The Silent Message We're Teaching Our Kids
My daughter and I love going to live shows, concerts and different kid-friendly events. My favorite was the J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan 360 show. Most of the time, we'd go with friends who also have children, to make the experience more worthwhile for her.
I used to find myself feeling extremely on edge, because it seemed as though my daughter's excitement would escalate when we were out in public. Not necessarily in a bad way, but enough to make me open my eyes wide and think, "Whose child is this?" And it would be at the most odd times, too. For instance: the kids are sitting down eating, and instead of eating, my little one is bouncing around in excitement doing everything but eating. I'd utter these words softly in her ear: "Look at Emma (or whomever), she's eating her food quietly, isn't she?" I did that often when we were out with other people and their kids. And it's not just me -- my friends did it, too.
But it made me wonder, what exactly are we teaching our children when we say to them, "look at Emma"? Are we teaching them not to be themselves, but to be more like Emma? Those were the thoughts that ran through my mind the last time I uttered those words. I don't think that my reason for saying it was specifically because I wanted her to be like Emma -- but more for her to look at Emma's behavior at that moment and see that her actions (my daughter's) were out of place. But is that what she actually got when I said "look at Emma"?
Have you done this? Not to worry -- we ALL have. Here are some tips:
1. Pick a place that is kid friendly and welcomes kids of all energy levels. If you're feeling uptight, then you're at the wrong place.
2. Your child may not be the quiet and calm one. And that's perfectly OK! The person they're displaying is a glimpse of who they will be in the future. If their purpose in life is to be a Teacher, then welcome that outgoing characteristic as it will serve them well in the future.
3. Always explain what you are saying to your child on a level that they can comprehend. Don't just say something and leave them to decipher what you meant by it.
4. Don't be discouraged to hang out with people who's kids are opposite of yours. It presents an opportunity to discuss diversity in personalities.
5. Your child has something to offer as well. Make it a point to highlight the positive qualities they display in the same moment. It reassures them that they are doing something right and not doing everything wrong.
We tend to want our children to act a certain way, especially in public and among friends. And for me, when my daughter did the opposite, I would cringe on the inside. But I came to the understanding that the characteristics she displayed are somehow tied to who she will be in the future. Like I stated in my tips, I learned early on that my daughter is not the quiet one who sits on the side and says nothing. In fact, my daughter is very outspoken and very much in touch with her emotions. So for us, there has been no more talk about "look at Emma/Suzie/etc."
I often look back at how much she has grown. And I'm pleased to say, she doesn't mimic anyone. In fact, this little person is quick to say "I don't have to follow you, I am my own person" (round of applause).