When to indulge the kids

We are now the proud owners of a harp, crafted right here in Chicago by harp makers at the historic Lyon & Healy. Yes, you read that correctly, a harp. I can hardly believe if myself as I walk into the house every night greeted by harp music.

My free-thinker 7-year-old has been begging for a harp for the past 13 months and thanks to the Irish Music School of Chicago and harpist Marguerite Lynn Williams, she has finally started taking lessons. It struck us as an odd request from such a young child, but then again, Zoe has never followed the usual path.

As we were talking about this beautiful instrument in the office this week, the question came up: When should parents indulge odd requests from their children?

Good question. I don’t know that I have a good answer since I might indulge my kids more than I should.

In my home, we have always encouraged the kids’ interests, whether it be Irish dance, other more traditional sports or in my son’s case for six months last year, bleaching his hair. But when it came to the harp, the instrument was certainly outside our knowledge base and carried a huge cost. But Zoe was hooked the first time she touched one and never let us forget it.

Since I didn’t have a good answer to the indulgence question, I decided to turn to a trusted expert who always has great advice, Dr. Aaron Cooper of The Family Institute at Northwestern University.


In response to my query, he writes:

“One of the great opportunities of childhood is being able to discover natural talents, strengths and interests. Such discoveries can often translate into lifelong loves-vocations and avocations that enhance a sense of life worth living. Whenever possible, and without putting the family at undue financial (or other) hardship, parents should expose kids to the experiences they ask about. Harp? Let’s rent one for a while, take some lessons and see how it goes. Basketball? Let’s see if the park district offers an after-school team. Fencing? Sounds nice, but since the only fencing club is 90 minutes away, I’m not prepared to spend that much of my time chauffeuring back and forth.

“It’s a different judgment call when kids are simply asking to try the latest trend-nose piercings or tattoos, for instance-or something that can leave Mom or Dad cleaning up the mess-adopting a pet that the children can’t be bothered to take care of. We have to rely on our best judgment, sometimes on our intuition; sometimes consulting with a trusted friend can help us navigate our way.

“But we needn’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ is part of the child-rearing landscape, and it rarely does our kids harm. We tend to err on the side of overdoing nowadays, twisting ourselves into a pretzel to give kids what they want. Like millions of parents, many of us have embraced the misguided notion that it’s our job to keep kids happy.

“For our sons and daughters, it’s a little bit of adversity when we say ‘no,’ and that’s a good thing! Plenty of practice facing adversity is the way our kids develop resilience. Ultimately, that’s more important than wearing a tattoo.”

In checking with experts, I asked my absolute favorite Parent Coach, Cathy Cassani Adams, to weigh in on the question of when should parents indulge odd requests from their children? When should they just say no?

She writes: When children ask for something (especially if it seems like an odd request) it necessitates a conversation. Let go of judgment or trying to talk them out of it,give them an opportunity to share what they are thinking and feeling. If you listen to them, they will have more reason to listen to you.

A few of her great tips for dealing with requests:

1. Ask questions. Take time to sit down and ask some questions. Let them tell you about their interest. Make eye contact and let them know that you are really listening.

2. Decide what is appropriate for your child. Every child is different so not all decisions can be made based on their age. The maturity level of all 10 year olds is not the same. Process through the request-if your son wants a dog, is he ready to take responsibility for a pet? If your daughter wants her ears pierced, is she able to clean her ears everyday so they don’t get infected?

3. Talk about responsibility. Talk to them about the reality of their request. What are the expectations once a pet is brought into the home? If you decide to buy the instrument, when and where will she practice? Will she commit to playing it for at least 6 months (a year?). Establish parameters and expectations up front.

4. Be creative. If you decide that your child is not ready to take care of a dog on a daily basis, suggest that he dog sit for a friend or walk a neighbor’s dog (with your supervision). You can go to the library and check out books about dogs or have your child talk to other dog owners. Maybe it’s not time to buy the instrument, but you can visit a studio or music store so your child can try out the instrument. Maybe you can take a class where the instrument is supplied or rent the instrument for the weekend.

5. Make a decision. If the request is out of the question, let your children know in a respectful way. It is hard to say no, but disappointment is a real part of life. Acknowledge their feelings and allow them to be upset. They have a right to process your decision. If the request can be fulfilled when the child is older, let him know that you will have the discussion again in a year or two. If you think your child is ready, talk to her about why you think she is ready and discuss expectations.

When children make requests they are sharing an interest, she says. You may or may not decide to fulfill the request, but either way you can acknowledge their curiosity. This is an opportunity to listen to your children and show them that you respect what they have to say-it will deepen your communication and your relationship.

Cassani Adams, LCSW, CPC, is the author of The Self-Aware Parent:19 Lessons for Growing with Your Children, which can be purchased on her Web site or Amazon.com.

I’m interested in hearing your take on the question of indulgence. Let’s get the conversation started.

Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.
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