Who is in charge here?

I was recently asked a question by my 2 1/2 year old that gave me pause.  “Daddy, who is in charge, me or (Big Brother)?”  If he had stopped at “Daddy, who is in charge,” I would have given little thought to the obvious answer that mommy and I are in charge.  What threw me was the qualifier “me or. . .”  That was a perfect question and one that after considering for a moment provided an answer that just might turn into something significant for them beyond this single episode.  So, with my impatient little boy standing there hands-on-hips awaiting my answer so he could return triumphantly (I’m sure) back to his brother I hurriedly gave him an answer.  “You are both in charge as long as you are being good.”  Quickly he rushed back to his brother and relayed that “I am in charge and you are in charge.”  Good start.  So I took a few minutes and laid out some mental guidelines before I approached them with a full response.

First I asked them if they understood what it meant to be in charge.  Big Brother is now 4 ½ by the way.  They were both a little vague, with their general assumption being that “in charge” meant you could tell another what to do.  So I enlightened them with my definition of what it means to be in charge.  While this was somewhat difficult for me to conceptualize for my preschoolers it is an idea that we can now continue to build upon.  Basically the conversation went like this:

“Mommy and daddy are in charge because we are always good. 😉 We don’t tell you to do bad things, like hit each other or draw on the walls.  Do we?”

“No.”

“We only tell you to do good things, like share, pick up your toys or to eat your dinner.  We also tell you when you can’t do something that is dangerous or that might hurt you, like running into the road or playing with sharp sticks.  And, sometimes we do have to tell you to stop doing bad things.  Can you think of some things that you might do that are bad?”

“Pinching. . . biting. . . taking his dinosaur. . .”

“That’s right.  Those are things that we all know aren’t very nice, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, someone has to be really good to be in charge.  They have to know what is good and bad and then they always have to do what is good, even if it’s hard, like sharing is sometimes.  They have to eat all of their dinner, pick up their toys, play on the sidewalk and not in the street, and they have to help other people first before telling them what to do.  This is called being responsible and you first have to be responsible before you can be in charge.

Can you think of some things that you can do to be really nice?”

“Share our toys. . .stay in bed. . . help mommy with the baby. . .”

“That’s right.  So, while mommy and daddy are always in charge you can be in charge too.  If you are being responsible, which is always being good, by sharing and playing nice, picking up your toys and not doing bad things then you are being responsible and you get to be in charge too.  We want you both to be in charge so let’s practice being good and safe and helping each other.  OK?”

“OK.”

So, it’s early but since being independent and “in charge” is such a big idea for them right now I’m hopeful that this will give them a goal to strive toward.  This is obviously going to take years of practice but it’s a start and a small tool we intend to use to motivate our children toward being good, responsible and independent people throughout their lives.  I’d never really considered it from their point of view despite the frequently repeated question.  It took just a simple rephrasing of it to make me reconsider my stock answer of “I am”.  They want to be in charge and they want the independence and the freedom that comes with that responsibility.  So, my two-year old gave me an opportunity to help him better understand what responsibility is and how he can begin to earn it.  I think all good parents’ look for a means to encourage responsibility and independence; I just didn’t expect the opportunity to arise so soon.  I’m glad it did and I’ll let you know how it progresses.



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