What’s Your Control Freak Factor?

toddler helping mom vacuum

I had an interesting conversation with a father the other day. His boys are ages 3 and 5, and the dad was telling me how much his sons love to help set the table at mealtime. Both boys are pretty passionate about it, to the point that if an adult carries a plate or cup from the kitchen to the table, a boy will likely take the item back to the kitchen and then bring it to the table himself.

The whole table-setting routine gets pretty exciting, with boys asking “What can I bring? What can I bring?WhatcanIbring???” over and over until adults set the plates and cups out for the boys to carry. I asked the dad if he’d ever considered putting the dishes in a low cupboard for the boys to be able to access on their own.

THAT suggestion was not well received. The dad didn’t believe that his boys would handle the dishes without breaking. Nor did he believe that the kids would leave the dishes alone outside of mealtime, and in general he thought my suggestion was not workable. I encouraged the dad to consider the idea.

Today one of my 5 year olds got into the refrigerator and dug out a nearly full 64-ounce container of apple juice and carried it to the table. He fetched his own cup, poured the juice, and returned the jug to the fridge all on his own.

Granted, when the older boys were 5 I didn’t offer them as much trust as I do the little guys now. In hindsight, I wish I had. Children will rise to your expectations if you give them the chance. If they’ve demonstrated the ability to do a task and are then trusted with that responsibility, they feel needed and important. Self-esteem goes up, peacefulness increases, and another step is taken toward independence.

Will they make mistakes? Sure they will. Don’t we all? I frequently worry about what kind of damage would be done if an entire jug of milk or juice would do spilled all over the dining table – the same table we use to do schoolwork. Rather than tell the kids they can’t pour their own juice I just work very hard to keep papers out of the way or at least be close at hand ready to scoop things up should a spill occur. So far, we’ve only had minor episodes.

Before my conversation with my friend I thought I was a pretty controlling parent. It’s refreshing to realize that I’ve been able to let go of some of that and allow the boys to reap the benefits of responsibility more. Part of it is the fact I have twice as many kids as the dad.

Seems like the more I grow as a parent, the more I can freely let my kids grow.

So what about you? How much do your trust your kids with responsibility? Let’s say you rated yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very trusting and 10 being very controlling. Where would you fit on the scale? Just for kicks, ask a close friend how they’d rate you.

Now, for even more fun would you consider offering your child a new job to try? Have him set the table (feel free to use plastic. We do.) or fetch wastebaskets for emptying. Maybe she can use the hose attachment on the vacuum to suck up bits of food under your dining table, or a small spray bottle of water and a rag to clean a window. How about putting clean clothes away in a drawer? Whatever you can think of to let your child be a helper.

Would you come back and let us know how it went? Inquiring minds want to know.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who need to let their kids grow up.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Crissy June 6, 2008, 12:53 pm

    Wow, why would that dad allow the kids to set the table yet not allow them to get them out of the cabinet. I would rate myself as about 4 for several reasons. I let my 6 and 4 years set the table and get the dishes out. I allow them to pour from a container only if it half or less full(many accidents), they are allowed to go into the snack cabinet and get anything they want. Since we don’t have a enclosed yard and butt up against the woods, I would let them outside unless we are out with them. They clean up messes and love to do dishes(hand wash only no dishwasher) except for knives. They have tried to fold clothes but I land up refolding because alot of the time they leave them kinda rolled up. They pick out own clothes to wear. They have bath time by themselves with an occasional check in to see how they are doing. They love to sweep and mop. They refuse to vacuum. I let them set the tone as to what they like to try but sometimes I refuse to let them do stuff because I just want it a certain way so I will only do it. They do get alot of freedom to do and see things but with safety restriction in place.

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  • Michelle (The Beartwinsmom) June 6, 2008, 9:19 pm

    I don’t know what I’d rate myself.. This is great food for thought, Amy. You always come up with such great ideas. So, how would you rate me? šŸ˜‰

    The boys are pouring their own milk here, too. Sometimes they’ll even fix their own breakfast (granted, it’s a bagel w/ cream cheese or butter, but still, they’re learning.)

    And, if we don’t let our kids try to do something, how will they ever learn? You have to practice, make mistakes, and then learn. Learning is messy.

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  • Amy June 7, 2008, 11:49 pm

    Crissy, I guess that makes me a 4 or a 5. šŸ™‚ I do let the younger boys go out when I can’t see them, assuming their older brothers are close by. I can trust them to stay in our yard unsupervised as well, but it’s pretty sheltered here. They’re allowed to go to the neighbors if big brothers are there, but not allowed to swim in the neighbor’s pool. Chores and house stuff I do the same as you, although I do let them pour a full apple juice (not milk – too heavy).

    Michelle, sheesh I don’t know what I’d rate you. 5 maybe? I’m not as familiar with how you handle the going outside stuff. You tend to have things more structured than me – which works for your family. I don’t know if that necessarily makes you a control freak or just keeps you at “more structured”. šŸ™‚

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  • Sandie Law June 8, 2008, 7:59 pm

    My husband will tell you I’m a control freak. I like to know what’s going on and make sure everything goes well. However, I’ve found that my best days as a parent are the days where I let go of the reins and let my son take charge. For me, it’s about trust…and don’t we all want our kids to grow up knowing what trust is?

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  • Amy June 8, 2008, 9:47 pm

    Excellent point, Sandie. It’s not easy to learn to trust our children; after all the job originally calls for us to do everything for them. The transition from that to letting them do everything on their own is a big one.

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