"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

Micromanage Much?



We live in an adultist culture.

What does that mean?

For a quick definition of adultism, here are a few Wikipedia quotes:

Adultism has been defined as “the power adults have over children”…

Adultism is commonly seen as negative with the logic that, “If sexism is wrong because it valorizes an exclusively male perspective, then adultism is wrong because it valorizes the adult perspective.”

Adultism can be manifested as excessive nurturing, possessiveness, or over-restrictiveness, all of which are consciously or unconsciously geared toward excessive control of a child.

Adultism is…so widespread and common that most people don’t even know that it exists.

In other words, we adults think that we know best. As a result we go overboard. We tell our children what to do, when to do it, how to do it and how they should feel about doing it (all with an implicit or explicit threat looming overhead, like we’ll withhold our love, approval or more if they don’t fall in line.)

And for kids, this sucks.

And for the quality of our relationships with our children, this sucks.

If you want to see if you are at risk of being an adultist, in other words if you want to see if you micro-manage, over-protect and and disenfranchise your kids thus robbing them of opportunities to be in tune with their bodies, to trust themselves and to feel respected, I offer a litmus test.

Ask yourself:

WOULD I SAY OR DO __fill in the blank____ TO MY KID BUT NOT TO A FRIEND?

Here are some examples:

  1. If your friend asked you “Will you hand me the juice on the counter?”, would you say, “Can you say please?”?
  2. If your friend fell and screamed “Oww, that hurt!”, would you say “It’s okay. You’re alright.”?
  3. If you were out to lunch with a friend and  she told the waiter he could clear her plate, would you say, “Are you sure you don’t want just one more bite of protein?”
  4. If your husband answers the door and it’s your mother, would you say to him, “Give Mom a hug and a kiss.”?
  5. If you’re on a walk with your friend and the wind starts blowing, would you say, “Put on your sweater, it’s cold.”
  6. If you brought a friend to a party, would you explain to the guests as you introduced her that she was shy?

If the answer is YES, as in Yes, you would say these types of things to your kids, but not to your friend, then I hate to break it to you, but you, just like most everyone in the world, are an adultist. (At least it sounds less offensive than being sexist or racist—even if it isn’t.)

The good news is, you can change.

You can listen to your children and respect what they have to say even though you don’t like it.

And no this doesn’t mean they are in charge. Or that you don’t set limits. Or that you don’t have anything to teach them.

It means that you listen to them  more. Trust them more. And respect them more.

To recap. More listening. More trust. More respect.

29 Responses to “Micromanage Much?”

  1. clichy says:

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with
    the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Michael Ziemlak says:

    I happen to notice too often other adults this includes parents, teachers and other adults young people encounter in different settings often talk to young people with an adultism, judgmental and negative, attitude and frequently talk down to them. I happen to observe many more adults often lecturing, preaching, talking down to them as well as frequently finding fault and placing blame with them and criticizing them. I also notice a lot of micromanaging, controlling, overpowering, domineering, bossy attitudes and behavior directed towards young people and all types of disrespectful behavior and emotional, manipulative game tactics being played. This often is how some adults treat other adults, but I happen to be aware that young people get treated the worst by adults. Often this kind of attitudes and behaviors is caused by ones own insecurities, unhealthy ego and pride, jealousy and envy,selfishness and self centeredness, ingorance, arrogance, lack of empathy, compassion, caring and concern for others, and having a negative, critical, prejudice, spirit and attitude and a desire and need for power, dominance and control including over other people.
    I believe in order to connect well with any one at any age, and to earn people’s respect and trust and to make a positive difference in the life of another person is dependent on our own attitude and how we behave, speak to and treat others. It is also dependent on what we don’t do as mentioned above. In order to earn young people’s respect and trust as adults we must learn to work on ourselves. We must change ourselves and this includes examining our own attitudes, beliefs, and world view including our attitudes towards young people. We must also show that we are worthy of their respect and trust because we have earned it by own behavior. It is our own character, integrity and having the right attitude that matters the most.

  3. Toni says:

    I remember when I was pregnant with my 2nd child. I so, SO wanted to TT my 1st before my 2nd arrived. It did it work, as that was MY agenda, not his. He was only 19 1/2 months when my Daughter was born, and looking back, was nowhere near ready!! So I just stopped thinking about it. I stopped talking about him needing to use the toilet, and just started inviting him to see him Mummy uses the toilet or how Daddy uses the toilet.
    One morning about 6 or so months ago, he woke up and I asked if he would like to try the potty. He said yes! 2 days later, after the potty, we asked if he wanted a nappy on at night – No thanks!! And that was that. Any time he needs to go, he announces: ‘a wee/poo coming’ lol, and has never tried to hold it.

    As for issues of health amongst children, I am a big believer in modelling behaviours. If your diet is junky, your child will want that too- and fair enough! If you are eating a burger and fries, is it a fair expectation that your child eats a piece of skinless chicken breast and salad? I don’t think so, so if we go to McDonalds, we all have it. We rarely go, and in fact rarely ever do takeaway. My kids love their veggies and fruit, and we have always welcomed both kids into the kitchen, involving them in each process unless dangerous (knives etc).
    Also, I started explaining to my Son that we can eat almost anything, as long as it is in moderation. Including fruits and veggies, meat and dairy. We talk about sugar and what it can do to our bodies, and, a week shy of his 3rd Birthday, he asks if there is sugar in some foods that we have, and 90% will not want any if there is.

    I believe that if you respect your children and give them information and honesty, and TIME, they will make the right choices most of the time. They are people too x

  4. sarah says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m new to your blog and am finding it fascinating. However, after reading several posts, the following passage from the school choice post article really struck a chord with me, especially reading it in conjunction with this Adultism post:

    Another teacher has a “time to reflect” desk. My guess is that she thinks that by cleverly rebranding a “time out” as a “time to reflect” that all of the sudden, five-year-olds will really take the time to think about what they did “wrong”, why they did it and how they can do it differently next time. As if five year olds are that self-aware, that self-reflective and that able to assess and meet their own needs. More likely it is the humiliation they’ll suffer for being singled out for their disruptive behavior that will teach them to control themselves instead of the disruption being an opportunity to learn.

    My question is this: why is a four-year old, for example, “that self-aware, that self-reflective and that able to assess and meet [his/her] own needs” with respect to going to the bathroom after being told that one won’t be available for a few hours, or not to each so many sweets at the next party, but not enough to reflect on his/her own behavior that resulted in the time-out?

    I’m not trying to be impertinent at all, I’m just wondering how you would address the difference between trusting your child to figure out things for him/herself (such as not eating so much candy), and not trusting your child to figure out other things (such as behavior X resulted in the “time to reflect” desk)?

    Thank you,


    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Welcome. Thanks for reading so many posts and for your thoughtful question.

      The problem with the time out / time to reflect desk approach to managing children’s behavior is that it is reward and punishment driven. i’m against it entirely. children do things that parents don’t like usually because they have some need they are trying to get met in the only ways they know how. using the threat of isolation or humiliation does not ADDRESS THE REASON the child was acting whatever way they are…it just attempts to control it. i don’t want to control children, i want to work with them, understand them, make sure they know i care and ultimately that is what makes them want to cooperate.

      i think the bodily functions issue is entirely separate and complicated. ultimately you have to KNOW YOUR CHILD. if you really suspect your child is holding pee for too long than you have to look at why…does she not like the bathrooms at school? perhaps the flush? doesn’t want to stop playing? to be honest i often don’t have to pee right now even though i’m getting in a car for four hours but will have to in two hours. so the preemptive pee is a hard think to ask of someone. then they can feel like you’re expecting their bodies to function in a way they aren’t functioning.

      re: sugar
      likely the most complicated of them all. if i don’t want my kids to eat cookies etc. i don’t have it in the house and then just don’t micromanage it outside of the house because i don’t want to a) make them neurotic about it b) make them want it more than they really do etc. but i do think educating them as to why we crave it and why too much isn’t healthy over time is a good thing.

      is this helpful at all sarah?

      if i’ve missed something, please feel free to clarify…

      i hope you’ll keep reading.


      • sarah says:

        Hi Jennifer,

        Thank you for responding so quickly and thoroughly. I need a bit more time to mull over your points, though!

        I’ve been giving your blog posts a lot of thought, as Hubs and I are starting to think about children. Before he and I start arguing over the “right” way to rear a child, I thought that I should figure out what I think is “right.” I would like my child/ren to be kind, loving, generous, and productive, but I’m not sure of the best way to help make that happen.

        As I was thinking about your blog earlier today, I thought about the different types of validation that people of all ages receive. I wondered if, by not engaging in certain social cues with our children (such as “good job” signaling approval of a certain behavior), are we setting up our children to rely on other people to receive those cues?

        Basically, we as humans rely on lots of things to help us adjust our behavior, including external cues – so are parents who slice out using certain external cues simply permitting people who do use those external cues to guide our children’s behavior? I have no idea, and would appreciate any thoughts you have on this.



        • Jennifer says:

          Hi Sarah,

          Glad to hear you’re being so thoughtful LONG BEFORE YOU EVEN CONCEIVE. Impressive.

          First I have to recommend a couple of books: Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn but for a super short one read RAISING CHILDREN COMPASSIONATELY (will take you twenty minutes.)

          so! yes while others will influence your kids NOTHING WILL REMOTELY COMPARE TO THE WAY A CHILD’S PARENTS DO. The majority of brain development (something like 90% happens up until age 5 or something) and during that time, likely they’ll be with their parents a lot of the time. Plus it is the level of attachment and attunement a child has with their primary caregiver or caregivers that will affect the way their brain grows (literally how the neural pathways are created.)

          so if you don’t overpraise, a child can make sense of someone else who does.


          thanks for the question.


  5. Marilia says:

    I liked that you touched the ¨say please¨ on this post, it´s something that troubles me. When my now 4,5 years old was younger, I was sure about how silly making her say please and thank you was, but as she grew older, I started to feel the pressure of the other adults around us to make it happen, besides my own desire to see it happening (also after seeing much younger children doing it, but sure I don´t know how they were taught that). I was thinking that just modeling, being polite to her and others simply wasn´t working.

    Also, in our dynamic of single mother of a single child, she doesn´t use her best behavior with me. I observed that with other people, she is much more polite than with me, so I wanted to have that too and remind her that I deserve some consideration as well.

    So I started to request it and be a pain in the ass. I´ll step back from it, because she does say it sometimes and maybe I should just be patient?

    Please, let me know if you have a post about this specific issue, otherwise, maybe you could write about it more. Thank you.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Marilia,

      Thanks for bringing up this issue of manners. It is a big one and certainly needs its own post…which will eventually happen.


      Like you I don’t ask my children to say please, say thank you etc. because i don’t want to be a ventriliquist and i don’t want to turn my kids into puppets. I don’t think telling them what to say (with my disapproval looming overhead) is the best way to instill some sense of gratitude or appreciation or civility. HOWEVER…

      like you, there are times i do cringe at the way they ask / DEMAND things. and yes i understand that it can feel embarrassing to have such an uncoothe (rude) kid in public.

      the way i handle these things is to 1) INFORM. as in “Jules when you demand something like that (or whatever) it sounds abrupt and strong (or rough or whatever.) i know you REALLY want it RIGHT AWAY but it doesn’t feel good when you talk to me like that.

      that’s helpful information for her.

      she may rephrase. or say “sorry mom…can i have that please”

      2) If someone has just given her something (a glass of water, a gift whatever) and she doesn’t say thank you, I SAY IT. Thanks so much for giving that to Jules. or simply THANK YOU. I DO want to show my appreciation and i trust that that modeling will go a long way. (Later we may write a thank you note together.)

      3) Sometimes, in a quiet voice so the other person doesn’t hear, and NOT directly in front of them i might say “Do you want to say good bye to Grandma?” Then she might say it. It’s a gentle reminder with NO PRESSURE. And it can be a little light bulb moment for her, “Right, this is where I say Good bye…I’m so lost in thought I forgot” or whatever.

      and finally i know she picked this up elsewhere but i know she once in a while says “Can I have that PLEASE” as if the please is what will change my mind. That is a danger with this please stuff. A kid might think that if she “acts” extra nice then they deserve it. to this i’ll say “I can see you really want it and i know you asked beautifully but I still can’t…”


      thanks so much for brining up this topic. I think my answer almost qualifies as a post minus pictures and any rewrites.

      i’d love to hear your thoughts.


      • Marilia says:

        Oh yes, thank you, very helpful.

        I do some of this too. Sometimes, I tell my girl, when we are alone, that everyone like to hear nice words. Sometimes I tell her: ¨Caa you ask me that nicely, I´d prefer that?¨, but don´t force.

        Sometimes I say it for her, like an echo, that´s probably weird… Or like you, I say it for her, when someone else does something for her: ¨Thank you for handling this to Luísa¨.

        I´ll definitely try to step back from the demanding tone and use the more gentle approach. more often.

      • jenn says:

        hello does this work?

        • Jennifer says:


          but it is also about expectations. do you expect your children, particularly young ones, to say please and thank you EVERY SINGLE TIME? I don’t. it doesn’t seem realistic.

          this morning i walked into our local cafe for a coffee and they always give a little cookie to my son. he was so excited when we walked in…he said “I want a latte and a cookie!” he wanted one thing for me and one for him. he had a smile on his face and was happy to be there and the woman said, “what happened to please?” and i was like, WTF happened to good morning? he’s three! he was there and saying what he would like to have. it’s a free country to have wants. he wasn’t even asking her for them he was just saying what he wanted…in an exhuberant way.

          she rained on his parade.

  6. Dear Jennifer,

    May I venture to add a few more “more” to your list at end…more listening, more observing, more waiting, and one more “less”–less talking for our children. Unless there is something medically wrong, they are old enough to speak for themselves.

    I think it’s SO helpful to give parents behavioral tools to control themselves, so here’s one: Zip your lip when a person asks your child a question and wait for your child to answer.

    Another typical situation I encounter when I’m with my children (now ages 10, 13 and 14) is an adult who says, “How old is he/she?” My response is, “Ask him–he’s right there and he can understand and speak English pretty well.” No, I don’t really say the last part about his language profficiency, but boy do I ever want to sometimes!

    So that’s another behavioral tool for you: when an adult asks you a question about your child, tell the adult (politely, of course!) to ask your child!

    By the way, it was so nice meeting you last week.


    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you Johanna for your additions. I totally agree.

      And I definitely agree with not answering for our kids. I HATE it when people talk to me about my kid as if she’s not right there, as if she’s a dog who can’t speak. Because, yes, I do tell people how old my dog is. She doesn’t know. But my kids, they know. The way I usually handle it is, I just turn to my kid and say, “Jules?” or “Jules, how old are you?” or “Do you want to answer that.” But like you I’m dying to saying, a bit more than “she speaks english pretty well” I’m more like, “She’s not a fucking idiot.” but OF COURSE i’d never say that. just a little peak inside my mind!

      And yes, i really enjoyed our meeting as well. Thank you for subscribing and posting your comments.


  7. Robin says:

    I like the idea of this but find it hard to put into practice with my 3 1/2 year old. For example, she doesn’t understand that there’s not going to be somewhere to go to the bathroom for an hour or two. Or that if she doesn’t brush her teeth she will get cavities. Or if she eats too many sweets at a party she will get a tummy ache. So, while I wouldn’t tell an adult friend (or even an older child) she should go potty, brush her teeth or stop eating the candy, if I don’t tell my 3 year old, not only will she suffer consequences she didn’t/doesn’t understand but I will have a very unhappy preschooler on my hands.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks for bringing up some very specific examples.

      Regarding health issues, I do not wait for my 3 year old to initiate brushing teeth either! I’m with you. I explain to him that there are sugar bugs on his teeth and they make holes in them unless we brush them away. Gaining his cooperation in this process has been challenging but rewarding. It is a teamwork process.

      I do not, however, limit the number of sweets at a party because 1) i have no idea how many will cause the stomach ache and 2) i think having the stomach ache is instructive as in “that’s the feeling you get when you have too many sweets”. perhaps once he’s felt it, he will be more mindful next time. or perhaps he’ll have to feel it several times to be more mindful. so yes! i let my kids eat as many as they want at parties. but at home i just don’t have them around most of the time so it isn’t an issue.

      But also giving a child INFORMATION about their day is HELPFUL. “Honey we won’t be near a potty for a couple of hours. Would you like to try now?” Because while she may get some urine out of her body now, she still may have to go in two hours. That’s a hard one to judge!

      Thanks for sharing your examples. I appreciate you writing in.


      • Suzanne says:

        Sorry to keep harping on this, but the potty thing isn’t a hard one to judge. Parents of little kids — especially 3.5 year-olds — simply should not say, “Would you like to try now to go to the bathroom?” They will almost always say no. But that does not mean they don’t need to go. Kids simply learn to hold it. They may be physically capable of holding it all day long. That does not mean they don’t need to go. It just means they are inhibiting bladder growth and risking thickening their bladder walls and developing a hyperactive bladder. This is one area, like teeth brushing, where it is important to be adultist.

        • Jennifer says:

          I wonder what happens if parents let kids wait until they are really ready to start using the toilet and just keep kids in diapers longer. I wonder if kids holding it in, is a sign that there was pressure to early to potty train. Any studies on this?

          • Suzanne says:

            Yes, the urologist I am working with, Dr. Steve Hodges, believes that the longer kids are in diapers, the better judgment they have when they do start training and the less likelier they are to be constipated when they start. However, countless children who start at age 3 or later end up holding. It’s just a fact that little kids do not want to interrupt their lives to go to the bathroom. When kids who are left to their own devices as preschoolers (Mom: “Are you sure you don’t want to try?” Kid: “I’m sure.” Mom: “Okay, honey.”) get to elementary school and beyond, they have a strong tendency to hold, especially when school bathrooms are crummy and teachers and school policies discourage bathroom breaks. This leaves girls highly vulnerable to urinary tract infections. Many, MANY children hold pee and poop ALL DAY at school. The effects can be painful and expensive. Our book, IT’S NO ACCIDENT, has a whole chapter on what happens at schools. It’s not pretty, and it starts with inadequate parental follow-up and diligence at the potty-training stage. Anyone who has a child with tendencies toward constipation — and that’s up to one-third of all kids — needs to be especially diligent about monitoring how often their kids go. Kids who hold poop also tend to hold pee, and those tendencies cause separate but related problems. So, in short, waiting to potty train can help, but it’s a parent’s job to stay on top of it after potty training. As Dr. Hodges likes to say, “Getting your kid out of diapers is the easy part.”

          • Jennifer says:

            So in a perfect world does Dr. Hodges think kids who truly start using the bathroom on their own volition (say around 3 or 4) and then are in a school environment that has easily accessible, clean toilets and teachers that encourage bathroom breaks that the problem with be greatly lessened? Are parents needing to monitor the situation closely because the school environment works so strongly against children?

          • Suzanne says:

            Yes, in a perfect world kids would train later and go to fancy private schools with clean restrooms. But that’s only part of the solution (the other part is nutrition, and I’ll get to that in a minute), and it’s a fantasy solution, anyway.

            Only three states – one is Florida – even have laws requiring school bathrooms to be clean, and enforcement of these laws is lax. In one Florida county, more than one-third of the schools were cited for health code violations in a single year because of their bathrooms. What about the nearly 1 million school bathrooms that never get inspected? Legally they can be completely, totally gross.

            BTW, 8 percent of girls have had a urinary tract infection by the age of 7, accounting for 14 percent of all emergency room physician encounters between young girls and ER docs. The top two reasons for UTIs are holding pee and holding poop. Gross bathrooms are a factor for sure, but elementary school bathrooms aren’t nearly the problem that middle school and high school bathrooms are.

            Anyway, school bathrooms and policies (like only 4 bathroom passes allowed per student per quarter) aren’t the only reasons parents need to be adultist about toileting issues. The other is the crappy Western diet. That is the the primary reason so many kids are constipated and end up with pee accidents, poop accidents, bedwetting, urinary frequency and UTIs because of it.

            About 88 percent of kids age 2 to 5 in the U.S. are short on fiber. Kids who are constipated eat 25 percent of the fiber that unconstipated kids eat. It’s great to give kids freedom to choose what they want to eat – as long as you are letting them choose between zucchini and yellow squash. If you’re letting them choose between zucchini and french fries, you’re promoting constipation and setting your kid up for toileting problems. Of course, pressuring your child to eat something he doesn’t want to eat will backfire. It’s a parent’s job to expose the child to fiber-rich foods on a regular basis and present those as the options. Because of the processed crap today’s kids are routinely fed – and because these foods are deliberately engineered, with a clever combination of salt and sugar, to make us crave more of them – it’s simply untrue that kids will naturally self-regulate and make the choices that will prevent toileting problems. (Let’s not even get into horrifying childhood obesity rates.)

            OK, I’ll stop now! It’s all in the book.

          • Soda says:

            I’m not sure it’s as simple as “just keep[ing] kids in daipers longer”. If I had “kept” my son in nappies when he showed interest in using the toilet at age two, I think it would have been pretty horrible for him. There was no pressure on him him to achieve any particular goal, since we followed his lead. Holding has never been an issue we’ve even thought of. And from what I know of him, he would have found it demeaning to have to have his nappy changed by a grown up at age 4. He was totally in charge of his own toileting by then. In fact, I can imagine some kids might actually end up holding to avoid a nappy change by that age.

          • Jennifer says:

            Thanks for writing in.

            I do think it comes down to, as pretty much everything does that you have to be truly ATTUNED to your own child. every child is different and really the point is to know your kid, not just project our agendas on to them.

            what some kids might hate at age four others might love.

            thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on this matter—so much to think about!


  8. Beth says:

    Thank you for your insightful articles on parenting. My first child is 10 months old and I always wanted to raise my children differently than I was raised. In reading your articles and similar ones, I’d like to think that I’m making at least a few small steps towards raising a bright, aware, and happy little girl.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Beth.

      So glad to hear you are feeling good about the different choices your making.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate you taking the time.

      And I hope this blog can continue to offer you some support in your journey.


  9. Keith says:

    We never told our kids to take a jacket or sweater, instead I would let them know what the weather was like. They could make up their own mind on how to dress. They had a few days where they were cold but so have I. Now my daughter checks the weather on her own. It’s hard to remember to let our kids make mistakes. I always want to save them. Thanks again for your blog.

    • Jennifer says:


      so great to always hear from you.

      i’m a bit more like “let’s take a sweater just in case.” i do that to john too! but like u, i never tell them what to put on.

      today it’s raining and my son (3) CRIED when i brought his boots to the car. (he was barefoot). he wanted them back in the house! i did return them but grabbed another pair and put them in his cubby and just let him know they were there. i’m confident that they’ll stay there too! more of a statement for the teachers like “i’m on it!” than anything!

      whenever i tell john you’ve commented on my blog he gets wistful! he’s eager to get back to work with you again soon. me too!

Leave a Reply