You’ve dressed her since she was a newborn, spent all her waking time with her and know who all her friends are. On her part, she loves sharing every thought and action of her day with you.
So, it can come as quite a shock to parents when their little sweetie, who once couldn’t even bear the thought of not being around them, starts wanting to have alone-time. This “alone” time could come in the form of wanting to: dress herself, play on her own or with a friend away from you; or close her bedroom door.
For Natalie Yuen, mum to Sasha, 8, the moment came when her daughter started Primary school, where she has her bunch of close girlfriends share everything about friendship issues and even problems with their own parents. “She chats with them on the phone at home and when I chat her up about what goes on in school, she is not as candid as before. I guess she’s growing up,” Yuen says.
Don’t be upset when you sense that your child no longer needs you. Giving them privacy is a when they will learn and master skills on their own, says Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre. “They need to rest, relax and unwind. It’s their own comfort zone to be away from all the stressors in their life.”
So, when and how should parents give kids the privacy they yearn? How do you draw the line between caring for your child and invading her privacy? We walk through the stages your child will go through.
Before the age of 2
Why junior needs privacy You’d think that a baby has no need for privacy, but even infants can benefit from some alone time. “Privacy is needed when your baby needs to rest, and needs some time away from stimulation so she can wind down and sleep,” explains Koh.
The signs Your baby will show the need for quiet time when she turns away from an activity, or loses eye contact. Lessening the stimulation and interaction is ideal at this point.
Ages 2 to 4
Why junior needs privacy Your toddler is gaining independence quickly! She can now complete tasks on her own such as going to her bathroom, eating a meal, and dressing herself. She also has a better grasp on her own needs and wants. Koh says, “This increase in self-awareness leads to self-exploration, which is important for independence and character growth.”
The signs Your mini-me will show her need to do something on her own by pushing you away, or going elsewhere to do something, explains Koh. This could come in the form of her asking you to leave her to play in the bath on her own, for instance. Give her the illusion of privacy (and keep her safe) by letting her splash about on her own, but staying within earshot, in case she needs a hand.
It is up to her whether or not she chooses to give a distant aunt or family friend a hug. Respect her wishes.
You’ll also need to start teaching her about personal space and respect for herself. An easy way to define personal space is the area around her that she needs to feel safe and comfortable. Teach her about the areas that no one should be allowed to touch her without permission, and where she shouldn’t be touching others either. This also means that it is up to her whether or not she chooses to give a distant aunt or family friend a hug. Respect her wishes.
Ages 5 to 6
Why junior needs privacy You start to notice that she’s expanding her “inner circle” beyond her immediate family ― yes, she has a bunch of close friends who know secrets that only you were privy to before. As she further develops her social skills and relationships, she’ll want to be independent.
The signs “She will want to be alone with her friends and as she knows how to manage more skills like dressing, she’ll need her privacy to practise,” notes Koh. So, set some rules and observe her friends at a distance and let her dress herself with the room door mostly closed ― but get her to leave a gap for safety reasons. If she needs to go to the public bathroom, you may insist that you go with her, but wait outside the stall until she’s done.
If she needs to go to the public bathroom, you may insist that you go with her, but wait outside the stall until she’s done.
You can also show her that you respect her as an individual person by giving her a door sign that says “Please knock!” or “Welcome to my room”. If she’s sharing a room with a younger sibling, make sure she has a little shelf or chest to store most of her prized possessions safely and privately.
Ages 7 to 9
Why junior needs privacy At this age, your little one is becoming more body conscious. “She starts to be aware of how others respond to her actions and the way she dresses,” says Koh. She has noticed the physical differences in her body between her and her friends, and may even begin comparing how she stacks up against others.
The signs She is shy when undressing at the swimming pool, and may hurriedly shut the door when she’s changing. Don’t say things like, “I’ve seen it all.” Her body has changed a lot since she was a baby, and acknowledge that your chid doesn’t want her naked body to be seen by anyone, including her parents. You can get her a bath robe, to help her maintain her modesty. There may be days though, where your little girl may still ask you to help her shampoo her hair, or dry her off. Let her take the lead, and don’t push it if she doesn’t ask.
If she started writing in a journal or a personal diary, respect her thoughts and don’t go snooping around or trying to peek. Any unnecessary invasion of privacy will hurt the bond and respect between parent and child.
Now that your child is old enough, explain that responsibilities come with the privacy she has been given. Koh points out, “Showing you care is better than invading [her privacy]. However, parents need to check on their child if they think she is in any form of danger to herself or to others.”
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