>Dear Dr. Hackney,
My daughter is five-years-old and on the stubborn side. Her room is very tiny, and she needs more play space, particularly for a dollhouse Santa brought. I told her my plans: Container Store designed an Elfa closet with play space and shelves on the bottom half, leaving the top half for clothes. We bought it.
I would like to take off the closet doors and hang some Pottery Barn flowing curtains that can be hooked back for play time as the sliding doors block a lot of access. She already has had yelling fits whenever I it is brought up. She does not want the doors off or it changed at all. I tried to include her in the purchasing of items. If I do it when she is not home, she might tear down the curtains and dump all the doll baskets out. What kind of control issue is this? Should she be able to decide about “her” room? If she were older, I would think so, but at five? We talked about things she gets choice over, and things she doesn’t. What is this all about? And, what should I try?
Mother of two, ages five- and eight-years-old
I know it seems like a small deal to switch doors for curtains, and from your mom perspective, it would only be beneficial. Clearly, from your daughter’s perspective, this is wrong on both counts.
There are several rather predictable stages in a move towards independence. Around two- or three-years-old, many children go through a stage of wanting to do everything for themselves. Around five or six, they want more say over their schedule, their routines, and the structure of their day. At nine or ten, there is a push for physical independence. They don’t want to sit at your feet during their sibling’s soccer game; they want to sit away and with their friends. Around twelve or thirteen, there is a push for increased privacy. They need things you don’t know fully about. That push at five or six may very much be what this is about. It is a time to let them pick their clothes and decorate their room. It is a time to provide them more choice about their activities and the order of their days.
With that said, you may still have some luck by giving her choices about the curtains. Take her to a fabric store, encourage her to browse, and once she finds a few things she likes, suggest that she might want to pick one of those to be her cabinet curtains. Then, let her pick the material. You might end up with bright purple and fuzzy rather than flowing and yellow, but the access would be gained.
I would not simply make the changes when she is not home. She would likely have bad feelings about that cabinet for some time to come.
Rene Hackney, PhD.