Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Developing a Child's Self Image

There are no easy answers to what ways are the best ways for us to help our children develop a healthy self image, or to help them achieve a strong and confident sense of self ability.

I got a screaming view into this conundrum just the other day when I tried to explain (the way you would to a 3 year old) that my little girl didn't always need to wear a dress to feel like a princess.  My goal was to reinforce that she is awesome just the way she is, and that she may be missing something by  doing things (wearing a dress) that prevent her from really getting dirty and enjoying the grittier side of life (climbing tress and playing in the sand).

ehem...and then after losing the fight to get dirty and love grit, wearing her dress and snuggling into my bosom the way any awesome, snuggly 3 year old can, daddy came up the stairs and commented on her pretty dress.

My daughter's response?  "Mommy said I'm not pretty."

In no way ever, did I say this.  It never even entered my mind.  My thinking was, be strong and capable...not wishy washy and wasted.

So where in the world did this view of herself come from?  I've never said this.  In fact, I can assure you I've done absolutely the opposite, and have been extra conscientious to reinforce it regularly.

I always knew I had an intuitive child.  But for the life of me, I'm half ready to shut off any Disney movie that involves depictions of princesses or fairies full stop.  Somehow, somewhere in my child's wee brain, there is an interpretation that princesses wear dresses and glass slippers, and that princesses who wear such accouterments are the "pretty ones".  How in the world do you combat these impressions when they are so relentless?

I recall once writing about the fact that without even having seen ANYTHING princess related, my daughter was able to pin point the Disney Princess pink colour from across the Walmart.  It's that pervasive in our culture, and there's simply no avoiding it.  How do you consistently tell a 3 year old that the characteristics of "most" Disney princesses are tolerable at best in the real world?  What if she really is that wishy washy and gut wrenchingly in need of saving all the time - if that's truly her character, can that be so bad?  Certainly not simply because I wish it to be different.  She's perfect no matter how she chooses to live her life...which then leads me back to the beginning of this circle of insanity - does it matter then if she wants to be a princess all the time?

Well ultimately, yes.  Because we are neither royalty, nor do we hang in those circles.  My child has to be prepared for the real world, and I know all too well that the real world crashes in on us far sooner than any of us would prefer.

We named her for a strong leader.  Her namesake was highly criticized, even burned in effigy.  And while I've been clear that my choosing this namesake had nothing to do with her politics, it did have something to do with her will, her umph, and her tenacity.  She was a trailblazer and marked the shift in our western world for women in positions of power.  Her namesake was known as the "Iron Lady".  If I were to desire something more than mere contentment and happiness and safety for my child for her whole entire life, I'd only wish this:

  1. That she be confident in recognizing her ability and her capability, for driving change and doing incredible things 
  2. That she be energized and edgy enough to try almost anything once
  3. That she be willing to get her hands dirty and driven enough to make them clean again.  

I don't wish her to be hardened, or mean or resentful and aggressive.  But I do want her to fully comprehend her potential to turn things on their end, shake them out and make something new from the pieces.  Can she do this in a ballgown and high heels?  Of course.  I just want those fashion statements to be just that - fashion statements.  They should make herself feel that her outside matches the opulence of her inside, but not that they define or help her divine what she is supposed to feel on the inside.

I've spent so much of my life grappling with the issue of self image and how disconnected it has always been from my self confidence.

How in the world does someone as broken as me, figure that out for her very impressionable child?

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