Care and Feeding

I Really, Really Hate How My Kindergartner Wants to Decorate Her Bedroom

But should I just give in?

Young girl wearing skull face paint
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Yurii Yarema/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

At the beginning of the pandemic, we bought a second, large house in the country to relieve some of the pressure in our reasonably sized city apartment. It’s been great, but now I have a problem.

The kids have their own (smallish) rooms with wallpaper and wainscoting, a built-in bookcase, crown molding, and painted wooden interior shutters; after two years, we are finally ready to decorate them. In the city, they shared a room and had identical furniture with their own bedding and art, so this is a big chance for them to express themselves.

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I had thought I’d paint the woodwork in the same high-gloss practical, neutral color for both rooms and then let them have whatever wallpaper they wanted. Our third grader wants a mermaid scale print that comes in peel-and-stick and doesn’t care about the color for the woodwork. Easy enough. But the kindergartner spotted a skull damask print that isn’t even pre-pasted and she is in love with it. She wants her woodwork black with skull wallpaper.

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Their dad and I want to tell her no. In theory I don’t care what wallpaper she has, but painting on the paste for skulls is hard to swallow. It is a small room with a fairly low ceiling and woodwork halfway up the wall, so it’s not insurmountable. I’ve tried finding other skull prints in something easier to hang, but it’s been more than a month and she still wants the skull damask. That much black woodwork is just too hard to paint over. That’s not a decision I’m letting my kindergartner make. I could paint her bed black in the spirit of compromise but the woodwork is not going to be black.

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So, do I buy the skull wallpaper? Or do I insist she has to choose from the pre-pasted or peel-and-stick varieties? I have been waiting to get both kids’ paper in to find the right neutral for the woodwork. We don’t rent the place out or anything, and we only entertain our friends who are generally inclined to understand if told “she liked the skulls.” It won’t cost a terribly whole lot of time or money to replace when she is done with it. But I don’t want to paste and hang skull wallpaper.

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—Less Flexible Than I Thought

Dear LFTIT,

I think it’s completely reasonable to put your foot down and tell a kindergartner that you won’t be painting the woodwork in her room black. As you said, it would be a pain to paint over. You can also easily (and fairly) simply ask her to choose a peel-and-stick or pre-pasted wallpaper, which is definitely a reasonable request to make, especially if you are doing this work yourself.

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I think the bigger issue at hand, however, might be that your very young child has gravitated toward an aesthetic, at least for their bedroom, that makes you uncomfortable. Have you talked to her about why she likes skulls? Is this request reflective of her usual style, or did she just see something she thought was cool and go for it? I think she’s young enough for you to nudge her toward brighter colors for her room, which are said to be better for her mood, without unfairly taking away her agency. Choose a neutral color for the paint and send her back to the drawing board for the wallpaper. She may end up finding some more skulls, and if that’s what she truly wants, giving in isn’t the worst thing you can do. Sometimes kids love stuff we’d never want to buy for them, but if it isn’t harmful, then it may be best for us to put our personal tastes to the side and indulge them. If there’s no morbid fascination with death or some other deeper concern about her desire for skulls, then maybe you can find a sheet set or piece of wall art to please her as a compromise.

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From this week’s letter, “My Teen’s Worrying Habit Is Destroying My Trust in Her”: “Surely the scale of things will only get bigger as she gets older.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is a rising fourth grader. He’s boisterous and sociable, and requires extra reinforcement to make sure he does his work. I’ve been very happy with his teacher this year, who makes it easy to communicate and build strategies to help him at home, even though I work night shifts often and can’t attend regular conferences. My mom often watches him in evenings, and she’s also noticed a big difference with the new strategies.

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Fourth graders are assigned to either the mediocre “Mrs. Brown” or sent to “Mrs. Smith,” who yells and has outbursts and an old-school attitude with kids. Multiple complaints about Mrs. Smith reached the district level last year, and there have been attempts to get her out, but nothing worked. The principal seems to be just waiting out Mrs. Smith’s retirement.

I want my son to be with Mrs. Brown and made a request to the principal, highlighting the ways she is a better fit. Unfortunately, so has every other fourth grade parent in town. My son’s current teacher told me confidentially that since she’s such a known problem, it tends to be the loudest and pushiest parents who get their kids into the good class. What can I do to be one of those parents, especially if I don’t have a lot of available time?

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—No Yelling Please

Dear NYP,

This is a really crummy situation because someone’s kids are going to get the short end of the stick here, and parents should not be forced to compete in order to get a decent (or “mediocre”) assignment possible for their child. Everything about this is wrong.

Alas, the best you can do for now is to try to be one of the ones who manages to get the principal’s attention. Though “loud” and “pushy” may typically do the trick with this person, I still urge you to treat them with kindness and respect. You don’t want them to be annoyed or offended by you. When you meet with her, smile. Be polite. Acknowledge how difficult this must be for her and that you are empathetic about her position. Talk about the sort of support you have received from your child’s teacher this year and how critical it has been to his academic success, and how concerned you are that Mrs. Smith, and her notorious temper, will be a poor fit. Try your best to check in with her every other day until the decision is made; send emails or notes if you aren’t able to call or stop by in person, and perhaps your child’s grandmother can help with these efforts.

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Also, stay in close touch with your kid’s teacher about it; she may have more sway in this decision than you realize. A small end-of-the-year gift or card wouldn’t be a bad idea. Hope you’re one of the lucky ones.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My girlfriend is pregnant. The doctor says she’s having a normal healthy pregnancy, but she’s having a hard time. She’s vomiting several times a day (not just in the morning), and instead of cravings, the smell of most food makes her nauseous and we don’t know what she’ll be able to eat day to day. She’s also exhausted, even though she’s sleeping fine and she’s only in the first trimester.

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What are the best ways a partner can be there for the pregnant person and make things easier for her? We’re 19 and the first of our friends to get pregnant. She doesn’t really know what she wants when I ask her; she just says she’s always uncomfortable and spacey. It’s hard to watch her struggle and not be able to help.

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—Worried Pregnant Partner

Dear WPP,

Congratulations! Pregnancy can be much less than fun, and your partner’s body is currently doing work that is incredibly disruptive to the way she is used to normally feeling and operating. Though she is the one experiencing this, she might not always have suggestions as to what could make her feel better at any given moment. So do your best to be a good listener and observer: Pay attention to her symptoms and mood swings and try to anticipate her needs as best as you can.

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She vomits a lot—do you have ginger tea or ginger ale on hand for afterward? If those don’t help, what about peppermints? Try to take things off her plate that may make her life easier (without treating her as if she’s helpless), such as preparing meals, running errands, or making the bed each day. Accompany her to doctor’s visits and take the time to learn about pregnancy so that you, too, have some understanding of what she’s experiencing firsthand. I’m not sure of your gender, but both What to Expect When You’re Expecting and We’re Pregnant! The First Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook have a lot of helpful information. Ensure that she has everything she needs on hand at all times, including prenatal vitamins and her favorite snacks.

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Be as empathetic and caring as possible, and try not to feel frustrated when your partner can’t explain what she’s feeling or identify what she needs. This is new and difficult for her in ways you can’t begin to imagine. The best you can do is make sure that she is surrounded by love and supported by someone who cares, each step of the way. Rub her feet. Put on her favorite Netflix binge-watch after a long day and encourage her to relax. Tell her that she’s beautiful and that you’re excited about the future that the three of you will have together. Being present and actively engaged means so much to her right now; you’re likely doing much more than you know already. Wishing you all the best and a happy, healthy delivery.

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For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting:

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I bought our two-bedroom town house when we were preparing to get pregnant and thought we would be a one and done. Then we were blessed with twins! The house was big enough when they were little, but as the kids approach high school, they’ve started making noise about wanting their own rooms—they share the bigger bedroom with two single beds, and my wife and I have the other room.

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My wife’s a contractor, and all the girls asked for for their next birthday was a false wall through the room so that they could have their own space. My wife says there isn’t really a way to construct anything equally while giving both sides access to the door, but she floated the idea to me that she remodel the downstairs rec room into a bedroom for us, and the girls each take one of the existing bedrooms. We’re not using the rec room as much more than storage since the kids outgrew the need for a playroom, so it’s a great idea.

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But there’s a significant difference in size between the bedrooms. It doesn’t seem fair to give one of them a room so much bigger than the other, and I can’t think of how to make that choice. The rec room is too small to be split and the wrong size to be fairer in comparison to the other rooms, and neither kid wants it anyway. Is there a way to decide who gets the bigger room fairly, or some kind of perks we haven’t thought of to even it out? Other families must have gone through this, but we’re stumped.

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—Goldilocks and the Three Bedrooms

Dear GatTB,

You could consider having a shared space in the larger bedroom. Perhaps the sibling who gets the smaller bedroom can have a clothing rack and vanity in the big room, a computer, or other items that she won’t always need to access, so that her sister can enjoy uninterrupted time in her own room, but that would allow for a more equal distribution of the space. Choose the recipient of the larger bedroom by a coin toss or game of rock paper scissors so that there aren’t any worries about favoritism or fairness. You could also consider having the girls take turns having the big room; perhaps they can switch at the start of a new school year.

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No matter what you do, someone is going to have a smaller room. Talk to both girls about the sacrifice that you and your wife made so that they could enjoy the larger room all this time, and explain that the space you have is the space you have, so it’s up to all of you to do your best to make it work for the family. Hopefully, the girls will be reasonable and excited enough about the prospect of getting their own rooms that they don’t overly invest in the size of them. Remind them that many kids never have that privilege, and that they should be grateful no matter which one they end up getting.

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—Jamilah

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More Advice From Slate

A good friend from college is now married with two small kids. When we visit each other (no less than twice a year), there is always tension with her husband, “Paul,” and my big dumb dog, “Scooter.” The kiddos and Scooter all like each other and are very cautiously interested in playing with each other (which only happens with supervision, of course). Every once in a while, something happens and they need a short break from each other: The dog barks at a passing car and the kids get scared, a kid throws a tantrum or drops a toy and the dog gets spooked. Pretty standard interactions, at least as far as my friend and I are concerned. However, Paul is always on high alert when Scooter is around.

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