Challenges · Communication · Safety and Empowerment

Why We Can’t Be Perfect, and Why We Shouldn’t Even Try

adventure-baby-beautiful-286625Yesterday a friend of mine was in a serious car accident with her family.

Although everyone was safe, she was frustrated and upset about physical conditions beyond her control that made it impossible for her to support her child through this trauma in the way she wanted to.

This made me think of all the things that stand in the way of my ideal self.

There are many struggles, both internal and external that prevent me from being the Mother I wish I could be all the time. At first I didn’t recognize this as perfectionism. Because I am not comparing myself to anyone else, not aspiring for someone else’s ideal.

I just want to be my best self.

All the time.

I don’t want to cope with health issues and life conditions that prevent me from giving my daughter every single thing she needs and deserves.

But of course this is the very definition of perfectionism. Because those causes and conditions that thwart me, as much as I don’t want to accept it, are a part of me. I can’t make them go away (though I’ve certainly tried). All I can do is integrate them, and be the best version of myself that I can be, knowing my best will look differently day to day.

There are times when I can’t fully meet my daughter’s needs, when I am flawed and limited, either physically or emotionally, due to conditions that are out of my power to change. Instead of pretending to be perfect, instead of trying to be someone without challenges, I can choose to be transparent. I can explain to my daughter that sometimes I am not able to do and be everything.

It’s a powerful thing to model acceptance of our limitations to our children, to give them the gift of knowing it’s okay not to be perfect. By example we can show them that challenges are a part of life, that we can’t control everything and we shouldn’t try.

All we can do is our best, moment to moment. And that’s enough. We are enough. And our children are too. No matter what.

 

Challenges · Communication · Safety and Empowerment

On the International Day of Pink, Let’s Teach Children that Real Friendship is Based on Respect and Kindness

Today is the International Day of Pink. It’s a day to work towards ending homophobia, transphobia and all forms of bullying and harassment in our schools and everywhere.

4.-Day-of-Pink_2018As I got my four year old daughter dressed in head to toe pink today we talked about what this day means. We discussed the importance of kindness, of asking others to join in, about helping those who may be left alone or excluded. We reflected on how people should be supported to love who they want to love, without being afraid. We talked about being brave and standing up to mean people.

And we also talked about remembering to choose friends who are kind, caring and who treat you well. We talked about what friendship is and what it isn’t and how friends ought to treat one another.

Years ago, when I was a classroom teacher I had a colleague with a son in daycare. She was complaining about her daycare’s request that he wear pink on the International Day of Pink. “This is so silly,” she said. “There’s no bullying in daycare.”

A nice thought, but untrue. The truth is, relational aggression starts young, emerging at the preschool stage.

When my daughter was in daycare, she developed a relationship with a girl who regularly manipulated her and took pleasure in her distress. One moment they were friends, the next my daughter was being frozen out.

On one occasion this girl convinced my daughter that her father didn’t love her. “He told me that!” she claimed. When my husband arrived to pick up my daughter, the girl continued her taunting in front of him, laughing as my daughter wept in confusion. “He said he doesn’t love you. I heard him.” Eventually, at home,  we were able to console our daughter and explain that some people choose to lie sometimes and choose to be mean. We don’t know why, but they do.

At that point I stepped in and spoke to her teachers. They supported me and created distance between the two girls. But my daughter continued to be pulled to this girl like a moth to a flame. At night she would cry in my arms and say “I have to show her how to be kind.”

No, I said. You don’t. That is not your job. If someone is mean or unkind to you over and over, you need to stop being friends with that person. They need to understand that friendship is a very special thing. You have to treat it with care.

Although the impulse to sympathize with bullies comes from a compassionate place, it sends the wrong message to those being victimized. When we teach children that they have to forgive continuously, that saying sorry is enough, that everyone is good deep down, that the bully is suffering too (all things that may or may not be true) then we imprint a pattern that can keep them from learning how to set boundaries and expect respect.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing her worth and knowing it not her job to save abusive people from themselves. The bully in her life this time was a young child, who with the right guidance from parents and educators will hopefully outgrow her mean girl behaviours.

But if I teach her now that she needs to tolerate that treatment, she will continue that pattern in future friendships and romantic relationships. She needs to learn now that it’s ok, critical in fact, to walk away from mean people. Anyone who fails to treat you with respect does not deserve to be in your life.

Can bullies change? Sure, maybe. I hope so. But it’s not the victimized child’s job to help them do it. Instead of downplaying harmful behaviours and making excuses for people who treat others badly, adults should step in to try to correct the behaviour, while making sure to validate those affected by affirming that no one is allowed to treat them this way.

With this approach, maybe we can wrest some of the power away from bullies, and work towards a safer, kinder world for our children and ourselves.

Please share your own thoughts on the International Day of Pink in the comments below. 

 

 

Safety and Empowerment

It’s Never too Soon to Teach Consent

hand holdingOne of the greatest gifts I have been able to give my four year old daughter is the knowledge that she is the boss of her own body. She decides whether or not to give and receive physical affection, depending on how she feels in the moment.

Her Dad and I also teach her that her choices may be different on different days, and that’s okay.

Last night before bed, she said “No hug tonight Mama, just a kiss on the cheek please.” In the morning she asked for a hug as soon as she woke up.

The key is that she knows she always has a choice.

Just like adults, children don’t always want to be touched, and we need to give them the tools to express this, and support them to have their choices respected.

Modeling consent throughout childhood is a powerful tool we can use to reduce the risk of sexual abuse for the children in our lives. It also gives children the opportunity to get to know themselves.

When young people are empowered to set boundaries around their bodies, they have the chance to connect to their instincts and to practice differentiating between what feels right and what doesn’t. They also learn to respect the body boundaries of those around them.

When we force children to give or receive affection against their will we send the message that pleasing others is more important than their wellbeing.

And it’s not.

Corinne from the Pragmatic Parent sums it up perfectly in an article about her daughter:

As her parent and advocate, I can’t force my daughter to ignore her feelings for the sake of being compliant.

It is our responsibility as caregivers to help children rest securely in the fact that their body belongs to them.  If they want to hug, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s great too. If they want to hug and then they want to stop, that’s also okay.

At every age, consent is about trust, boundaries, safety and body autonomy, and it should be taught as early as possible.

How to Teach Consent to Young Children:

  • Let children lead the way. Enable them to decide whether or not they would like to be physically affectionate.
  • Give them the language they need to be able to set boundaries. “No thank you.” “I don’t want to be touched right now.” “I don’t want a hug.”
  • If a child doesn’t want to give or receive physical affection, don’t punish them by sulking or taking it personally. Smile warmly and praise them for setting good boundaries.
  • Be clear about when and how you want to be touched. This models consent and reminds children to respect others and their bodies.
  • If your child wants to embrace, do so enthusiastically and lovingly. Safe touch is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
  •  Remember that if relatives and friends think they “deserve” a hug, that’s their issue not yours. It’s much less important to please them than it is to validate your child’s feelings.

How do you teach and model consent? Please share your thoughts in the comments below