Recently over dinner, a friend posed the question of when do kids make the switch from being All-Me-And-I-Am-Awesome-All-The-Time to, well, not. In other words, when do our Littles lose the narcissistic yet adorable bravado that so many toddlers and preschoolers embody? My immediate, internal follow-up? How do we help them retain at least some of it?
You see, my 3.5yo is pretty full of herself, but in all the best ways – ways I hope she never abandons. She has a style and spark all her own, and her self-assured approach to life is commendable. I mean, really; it takes some serious chops to pull off a pink plaid hat, Darth Vader jammies and sparkly, rainbow-hued palm tree shoes (I am sorry you cannot see the shoes!), but that is just a normal afternoon of awesome in the world of Miss R.
Unique fashion sense aside, what I love most about this uber-confident little being is that she views herself first and foremost as “big and strong” (which is extra great because she has forever been my 10th percentile peanut, so big, she’s really not). At the grocery store one morning, I was unloading the cart onto the conveyer belt when all of the sudden, here came the gallon of milk in her hands – up, out, and safely deposited with the rest of our items. My eyes got huge as I congratulated and thanked her, to which she beamed and declared, “I am BIG and STRONG!” and then promptly showed me her muscles. In case you’re wondering, this refrain and pose combo is, again, normal in her world.
My question then (and now) is how do we sustain this version of normal? How long can I keep my daughter believing that not only is she big and strong, but also that this is an incredibly important way for a growing girl to view herself in today’s world?
Goodness knows I have not always excelled at such positive self-talk. In fact, a positive body image is something I continue to work on every day, and you can bet that I do so as much for my daughter as I do for myself. Keeping my mouth shut when I look in the mirror and see something I don’t particularly like? That’s for both of us. Smiling kindly at my husband whenever he refers to my bed-headed-yoga-pants-wearing self as “Pretty Mama?” That’s for both of us, too. [Disclaimer: I am a certified yoga teacher, so I may have some leeway on the pants.] And constantly telling my sweet, sweet girl that she is strong and brave and smart and beautiful? Always reminders to myself to take in the exact same messages, too. Every single time.
Currently I still have no answer for how long this phase of “No problem; I’m the best!” (verbatim, a response I got from her last week after thanking her for picking up books in the living room) will last. I suppose, like anything related to parenting, it depends on the babe in question.
I also still have no clear idea as to how to sustain Baby Girl’s positive self-talk and self-image. While I do not desire her to spend the rest of her life with an inflated sense of worth or ego, I do want to find a way to help her hold on to love and kindness, particularly in regards to her own head, heart, and body.
Something tells me that clear answers and unchanging rules are not going to come with this one. Body image, self-worth, and keeping everything positive but real? That is a lifetime of work. Valuable, important, and forever work.