Freedom of expression..at age 5?

The last two weeks has seen big changes in Mr.5.

Eating, for one.  This post isn’t about food, but bear with me, because when Mr.5’s eating habits change, other changes occur.

Mr.5 usually eats little more than a sparrow, but the last fortnight has been ploughing through more food than an adult most days.  Take today, for example:  A huge bowl of cereal, drinking all the milk from the bowl, then going to prepare himself a large Milo milk.  An hour after that, wanting a second breakfast – scrambled eggs and cheese on sourdough toast.  Then out at a cafe, he ordered a berry smoothie.  It was big enough to serve three people.  I thought to myself, there’s no way he’ll get through it.  He downed the entire thing.  Lots of rice crackers.  Then soon after we arrived home, “I’m still hungry, Mum” – which spelled another sourdough sandwich, two baby cucumbers, a banana, and a tub of yogurt.  And it’s only 2pm!

I know what this means – a major growth spurt.  When this occurs, there’s also changes in his personality.  He can be grumpier.  He gets tired more easily.  It’s like his body – and also, his brain – are fighting to keep up with the sudden increase in growth.

He also often asks many more questions than normal (which is A LOT of questions). Obscure, thoughtful questions, sometimes ones I struggle to answer.  Questions about time, dinosaurs, God, outer space, other countries…trying to piece things together for himself.

But during this recent growth spurt, there’s been one other major change.

A new focus on his appearance, which has never occurred before.  All of a sudden, he’s now looking in the mirror at himself, pulling funny faces…but also assessing how he looks.

This comes as a big surprise to me.  Was I five years old when I started caring about my appearance?  I don’t remember.  Does this sort of thing start earlier with kids these days – wanting to be ‘cool’, fitting in with peers?  I’ve heard it does.

Mr.5 is a very visual kid.  He loves to draw, and often notices the small detail in designs and how things look in the world – the design of cars, trains, buildings, signs, street lights, houses.  He’s quick to pass judgement on whether he likes a certain style of house, or a particular train station, or the graffiti on a bridge.

I should have guessed that this eye for detail and design would soon be transferred to his own appearance.. to have influence over how he wants to look.

I was just surprised it would happen so soon.  In some strange way, maybe a part of me was somehow expecting him just not to grow up, to stay little.. and innocent.  How foolish am I!

Last week, I was at the shops with Mr.5, getting him some summer pyjamas.  Up until now it’s been me choosing them, with no input from Mr.5 – he simply didn’t care.  Not this time.  I quickly found a size 6 pair, and said, “OK, I’ve got a size 6, let’s go.”  Mr.5 said, “hang on, wait, let me see them.”  He studied the design I’d chosen.  “No,” he frowned, “they’re not cool.”

“Oh, ok”, I replied, suddenly feeling like an very uncool and daggy 55-year old.  Mr.5 went through all the designs of pyjamas, finally settling on a monster design, “now these ones are cool!”

Right.  Course they are.

Then I mentioned we should look at the shoes, as Mr.5 needed some new sandals.  They had some plain ones in navy (perfect, go with everything, let’s find his size and go!).  Mr.5 had other ideas. “Mum, look at these ones with the fire pattern on them – these are great! – can we get them?”  Which would have been fine, but they didn’t have his size.

Mr.5 turned away and went quiet. “What’s wrong?” I said, “They don’t have your size in these, so we have to get the navy ones, OK?”  He turned around and I was surprised to see tears in his eyes. “Why are you upset?”  Mr.5 explained.  “I wanted the fire pattern ones because they are cool…William has Ben 10 sandals…and I’ll look really cool with the fire ones.  I don’t want plain ones.”

There was a part of me that thought he should be happy and grateful to be getting new sandals full stop, nevermind if they have no pattern.

But another part of me knew how he felt – that feeling every child experiences, of wanting to fit in, to be liked, accepted…and part of that carries across into how you look.  Whether that’s right or wrong, it does.  I remember being denied ‘cool’ things as a child, which meant I felt at times I didn’t fit in – but also I suppose I felt was denied that form of freedom of expression, in a sense.

After a little discussion, we agreed on some thongs instead, that had a pattern on them, and that were in his size.  He was happy, I was happy.

Onto today.  Sports morning was rained out, so I took Mr.5 on a train ride to the city.  On the way back we got off at Windsor, and had a wander along Chapel street.  This spot is a little alternative.  Quirky shops, oodles of ‘freedom of expression’ among the locals!

On the way back to the train again, we passed a rather quirky hairdressing salon, and Mr.5 happily agreed to get a haircut which was overdue.

He settled into the chair and told the girl quietly, but directly,

“I’d like the lines please.  Can you make my hair look funky?”

(I’m sorry, WHAT?)

I asked him, “I’m sorry, what are ‘lines’?  You want funky hair?”

“Lines on the side.  I saw someone had them at Little Athletics and they look good.”

And suddenly I remembered the pyjamas and the shoes and the mirror-gazing, and Mr.5’s sudden interest in wanting to look the way he wants to look.

And so I said “OK, you can get the lines”.

(But told the hairdresser to do it subtly, no more than two lines.  And do not make my kid look like some freak out of a rap video.  Or else.  Or something like that.)

And so now I have a 5-year old that looks somewhere between a mini David Beckham and Vanilla Ice.

And actually, he does look pretty cool, in our opinion! Some parents might raise an eyebrow next week at kinder, and they can raise them all they like. 🙂

But how young is too young for kids to express themselves?  What’s down the track I wonder – a request for something similar to that on the left?

And as a parent, where do you draw the line?  Obviously, when Mr.5 is Mr.16 and came home saying, “Mum, Dad, I’ve decided to get a tattoo”, we’d be exchanging some serious words with him.

But what about all the little things in between?

I guess it’s a judgement call.

Why oh why can’t they just stay small? 🙂

Alison x

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5 responses to “Freedom of expression..at age 5?

  1. Oh Alison – wow. He looks so cool . And yes, we know these things are coming at some stage but even then it comes as a big surprise. This story rang some bells for me, in fact having a haircut with two stripes in the side is discussed in Barbara Coloroso’s book, Kids are worth it. She uses it to demonstrate her topic “I can be me” . She says kids tend to have a rebellion at about 2, 5 and at puberty when they try to establish their own identities and independence. If things aren’t life threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy or permanent then she suggests you should swallow what you want and let them do it. She said the most common comment she got from other parents when she let her son get stripes in his hair was “If you let them do this at eleven what’s he going to be doing when he is 16?” but in her experience ” I believe if you let children make choices and mistakes when they are cheap, they rarely make expensive ones later on. Kids grow and learn from cheap ones”

    If you haven’t come across this book before I really recommend it. Doesn’t sound like you need it though, you are doing a fantastic job already!

  2. Very interesting details of his change. How sweet that you support him. My 9 year-old is very similar, he’s visual so he’s always wanted the cool things. My 7 year-old couldn’t care less. I’m looking to buy a new car at the moment and I like Audis. My 9 year-old tells me I like all the cars that look like crap. This is his idea of a good car: http://bit.ly/smBpeE
    He also likes lines in his hair, he’s had a mohawk and a rat’s tail before.

  3. Hi Megan…I’m glad (and a little relieved) to here a similar story was recounted in a parenting book! I tend to think in theory, if you let kids have certain freedoms when they’re younger, they’d be less inclined to rebel later…but to what degree of freedom, of course.

    Frances, interesting comments, thank you for sharing you have a similar visual and creative boy on your hands! Funnily enough, my 5-yo did try to explain a mohawk at the hairdressers…but I thought we’ll just leave that alone for now!

  4. I forgot to say that he one had his hair died red as well! Tell Mr 5 about that! Huh.
    And shoe shopping, that takes time. Our chiropractor recommends Ascent shoes from Athlete’s Foot. Oh no, he is not wearing THOSE. We’ve been through many pairs of New Balance, Nike, Reebok, Globe, you name it we’ve tried it- as long as they look good. By the way, they generally cost $100 each and my boys are heavy on their feet, constantly running, so I have to buy AT LEAST 2 pairs a year. Oh, and soccer boots. I’ve driven to Puma, adidas, Rebel Sport, they have to have the white stripes with the black just so…
    Good lucky my dear!
    One thing I became more lenient about when I did his IQ test and found out he has 97% visual IQ, is watching TV and using the computer, that can be how they learn best.
    Looking forward to hearing more as Mr 5 develops. x

  5. hi there, my eldest is just about to turn 4 and has been giving me her opinon on her clothing and how I do her hair since just before she turned 3. But I think girls tend to have a little more attitude than boys and at this point I’m rather scared about what she will be demanding at 16. LOL

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