One of the most painful things for a parent to hear, is their child negatively comparing themselves to another or speaking unkindly of themselves. When my oldest first started school, it wasn’t long before my then 4 year old began talking about “yellow hair” (she meant blonde) being prettier than her brown hair.
I didn’t know then what I know now, but if memory serves me correctly, I did what any parent might have. I reassured her that her hair is beautiful and redirected our attention to something else.
What I know now, is that it would have been far more beneficial to have helped her come to that conclusion on her own, instead of trying to convince her of it.
How might that conversation look today – given what I know now?
I’m glad you asked.
For starters, I wouldn’t have been so quick to externally validate the niceness of her hair, and rush past the uncomfortable part. Instead, I’d begin by getting curious and thereby, validating her experience.
I would lead with, “Why do you feel that way?”
Next, I’d aim to mitigate her feeling alone in this experience, and ask if I can share something from my experience. I’d keep it short and relatable, with the intent to get my little one feeling seen and safe to share her thoughts – even if it’s a simple, “I feel that too”.
I would move on to asking her how I can help or support her. If the answer is, “ I don’t know”, I’d offer to simply be there – either holding her, or just sitting beside her.
Finally, I would ask how she feels now and follow with questions that would encourage her to come to her own conclusion about the issue. This may look like:
What do we know to be true about different coloured hair?
What do we know to be true about your hair?
What a completely different exchange from how it actually went down, 6 years ago! The latter allows the child to grow and develop the skillset that will serve them throughout their life.
It encourages them to process what they’re feeling – instead of avoiding the perceived discomfort of any emotion deemed ‘not nice’, by the masses. There also isn’t any convincing happening in the ‘now’ example. Instead, the child is given the space to come to their own conclusions about themselves and/or the situation.
My parenting toolkit has grown, because I have grown and taken the time to see how parts of my childhood show up in my now reality.
I am better able to hold space for my children’s emotions – because I am willing and able to do the same for myself.
The shift from trying to numb or bury the things we don’t like to feel – to actually processing and letting them go, has been pivotal to upgrading my parenting toolkit – and my life.
Here’s to helping our littles master their minds and emotions – by doing the work that allows us to show up in the ways they need us to, and fiercely lead by example.