Can tough love make our kids more resilient?

Frustrated little toddler
Frustrated little toddler

I DECIDED to get real with my five-year-old today, writes Sara Fitzpatrick.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: “Wow, those kids in the Descendants film are very good dancers.”

Daughter: “I’m better, Mummy.”

Me: No answer.

Daughter: “I am better than those dancers, Mummy. Mummy?”

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Sometimes you just need to tell your kids the truth. Picture: iStock

 

Now, she’s a good little mover, sure. She can spin, shake, twirl and jump with the best of them but she is not – let’s be honest – a natural wonder on the dance floor.

Her pirouettes don’t cast a spell and her hip-hop thrusts won’t have her touring with Beyonce anytime soon.

And I’m not being mean here — very few kids are instantly as talented as Anna Pavlova or Fred Astaire.

So I thought about her comment for a moment and instead of saying: “Oh yes, you are better than them – you are the best dancer I have ever seen.”

I said, tenderly: “No, sweetie, you are not.”

“What?” she asked, mortified.

“You are not better at dancing than the Descendants kids,” I repeated.

“I am better, Mummy! I am, I am, I am,” she chanted through tears.

“You are good at dancing, sweetie, but those boys and girls have trained for years to be as good as that,” I soldiered on.

“To be that talented you have to dedicate yourself and really work hard; it doesn’t just happen on its own.”

Bless her delusion, it really is endearing.

Very few of us are instantly as talented as Anna Pavlova or Fred Astaire. Picture: iStock

She opted out of ballet after the second class because she said it was too easy – this was not the case. (Just quietly: she was way over her head and I think she knew it).

Yes, I want to bolster her confidence but I no longer think my blind compliance is doing her any favours.

This ‘cruel to be kind’ topic arose recently after people rejected a Sydney school’s move to ban handing out party invitations to protect the feelings of kids excluded.

Was this the right decision? It backs my story to call it damaging: missing out is part of life and not everyone reckons you’re awesome.

I agree we have to build resilience from a young age.

On the other hand, I think of the sting I felt around 12 having not been invited to a classmate’s party at the movies (the film was City Slickers).

We are best friends now, but whenever I see Billy Crystal in that stupid blue Mets cap I cringe.

I also want both of my girls to know it’s ok to be average, or even totally crap at things because everyone has weaknesses.

I went to a talk on raising daughters: the speaker said one of the biggest mistakes we make is telling kids they can be anything, when this simply isn’t true.

Focus on your child’s strengths. Picture: iStock

 

We can’t all be surgeons or physicists and this “inspiring” adage can lower self-esteem and cause anxiety.

The key, she said, was to focus on their strengths.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a tutor if maths is a problem but always champion your child’s assets, no matter how insignificant.

If they excel at sandwich making, run with it: they could be the next Nigella Lawson.

This idea resonated with me. I felt relieved for my kids – and myself.

An overwhelming sense of guilt (and failure) for being terrible at maths has followed me over the years. My parents enlisted a tutor but he was disappointed with my inability also.

I feel like this was a big issue in my household, when – in hindsight – my talent for English and love of literature should have been key.

I can’t blame my parents; they didn’t want me to fall behind. Fair enough.

So, I will continue to compliment my five-year-old on her knack for counting (courtesy of Dad), gliding on her scooter with one leg in the air, and making fairy gardens with gumnuts and torn up bits of tissue.

I will champion her kindness, creativity and patience – dancing too. After all, who knows, she might just earn herself a coveted spot at The Royal Ballet School of London.

sara.fitzpatrick@communitynews.com.au

 

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