When is the right time for my child to do…anything?

girl walking away

photo credit: pixabay.com

When I was a kid, the nearest playground was a little more than a quarter-mile away. To get there, I had to walk three long blocks and cross a three-lanes-in-each-direction road that didn’t have cross-walks ANYWHERE NEARBY. Somehow, we were allowed to go there without much incident. In recent days, my decision to let dd and a fellow third-grade playmate go unsupervised to the playground nearest us (well within a quarter-mile radius and not even requiring a street crossing) was, shall we say, highly challenged by a parent of the child that went with her. Granted, every parent is entitled to their own limits and I get that, but I appreciate that future meet-ups will have supervision rules discussed up front so that everybody is on the same page.

The incident got me thinking about just how little we know when it comes to when the right time is for…anything our kids might want to do. All those hard-and-fast rules aren’t so hard or fast when every household is different, and it always, ALWAYS depends on the child(ren) in question.

We had run into this larger issue of readiness a few months back, when dd first started to pester us in earnest about earrings. Over dinner with friends, we discussed the conundrum at length: Is a third grader responsible enough to take care of her ears so they don’t get infected? What IS the right age for a child to get their ears pierced? (DH blanched from one couple’s story of their niece’s lackluster approach to earring care leading to multiple infections and at least one re-piercing.)

Of course, there are people who have their kids’ ears pierced at very early ages, in which case the issue is pretty moot; initial care is handled by a parent/caregiver, and the child grows up just knowing “I’ve pretty much always had my ears pierced.” I didn’t get my ears pierced until around age twelve, possibly because my parents waited until they thought I was responsible enough to take care of them on my own.

We had originally set the same requirement for dd, until she really kept coming at us OVER AND OVER AGAIN–begging, pleading, and generally bugging the crap out of us to get her ears pierced. Finally, one night as we cuddled at her bedtime, she ‘fessed up: “All the cool third-grade girls have their ears pierced,” she whined plaintively. Ohhhh. Okay.

I told dh about this, to which he (so New Englandly) responded, “Well, that’s a perfect reason NOT to get them pierced!”

I didn’t even blink before I shot back, “You don’t understand girls.


Amy Poehler in Mean Girls

photo credit: observer.com


And no, I’m not pretending to be Amy Poehler’s character from “Mean Girls”, the super-cool mom who’s totes okay with aaaannnnnyyyything. I’m just saying that I have not-so-vague memories of what it was like being a third grade girl who didn’t fit in because she wasn’t thin or pretty enough, and it sucked. A lot. And really, if dd has already announced her desire to get her ears pierced, does she need to wait three more years?

I brokered a sort of détente: dd would have an eight-week chart of responsibilities involving personal care in one manner or another (e.g. brushing teeth, brushing her hair, showering, etc.), and she had limited room for misses. If she didn’t meet all the requirements for a given day, and that happened more than twice in a week, a penalty week would be added. As it happened, we had to invoke that rule only once–and it ended up being rescinded just as quickly due to a well-timed critical show of responsibility. She pulled a massive save on a night when dh was out and I got sick; completely un-prodded, she took over clearing the dinner table and getting both herself and her brother ready for bed while I was recovering from my ailment.


DD's responsibility chart

A partial view of a much larger chart


And so it was that she got her ears pierced earlier this month, picking out earrings that were close to but slightly more colorful than the ones chosen by one of her BFFs from school. She complained mightily for a few hours about how much it hurt to have them done, and she’s not always keeping on top of cleaning them without being reminded, but otherwise she’s got it under control and she’s clearly doing well enough that I have high hopes for her making it through without infected lobes.




The thing is, the age of twelve that we initially set as a target was somewhat arbitrary; it was picked because that’s when I foggily remembered getting my ears pierced, and who knows how long I similarly bugged the crap out of MY parents leading up to that day. No matter what day or what year dh and I picked, we could always be wrong.

You’re not supposed to introduce babies to solid foods before six months old, yet there are people who have done it for centuries (or millennia), and the children still lived. Guidelines for kids’ sleep requirements and bedtimes vary depending upon the source, with general ranges being as close to a rule as you’ll find. What we know about when it’s safe or okay for a child to do so many things is often subjective, and I’m glad that I listened to my gut instinct about the earrings and let her have the opportunity to prove herself.

Giving my children the freedom to fail is scary, but it’s time to do more of that with dd. I shouldn’t always do for her anymore what she must do for herself, and I just need to be available to support her or comfort her if she stumbles or falls. I don’t know which one of us is more ready for this shift, but it’s clear we’re already finding out…together.