Four year old Matthew climbs up on their kitchen counter to retrieve the large box of dry kitty food. “Mommy,” he asks, “Can I feed the kitty?” Simple request. Our kids ask our permission almost all the time, and mostly we say yes. However, where parents are emotionally tuned in to their children, getting permission works both ways.
Matthew’s mom has several choices. She could quickly reach over her son for the canister of dry kitty food and abruptly add, “Here, I’ll do that.” Or, she could caution, “Sweetheart, I think that’s too big for you to handle. Can I help?” Or, she could say, “Sure, Honey,” while gritting her teeth and preparing to pounce to avoid a mess.
Taking over avoids the possible mess, but also deprives Matthew of a teachable moment. Mom’s unintended hidden message is, “Son, my keeping control and keeping my house orderly is more important than your curiosity and wanting to help me.” Ouch! Not good.
Asking to help him is a step in the right direction, but her judgment that the canister is too big for him to handle deprives Matthew of an opportunity to experiment and to stretch his abilities.
Telling him to go ahead, but expecting disaster, may set Matthew up for problems and feeling responsible for making the mess.
This teachable moment in the making needs to start with mom giving observations and asking permission of her 4 year old son. “Matty, I’m glad you want to help kitty get to her food. You’re getting to be such a big boy. I know you don’t want to make a big mess and then have to clean it up. I have an idea. Can I share an it with you?”
Getting permission from your child, at whatever age, often comes as a pleasant surprise to him. It also puts the focus on the relationship, not just the task. You share your wisdom and your child has an opportunity to grow, with your guidance. This is the value of getting permission.