Letting a 4 Year Old Make Her Own Choice

It’s all about who’s the boss these days.  The power struggle is epic around here and I don’t always win. 

I’m not supposed to, now that I think about it.  Our kids must both learn to take direction from their parents and to push some boundaries as they learn who they are.  I guess I learned that mother does not always know best.

Obviously, some things are not negotiable.  A bike helmet must always be worn when on a contraption with wheels.  Scooter or bike I am steadfast, despite what havocit may wreak on one’s hair.  None of my kids may cross the street without a grownup.  I’m just a buzzkill like that. No biting or hitting anyone at any time. I know, I know…what fun is fighting then?  You get the point – rules that pertain to preserving lives are not open for discussion.

There are topics where we compromise.  As the months grew colder, Sophia’s love of sundresses and sparkly sandals became a problem.  Every morning was a nightmare, a fight where no one ever really won.  I ended up exhausted and Sophia defeated.  Finally, I said she could wear whatever she wanted as long as there was a long sleeve shirt and tights or leggings underneath.  She wants to be a rainbow but at least she is happy one.  Each day she dresses in as many colors as possible.  She mixes and matches those gorgeous clothes I bought her with glee, creating a new funky rainbow each and every day.  We still argue about socks.  I adore them and consider them a must in the winter.  She insists that she has hot feet and hates itchy socks.  We settled on Ugg knock-offs with no socks.  She is obeying the you may not intentionally freeze your ass of rule while maintaining her own eclectic style.

Today, I actually gave in after listening to a very well prepared argument from a 4 year old little girl.  Yes, an argument.  Sophia has been in the same dance class at North Carolina Dance Theater for almost 2 years.  For a month now, she has been complaining of boredom and of the many little girls in her class who don’t know what they are doing.  She wanted to be in the older class, and she wanted to do tap.  Honestly, I thought this was her standard attitudey self lately rearing its head.  It ticked me off, and we argued about not wasting money on classes that she chose.  I rambled on about sticking with things until the finish.  I gave her the full on parent schpeel.

Then, she very calmly asked me yesterday if we could have a talk.  I agreed, thinking maybe it would be another funny discussion planning her next birthday party, still 6 months away.  Nope.  She told me I did not understand her.  She very calmly told me she had been in the same class for too long.  (It has been more than 18 months). She explained that she was ready to do real dance moves.  When I asked what they do, she said they do mostly simple exercises and stretching.  She told me she just wanted to dance and that she would like me to think about how much she wants to tap.  It was all very well said.

After I dropped her off yesterday I called the dance studio and they basically confirmed what she told me.  They also said that there was no room in the 5 year old class and that she would remain in the class until the summer at the earliest.  I immediately knew that Sophia was right.  That class was not right for her, and it was not worth the time, energy and money it took to get her there every week.  She was not being ridiculous…she was being honest.

I found her a pre-ballet and tap class at Charlotte School of Ballet.  I presented this option to her after school yesterday, including the fact that at this date, she may be unable to perform in the recital.  She said that was okay, she just really wanted to do more dancing and get her tap on.   Today we went to her first class and I almost cried.  They did little routines to music.  They learned basic choreography and Sophia rocked my mommy world.  She was so poised, so happy, such a big girl.  When the tap portion of the class came, she was beaming as she tapped away in her brand new shiny shoes.  After class the instructor asked me if we could come to the Monday class, with the girls who would be in the recital, to see how she did.  She may have a chance at that recital yet!

I was wrong to ignore her plea for so long.  She is no longer a 2 year old who goes to whatever activity I choose and sign her up for.  She is growing up and becoming a little girl who knows what she wants.  Even more importantly, she is learning how to have a real discussion with me as her parent.  This, really, is terrifying.  I can see a dangerous teenager.  I was proud of her for coming to me with her problem and I am so glad I found the time to really listen and respond.  That does not make me fear the teen years any less, but for now, it is good.

Before bed, Sophia have me a huge kiss and told me that I get her and she is happy I am her mom.  My heart melted.

It is hard to let go but every day now there are more things that I realize will be a discussion and not just a mommy decision.  That’s life.

Do you fight battles, have discussions or just plat out lay down the law?  When are kids ready to make their own decisions?  Most importantly, how soon will I regret opening this door

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • gigi says:

    I believe that a lot of girls around this age have this little firecracker in them, where they start to really express themselves, form opinions and stand up for themselves.

    It is challenging and exciting to watch all at the same time. There have been times where I should have take away my iron fist (not literally) and listened more to my daughter. They often do have really well constructed reasons and arguments for things.

    I, too, am frightened of the teenage years. 🙂
    gigi recently posted… Working From Home Is Where The HARD IsMy Profile

  • gigi says:

    p.s. I meant to say also that I’ve learned that giving them their own choices sometimes makes them a lot less defiant overall…I gave up the clothing battle 2 years ago (within limits, like you did) and both of our lives are so much happier!
    gigi recently posted… Working From Home Is Where The HARD IsMy Profile

    • Brittany says:

      I’ve got a firecracker and my mom just laughs because she she says Sophia is SO much like me! I agree that choices will make them less defiant. In an extreme case, I have a very good friend who had very little discipline from her hippie parents. They gave unconditional love and a lot of advice but not so many rules. While she did go through a rebellious phase in high school she totally worked everything out and loves that she got to make so many choices. She did go through a rebellious phase in high school, and her parents expressed how disappointed they were in her decision making skills. That disappointment after years of support was just as tough as any grounding or other punishment for her. I’m not saying we can all go that far, but I have been thinking about her situation a lot lately. Perhaps part of that strategy is wise. It certainly encourages trust and honesty between child and parent. Since honesty is something Sophia is starting to struggle with at times, I want to pay particular attention to fostering an environment where open communication is help in the highest regard.

      I’m so glad another mom gave up the clothing battle. Sophia gets some funny looks and I even have gotten some comments from a mom at her school about her funky choices but I think she looks just gorgeous being just the rainbow she wants to be. Also, if she refuses to get dressed in the morning, then I pick out her clothes. No fights. Today this happened and she is dressed in a precious pair of cream leggings and a sweater dress in various colors of pink and cream stripes. Finally a matching outfit! And even she agreed that she looks good, if less colorful than she would like.

  • Violetsouffle says:

    Wow that’s awesome! You’re such a wonderful understanding mommy. Good on you for making her heart that much happier.

  • Loukia says:

    I believe it is so important to listen to our children and to (not all the time) what they ask of us. Once they reach a certain age, of course. I often let my children make decisions, as long as they’re safe. For instance, if they decide they want to head to one museum over the other on the weekend, if they don’t actually want to take karate, if they don’t want to go a birthday party of a friend they’re not too close too, I will listen and do what they want. Of course I pick my battles, but I like to treat my little people respect and not brush off what they’re telling me, you know?
    You’re a super mom, you must have felt so happy to see your daughter so happy!

    • Brittany says:

      I was happy. I think kids deserve freedom and I am almost thinking it is like an innocent until proven guilty thing. Like, as long as you are making good choices, you may continue to choose, but if you start taking advantage of your privileges or making choices that are hurtful or mean or disrespectful, then mommy will have to step in again. I do think that sometimes with activities I have to lay out the plan and then let them choose what we do with the plan once we are there or we will never leave the house! So, get to the national mall – that is not a choice – we are going to museums – and then let them choose Natural History or Space.

      I do think that as kids get older and understand more about money, it is okay to tell them that they should think about which activities they do before we pay for them. If there is not an issue with soccer or dance or whatever, they cannot just drop out for no reason you know?

  • Kimberly says:

    I love this post! Until JD was born, I taught dance to that age group, and they are a special bunch! Your daughter is a lucky girl 🙂
    Kimberly recently posted… Wordless Wednesday- A Year Ago JD Took his 1st Big Trip!My Profile

    • Brittany says:

      Thanks! Since you taught dance, what is your opinion of dance for the 4 and 5 year old girls? NC Dance Theater prepares some of the fiest dancers in the country, but they do not begin pre-ballet until girls are 6 years old, meaning that for the 3 years prior to that they are in creative movement classes, which Sophia calls stretching and exercise. They do learn some ballet, but not much and the dances are not very much fun to do (or to watch). Her new class has simple routines and uses ballet positions and plies and correct arm positions and she seems to love the challenge and feel more like a dancer. She told me it was harder to keep her arms and feet in the right place 🙂 Just wondered if you had any thoughts?

      • Kimberly says:

        I taught pre-ballet & tap starting at age 3. It’s important to not push their tiny bodies too hard, but I don’t see any problem with introducing them to the vocabulary, basic body positions, and the structure of a “real” class- all in a fun, age appropriate way of course. Make sure their isn’t too much emphasis on turning her feet out- most children this age don’t grasp the concept of turning out from the hip, and they can damage their knees if they try to turn their toes too much to the sides. But if your daughter is interested and enjoying the challenge, go for it!
        Kimberly recently posted… Guest Post- Christy Rounds’s Best Travel MistakesMy Profile

  • angela says:

    I try so hard to pick my battles and let her make her own choices. There are some non-negotiables, but I try to make them few and far between. We are both so stubborn, though; I know the teenage years will be filled with epic battles and tears (maybe mine, ha ha).

    How wonderful that she was able to verbalize her argument and that you listened!
    angela recently posted… Playing Catch-UpMy Profile

  • SaraBroers says:

    Now, as a Mom to boys ~that are now 5 & 20—-I say enjoy these days! Your challenges lie ahead of you….ENJOY this time! Each age does have its challenges, but looking back….those that I thought were big issues when my boys were younger~ are nothing compared to the teen/young adult days! Good Luck!
    SaraBroers recently posted… Wheres Your LineMy Profile

    • Brittany says:

      Haha missing the one I was thinking holy moly that is a long time between kids! You saw how I said I was scared of the older issues. Let me clarify…petrified. I will have 3 kids in high school at the same time. What the hell was I thinking????

      We are enjoying these days! Hey…how’d your boys turn out? 🙂 Would you ever be interested n guest posting about the other side of life as a mom?

  • SaraBroers says:

    Oops~Where’d the one go? My boys are 15 & 20….
    SaraBroers recently posted… Wheres Your LineMy Profile

  • liz says:

    How good of you to listen and follow up! I bet it warmed your heart to see her beaming!
    liz recently posted… One Year Ago- TodayMy Profile

  • Alissa says:

    I love that she asked to “talk” to you and that she had thought out her rationale. So glad she’s happy in the new class.

  • Natalie says:

    Oh, my three year old son has been asking me to “talk” lately very seriously 😉

    My girls are only 18 mos., but I can’t wait to put them into dance – I never got to do it as a little girl and want them to experience it!
    Natalie recently posted… Monster Mommy Moment – Tonya StyleMy Profile

  • […] some concerns about her ballet class.  I am so glad I had a place to listen to her.   I let a 4 year old have a say and we are all better for […]

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