Honesty's the Best Policy When Involving Children in Planning a New Home

By Katherine Salant
Saturday, December 2, 2006

When a family embarks on building a new home, how democratic should the decision-making be? Should Mom and Dad decide everything or should the kids have some say?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the family, the style of parenting and the age of the kids, according to therapists who work with families.

Some parents will welcome input because they think that the more engaged their children are with the new house, the easier it will be for them to leave their old one. For these families, bringing everyone on board and reaching consensus on the choice of cabinetry, floor finishes, carpet colors and other details is more important than what the results may look like, said Lenni Gimple Snyder, a psychotherapist in Montgomery County.

Other parents will choose to limit their children's input because they have a clear vision of what they want the house to look like or because they think most decisions about the family, including about the new house, are best left to the parents, Snyder said.

The important consideration is recognizing your comfort level with your children's participation in the planning of the house -- from almost none to quite a lot -- and being honest with your kids at the outset.

"Kids always do better if they know upfront what the expectations and choices are," Snyder said. "If you jump in enthusiastically and then realize you don't like your kids' choices and reject them, this is worse than not asking them at all because it says to the kid you don't care about their opinions."

At the outset, it's also important to clarify what decisions the children will be making, said Mary Whiteside, a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor, Mich. While the kids may have a lot of input on specific choices in a particular house, the parents should make the major decisions, such as which subdivision and which model or which lot and which architect.

Inviting a child to weigh in on these choices will not make him or her feel more grown up. It's more likely to make a child feel anxious because this is too much responsibility, Whiteside said.

But, she added, "Parents can always invite their kids to offer opinions without asking, 'Which house did you like best?' "

Most children will not feel bad if their input is limited to their own rooms because that's what they really care about. The extent of their participation will depend on their age, said Jonah Green, a clinical social worker in Kensington. "Very young children may not get much farther than 'I want a place for my stuffed animals,' " he said.

By the time most children reach kindergarten, they will have more interest and the skills to communicate it. "They can draw and use blocks to talk about the new house, and it can turn into a fun project for the whole family," Green said.

As kids get older, their interest in their own rooms will increase, as well as their insistence on specific decorating ideas. Parents may find that decision-making is a matter of guiding choices and discussing consequences.


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