Q: Now that my kids are getting a little bit older, they want to close their bedroom doors. What are some appropriate boundaries to set as far as locking and closing doors?
Yours is one of those questions the answer to which people feel strongly one way or the other. That answer usually has everything to do with how the parent him/herself was raised. Don’t we always feel like the way in which we were raised is THE way or absolutely the WRONG way?!
Closing and locking doors are two very different acts. So, let’s separate them. To begin, locking doors is an easy answer. I believe that there is only one door that gets locked: the parents’ bedroom door when they are being intimate. That’s it! Of course, there are going to be exceptions to the when the door is locked part of the story. I do not believe there should be locks on any other doors in a home. It is a safety hazard. And it is just too tempting and too dangerous when young kids are in the home.
A better answer than locks is starting when your children are very young to teach the concept of privacy and knocking on closed doors. I can hear all your “but, but, buts … ” Yes, kids will barge in, and missteps will be taken. But if you create the rule—if a door is closed, you must knock and wait to be admitted—it will become a habit at a young age, and it will stick. This has to be an expectation. It can (and should) start with the adults’ use of the bathroom. Many parents of elementary school-age kids complain that they haven’t pooped privately since before they had kids. I say, That’s on you! Parents need to ask for their privacy when they are using the bathroom when kids are older than 5 years old. Then praise the heck out of your kids for giving it to you.
At what age should you allow the child to close his door is a different question. Starting around 18 months, children understand that things belong to people. In fact, toddlers believe that most everything belongs to them. But they do understand ownership. This is the beginning of their journey to establish themselves as separate from you. There will be many other ways that they will work toward this goal. They move from things to activities to spaces. Having your own room and closing the door is part of this effort.
Parents don’t want children to close their doors because they are worried about what is going on in there. They worry that children will not be safe, will get into “trouble” or will just be naughty. I believe that we need to support the child’s need to grow his separateness and independence from you.
More than should a child be able to close his door, perhaps the question is when should a child be able to close his door?
Many families subscribe to the family rule that doors always stay open until the child is 5 years old or kindergarten age. Of course, this depends on your child, as each is prone to different behaviors, some riskier than others. Doors open or closed, for safety’s sake, children need to be checked by parents or care givers often.
Most parents agree that even though a child is permitted to close his door when he is alone or wants privacy in his room, when he has a guest in his room, the door stays open. Depending upon the child, the guest rule lasts as long as you say, having a great deal to do with your child’s trustworthiness, his behavioral history, and his ability to follow rules and be safe.
My own parents used to enforce a rule of never entertaining guests of the opposite gender in my room, door open or closed. But that was in the olden days, and times have changed for sure. Each family will have its own rules.
To be sure, every child needs to have his own nest and sense of ownership over his space. He needs to be able to live his life with privacy and without trespassing or interruption. This is part of his developmental path toward forming his own identity and separating from you. There will be a learning curve. Your child will make mistakes, from eating food in his room against your rules or looking at porn with his friends, and more. Get ready and fasten your seatbelts. Just remember, often kids will learn to do the right thing by doing the wrong thing! This is called growing up.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.
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