them the liberty to choose one among them. That way, you protect your child from making wrong decisions...

Anonymous said...

Tricky question.

With boundaries the child is supposed to feel protected. He/She is supposed to push and see and in fact feel secure if we make him/her stay with in.

On the other hand, choices helps to make them responsible for the ones they make.

Tricky indeed.

Hair is easy. What if it is body piercing or an unacceptable tattoo ?

Shruthi said...

rajk, ha ha :) writing a book on..?

Radhika, that's the million dollar question!

Gopal MS, LOL!

Sumana, absolutely spot-on. I believe that too.

Veens, yes it is difficult to balance it all out!

Anon at 6 32, that works in some situations. To present them with choices when they are being difficult is a way of making them feel in control, as well as getting things done. But if we keep handing them their options, how will they think for themselves, make mistakes and learn? What do you think?

Anon at 9:09, very tricky indeed. Very fine line. I realize I have so much more to say, so I'll probably do another post on this.

Wanderer said...

Is it possible you could adopt me? :)

Wanderer said...

@Anon with tricky question regarding tattoo and body piercing. If they are still teenagers and depend on you, you can still control it. But once they are on their own you can't wield your wand over them. You can only suggest that it would possibly be a bad idea to get pierced to tattooed but they will and should make that ultimate decision. I'm 28 and independent and want to get a tattoo. I'm sure my parent's wouldn't want me to, I will still go ahead and get it. My body, my choice. But the most important thing for me to know is the boundary of how what I decide can turn out. That is what you have to teach them when they are kids.

Vaijayanthi KM said...

Hi Shruthi

I agree - your view resonates with my idea of parenting too. Incidentally, I came across another blog post on a similar (same?) subject :) You might like to read it too

Shruthi said...

Wanderer, LOL! :) And yes, what you told Anon is very right.

Vaijayanthi, thanks for the link. I confess that in situations like that, I would have said, "no, take off your shoes" where actually it doesn't really matter at all! It does require a very open mind to let the child do as it pleases, like in the post.

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