Ever since Me Too went viral, I’ve been thinking about how important it is for children to know and express their boundaries. I want them to have the confidence to say no, where they need to, and to hear that no, right where it begins inside them.
This feels pressing to me right now, while my children are little. In a few years, my daughter will be in kindergarten. She’ll attend the same excellent public school as my 6 1/2 year old son. I’m confident that she’ll get a great education.
However, when it comes to her growth as a strong woman and autonomous, free willed person, there are some lessons she’ll be getting in school that I’ll be working at home to unteach her. I’ll explain.
Tara Mohr, in her wonderful book, Playing Big, writes about this at length. She points out that schools tend to reward obedience over any other quality. To be a good student may mean, more than anything, learning to follow the rules.
All this rule following, she points out, can have an unwanted side effect – and it’s especially damaging for girls. All that living to please others, (to turn in the homework, score well on the essay, get good grades, etc.) can lead us to become detached from our own inner authority.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this with regards to my daughter. What can I do now to help her learn to stay connected to her own wisdom, no matter what?
Well, here’s one thing. It’s a ritual we do before bed. I’ve shared about it before, but today I offer it with a twist – relating to all this about children needing to know and trust their boundaries.
Each night, I lie down beside my daughter, and I tell her the things I love about her.
“Five things,” she says. “Tell me five things you love about me.”
“Ok,” I say.
I tell her the things I love, making sure to say them in a way that is in line with what I’ve learned about praise.
Praise is helpful when it is
1) Specific. “I notice today that when the train track didn’t work today, you kept trying different pieces until you fixed it.”
2) Focused on process, rather than end result. “You kept working and working at it. That took a lot of determination!”
3) Focused on inner qualities, rather than external achievements. In the statement above, determination is a driving force that children can recognize within themselves, as opposed to a descriptor they might feel intimidated by having to live up to.
If you’re interested in learning more about helpful and unhelpful praise, there’s been lots written about it! I’ll start a thread in the Facebook group where we can all pool resources.
But here’s what I want to get to – when I tell my daughter the things I love about her, I am very careful not to focus only on the places where she’s followed the rules.
Because yes, I love that she’s helpful, I love that she shares, I love that she uses her inside voice in the car, and cleans up her crumbs, and does all the sweet thoughtful things she does in a day.
But I don’t want to just nurture her ability to follow the rules. I want her to learn to figure out what her own rules are, and to follow them.
There’s a new word that’s been going around for this quality, and it’s a good one. That word is grit. Grit is courage and resolve. It’s strength of character. I love her for her grit means I love her where she says no, even to me. Even when it makes us late, when it’s hard to get her in her carseat, even if it goes against my agenda.
So I make sure, at night, that I also mirror back to her at least one place where she’s I’ve witnessed her grit.
“I notice that today you were sitting on top of the pillow pile and Ember really wanted a turn. He tried to push you off, and you said NO. You stayed on there because you were not ready for your turn to end. When I see that, I can see that you are really sticking up for yourself. I love that you know when it’s time to do that, even when you know it might make another person mad.”
Sometimes, her action may not have been able to change the situation for her. In that case, I honor her right to express her feelings.
“I notice that you got pretty upset at the dentist appointment today. You did not want to open your mouth, and you let us know. I love that when you don’t want to do something, you can trust your heart and say that loud and clear. Because there’s a voice inside you that knows what you want and what you don’t. I love that you really know how to listen to that voice.
So that’s our ritual. But I should add one last thing, because our ritual always ends the same way.
After all this, I say
“But you know what I love about you, more than anything? I love you because you are Peregrine. There is nobody else in the world just like you, and I love you just the way you are.” (Thank you Mr. Rogers.)