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I Let My Kid Do Anything He Wanted, and It Changed Everything

Photograph by Twenty20

For most of his early life, my son Phin’s severe eczema required that we carefully control his diet, regularly apply topical creams, and monitor his favorite activities, like swimming and sports that could lead to dry bloody skin and, sometimes, infections.

One day after school, as I was urging him off of the playground and into the car for a doctor’s appointment, Phin began to wail, “I always have to do what you say. I never get to do what I want. It’s not fair!”

“You’re right,” I told him. “It’s not fair.”

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It had been increasingly harder to get Phin to cooperate, especially with his frequent doctors’ visits. But there were other things, too, like weekend homework and music practice that, more and more, set him off.

It gave him back a sense that he had some control over his body and what happened to him.

On the way to the doctor, Phin continued to cry, telling me how he hated getting bossed around all the time. And while he couldn’t fully articulate what was going on for him, I could tell he was feeling powerless.

That night at dinner, we talked about the problem as a family and came up with the idea of “Boss for a Day.” Basically, Phin, who was 8 at the time, would be completely in charge for one full day and get to boss my husband and me around.

“When can we do it?” Phin asked.

We decided on Saturday.

On that Saturday (or rather Boss Day) from the moment Phin woke up, he called the shots. We had chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast followed by a long morning with everyone hanging out in pajamas and playing Legos. Later, we took a family bike ride to Phins’ favorite barbecue restaurant, Krazy Karry’s, and afterwards he got to buy an airplane at the toy store down the street. Then we went home and flew it in the park with two of his friends.

Not once in the day did my husband or I say, “No” or “You can’t” or “Not now” or “Maybe later” or “Hurry up.” And at no point did we wander off to do our own thing and ignore our son. He had our relaxed attention all day, and what a difference it made.

It was amazing to see Phinny feeling fully like himself. He didn’t get bossy or mean with his privileges, but he clearly loved the feeling of being in charge in a world where he so seldom was. I think it gave him back a sense that he had some control over his body and what happened to him.

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For the next several years, Phin would get a Boss Day about every six months. That way, when he did get grouchy about a doctors’ visit or piano practice, we would remind him that his chance to be in charge was coming up.

The biggest surprise was how much my husband and I enjoyed the occasional day off from giving orders and enforcing rules. Not only that, but we also found that Phin’s idea of a great day was hanging out as a family and having fun.

You got it, boss!

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