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'I Think It's Fine to Let My Kid Draw on the Wall'

Photograph by Getty Images

Dear Catherine,

Can you settle a bet for me and my best friend? We both have small kids—a 3-year-old boy, and a 4-year-old girl—and have both had the experience of our children taking crayons to the walls of our homes. My friend was outraged, or at least not very happy, but I thought it showed a creative spark. Of course I don't want my walls covered in crayon (or maybe I do? It looks kind of cool), but it feels like one of those rules that's in place for only one reason—maintaining a pristine house. My husband and I would much rather have a creative house than a clean one. I say let them color. My friend thinks I'm crazy. Who's right?

Signed,

Patron of the Arts

Dear Patron,

Is your best friend French—because I’m going to guess you are not? I’m also going to have to side with the bestie on this one, and declare that you owe your pal a margarita (in case you hadn’t set the stakes yet, go with margarita).

Color on the walls? Absolument non.

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I’m trying to divine whether I would've had the same, pronounced reaction to such a question before I spent beaucoup time studying French parenting in an attempt to transform certain undesirable behaviors my small children had developed. I remember well when my youngest daughter practiced her “art” all over the walls of our (longest!) corridor. Maybe her work was subpar that day, but I have no memory of feeling conflicted that what she’d done was wrong. My problem was that I didn't know how to deal with her. I’d been reading so many parenting books, all offering different advice, and I wasn’t sure whether to talk it out or ground her for a month. She was a toddler at the time—a stage that was particularly tricky for me when it came to disciplining my kids.

However, when I asked my French friend what I should do, she didn’t even think about it: Her immediate suggestion was that I make my daughter take a sponge and soapy water to the crayon-covered wall and try to clean it herself. It was an impossible job—even for The Hulk wielding a can of Benjamin Moore’s "autumn white" and a roller—and my baby’s 10 minutes of scrubbing made no difference at all—which was kind of the point. She needed to really understand the consequences of her actions.

Not pointing out to a kid that drawing on walls is wrong is only going to foster a monster, not a Monet.

I’ve got a good dose (not that kind, Timothy Leary) of hippie in me, and I don’t want to dampen anyone’s creative spark. But not pointing out to a kid that drawing on walls is wrong is only going to foster a monster, not a Monet. Unless, of course, there is a well-defined policy in your home that the walls are fair game for Crayola products. Who am I to judge? (But really, I do.) In that case, you need to make sure that you child knows your walls are special, and 3-year-old wall decorators are not allowed in most homes. Maybe you do have the next Marla Olmstead, but even if that’s the case, why not hang some blank canvas, instead?

I’m not saying this is how you are, but your reaction reminds me of parents I often encounter who just want to remain cool in their kids’ eyes, and not have to reprimand them. They convince themselves that whiney, demanding kids are just discerning or strong-willed. Unfortunately, they are usually enfant terribles who’ve never heard the word "no." I’m afraid that when these kids get a bit older their parents will merely seem pathetic and powerless. And with scribbles all over their walls to boot.

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My advice: make good on your margarita debt, then go buy a set of those bathtub crayons on the way home. Everyone wins!

See you at the Louvre,

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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