How are we speaking to our kids?

During a dinner conversation with my dad a few years ago, he asked me what I wanted for our girls as they grow up; what characteristics I would want them to personify? He then told me to write them all down, and consciously work to ensure the girls develop these qualities and attributes.  I have envisioned how I wanted to raise our girls. I know I wanted them to be smart and kind; to be brave and strong; I have envisioned countless characteristics and attributes that I have tried to model for them, even when they are still young. I think our dinner conversation that evening was one of the ways in which our daily affirmations came about. So when it came to choosing the words for our affirmations, I tried to choose words that were actionable; traits that they could exhibit, smart, kind, honest. I took that list and continually add to it, and every night we say these affirmations. Some nights they say the affirmations excitedly and other nights we have angry affirmations, where my oldest uses her “mean voice” while saying how kind and honest she is, it’s hilarious.

I try to be very conscientious of my words and actions around my girls, to model healthy behaviors and attitudes. I don’t say “diet” I say “eat healthy;” I don’t wait for my husband to fix something, I bust out the tools and try to get the job done myself, while telling them that “Mama is fixing it, because girls can do anything!” And yet despite all the consciousness I try to use when speaking to our girls, there is one phrase that dominates my vocabulary; One phrase that according to the Journal of Pediatrics, is used four times as much with girls than boys, “Be Careful.”

Be careful. You wouldn’t think that telling your child to use caution could in fact be detrimental to development, but in many ways, especially when raising little girls it can be. I was listening to a Ted Talk from Caroline Paul, who besides being a best-selling author, is also a fire fighter. She brought to light in her talk the difference in the language we use between boys and girls. As adults, we often offer guidance to boys, and caution to girls. Example: If we are at the playground, and a young boy is trying to learn to use the monkey bars, a parent may tell them to make sure they have a good grip prior to changing hands, and to a girl? We shout “be careful!” We encourage risky play for boys, which in turn teaches them to use fear to assess situations, problem solve, and move past them. According to Paul, by teaching young children to use fear as a tool, you teach them to access bravery in difficult situations, increases confidence and it also teaches the importance of delayed gratification through hard work.

Every night, when I put the girls to sleep, one of our affirmations is that they are brave and strong. Every night I try to instill this, and yet every day, my vocabulary is counter intuitive to this. After listening to Paul’s Talk, we went to a park and as the girls played, I became aware of just how many times I would tell them to be careful. It was a lot. I want them to be brave and strong, and yet my fear for them, was modeling something different. All of this made me think of the “Like a Girl” Superbowl Commercial from 2015. That when girls are young the term “like a girl” means the same as it would for any boy; yet as they grow older, this term has a negative connotation, that girls are weak, and fearful and less than.

During this last park trip, I consciously tried to give guidance, to be pro-bravery, because as Paul explains, “caution spreads.” I want them to be risk takers, because that is where growth occurs and confidence builds. When I think about our park, nothing at that park is truly dangerous. The park is designed for children their age, which is why we go there; so I need to let them be free to explore, to allow them the space to assess their bravery, even at two and four years old, because actions speak louder than words. Affirmations are wonderful, and we continue to do them; But we must also focus on our actions and our daily vocabulary and how this can have greater impact on their personal development than a nightly routine.

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