“Um, thanks?” I responded.
“No, I mean, it’s like, seriously big. I can see right up your nostrils, you have boogers in there.”
As I thought about this little girl standing in front of me telling me exactly what she thought of my nose in a completely innocent yet terribly tactless manner, I started to remember all my other interactions with pre-teen girls, and surprise! I didn’t like any of them. I can handle the truth, but give it to me in a respectful manner. Most of the pre-teen girls I worked with regularly at church simply lacked any comprehension of filtering their thoughts or regarding the feelings of others and for the last nine years I’ve dreaded the day my daughter Addie showed signs of knowing, and saying it, all.
Well, the time is here and she has said some things to me in the past few weeks that have taken me by surprise and have caused me to pay attention to how I parent her more than ever.
Addie is a great kid, I am constantly amazed at how empathetic and tenderhearted she is. I realized last year that if I could keep and cultivate every marvelous trait she possesses at 9 and teach her that her big emotions are more of a strength than they are a weakness, she would grow into a confident woman people would want to know and work with. However, she is beginning to test her limits on just how much she can say and get away with. She’s keenly aware of the world around her; she’s started to develop a heightened interest in celebrity culture and is paying more attention to how I act and carry myself.
I was talking to someone about my current struggles with Addie’s lack of tact and they laughed and said, “Oh, you shouldn’t even worry about it, just wait until she’s teenager!” to which I replied, “I’m not going to stop correcting her and teaching her proper manners just because one day she’ll become an even moodier teenager.” To sum up my current issue with Addie’s behavior: it’s her choice of words and her lack of thinking them through before saying them out loud that could lose her a few friends. Just last week she watched me as I got out of the shower and said, “Your butt jiggles at lot when you walk, it’s really funny looking.”
Now, I remember thinking the exact same thing about my mom’s butt — and who knows if I ever said it out loud (sorry if I did, Mom!) but I saw a valuable opportunity to teach Addie about how some things just don’t need to be said. Knowing my butt jiggles is certainly not news to me, but I pointed it out to her that it does neither of us any good to point out such an observation. If I had toilet paper hanging out of my shorts or a booger coming out of my nose, go ahead and let me know (privately and politely, thank you) because that will be doing me a favor.
We’ve had several conversations since then where I have redirected her to choose different adjectives or find better ways to phrase what she’s thinking. Yesterday, she told me my hair looked terrible (I had just woken up) and I asked her to think about how that helped me. (It didn’t.) I could have let it go unnoticed or replied with a sarcastic, “Thank you?” but I don’t want my child to be the one thinking it’s okay to just blurt out whatever they’re thinking, especially when it’s in regards to someone’s appearance. I believe the ability to give a genuine compliment to be just as important as giving constructive criticism, and I’d rather she learn how to say, “Your other pants are more flattering” through me than to say, “Your butt looks HUGE in those pants!” to a friend.
The truth is, I know I’m doing okay, and that this is just a developmental thing and almost all kids (both boys and girls) go through a phase where they lack the foresight to really think through what they’re saying. Once she stopped watching TV shows geared towards teens, her attitude improved dramatically — that old standard of leading by example couldn’t be more important when it comes to this topic. Just today I told my husband that sometimes it is hard for me to contain my criticisms of her, but I have to remind myself that she’s learning to be independent and do things on her own, which is more important than doing things the way I think they should be done. I know I was a little strange at 9 in regards to how I did my hair and what I chose to wear, but I hung out with a bunch of other strange 9-year-olds who made their own bad fashion decisions, so I was in good company.
Even at 32, I have to consistently (albeit not constantly) remind myself not to say certain things out loud — which makes staying patient with Addie as she learns to filter and craft what she chooses to say much easier. Perhaps we can turn it into a game, “Creative and Constructive Ways to Criticize Another Without Making Them Cry or Ruining Their Self-Esteem!”
Anyone else want to play?