What was your childhood like?
Most kids fall into one of two groups. The cool group and the not so cool group.
For most of my childhood I was in the not so cool group.
In fact I may have been in a sub set where the word cool was not even mentioned.
I stood out due to my height. I was at least a foot taller than every other kid.
I was also easy to embarrass. I was shy and found it difficult to fit in. I was not a bad kid. Just quiet and I guess introverted. The slightest bit of attention would cause my cheeks to flare up and go bright red. My self-esteem was through the floor.
Kids, being kids, latched on to this perceived weakness and would reel off a chant.
‘You’re going red, uh huh.
You’re going red, uh huh.
You’re going red, uh, huh.’
I’m not sure where the ‘uh huh’ came from but it made the chant sound tribal. Scary. Aggressive.
Once kids have someone to target they are relentless. I withdrew and waited for the next chant to start-up. I became more and more frustrated.
Although I was never physically threatened I always took the flight option, running away to escape my tortures. Then, one day, it came to a head.
I was being teased again and the chant was doing the business, making me feel even more miserable.
The sounds of the playground were all merging into one huge orchestra of pain.
I started to shut down. Aware of the people around me everything became blurry. Everything became abstract and I felt overwhelmed by what was happening to me. The colour, the noise, the feeling of pain and..
Something deep within me bubbled up. It happened so fast and it felt more like a reflex, than a conscious action. My arm snapped back and I lashed out at whoever was in front of me.
The playground went silent. I knew something bad had happened. Coleen stood in front of me, also silent, with a look of shock on her face.
She reached out and touched the space between her nose and lips.
She was going red.
She started to cry.
I was six at the time and I can count the number of fights I’ve had on one hand. This was one of them. I was now someone who hit girls.
A new chant tore up the playground. ‘You’re getting done, uh huh’ ‘You’re getting done, uh huh.’ ‘You’re getting done, uh huh.’
I started to cry.
I never fought back, up until now. Perhaps the crying was a release from the pent-up frustration I had endured. Now I had chosen to fight back and I felt terrible. Maybe if I had hit one of the boys part of it may have felt justified. Boys fight, it happens all the time. I had hit a girl.
I don’t remember my parents coming into school. The teachers must have decided to treat it with a light touch which I was grateful for.
I do remember getting a lecture and having to apologise to Coleen.
I’m not sure she accepted the apology.
In the film of my life everyone would have left me alone. I would be seen as the broken one, ready to snap.
They continued to chant. I continued to be miserable.
The next time I hit someone I had moved to Middle school. The chants had stopped but I still found it tough. My natural aptitude in the game ‘hot rice’ meant I had some allies. I can’t remember what caused me to lash out, but I was still a target due to my height.
On this occasion I made the decision to hit someone who was the hardest boy in the school. Oh, his Father was rumored to be the leader of a feared crime syndicate in the local area. This is a story for another time.
I made great choices, right?
Self Esteem Issues
Some say getting bullied is a good thing. They claim it toughens you up. You become stronger in character. You can handle whatever life throws at you.
I think the people who say this are the people in the cool group. They don’t know what it feels like to feel miserable, to run away, to worry about where the next chant is going to come from.
I know she will have challenges of her own and I don’t want to dilute these. I know I can’t protect her all the time in the way I want to.
Just as much as I don’t want her to experience pain I also don’t want to wrap her up inside a bubble. There is an inherent danger in being over protective. It is good for kids to learn life lessons as long as they have someone supporting them.
In doing so I want to build her confidence and self-esteem. Self-esteem is one of the major issues for young girls growing up.
Dosomething.org focus on social movements and issues affecting young people. They share some interesting numbers on self-esteem and the impact on young girls
- 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating.
- Teen girls that have a negative view of themselves are 4 times more likely to take part in activities with boys that they’ve ended up regretting later.
- The top wish among all teen girls is for their parents to communicate better with them. This includes frequent and more open conversations.
- 7 in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members.
These worries start at an early age and carry through to adulthood.
There is no silver bullet and I want to start the conversation now, and not wait until she is older.
Young children are smarter than we give them credit for. They pick up new ideas, concepts and start to explore them straight away.
I wanted to do something simple and easy for her to understand. I wanted it to focus on the idea of resilience, fear and her environment.
In doing so I want the ideas and issues we talk about to become ‘the norm.’
Every night I read her a story and at the end of the story I always ask her three questions.
The questions help her to reflect on the day, it gives me an insight into what she is thinking about and helps to discuss any concerns she has.
You may think a four-year old does should not have any concerns but if you have kids you will know this is not true!
It also develops the habit of her talking and opening up to me.
Whether she is four or twenty-four I want her to trust me. To know she can come to me about anything. That I can help her to unpick some of the problems she has.
What Are The Questions?
When were you brave today?
We are guilty of telling young girls ‘be careful’, ‘watch your step’ and ‘don’t run. We don’t even realise we are doing it. We dish these instructions out far more than we do to boys. For anyone wanting to read more on this idea then check out Caroline Paul’s Op Ed piece in the NYTimes.
I want my Daughter to know she can be courageous, heroic, bold, daring and adventurous.
Talking about bravery allows us to talk about how she felt fear but did it anyway. We talk about the impact it had on her, those around her and how being brave is a positive trait.
I want her to know she can draw on these reserves and use them to overcome any challenge she comes across.
As she gets older these challenges will become more complex. Bravery will be essential.
What did you fail at today?
Most fear is down to a fear of failure or rejection.
I want her to know that failure is an everyday occurrence for most people.
Some days we win and some days we lose. Often it will be a combination of the two. I want her to know this is fine.
The people who win at life are not the people sat watching others and playing it safe. The people who win are those with the most amount of failures. They fail. They work out what went wrong. They fix it and then they win.
Many of the conversations are exactly this. She gets something wrong, she looks at what went wrong and she tells me how she fixed it.
Who were you kind to today?
We live in a world which can be selfish and thoughtless.
I don’t want this for my Daughter.
If I ask you to think about your positive experiences, with other people, kindness will play a big part. It is often the unexpected and surprising actions of others that stay with us the longest. Kindness is magic.
We are all fighting our own private battles and we are often reluctant to share them.
When someone is kind to us, unexpectedly so, it lifts our mood and we can ride that mood for the rest of the day.
I want her to know she has the power to make others feel like this and know that kindness is a daily habit.
Make a Difference
When I started asking my Daughter these three questions the aim was to help her.
I want her to develop these traits to prepare her for life’s challenges.
After a few nights of asking the questions she started to ask me the same questions.
I paused, reluctant to answer.
Then I realised what a great opportunity it was.
As adults we don’t ask these questions of ourselves and rarely to each other.
Young or old the questions are great for reflection.
There is so much information out there – blogs, podcasts, newspapers, TV, magazines etc. We consume so much information, wanting to be better, yet we rarely ask ourselves how we are really doing.
We should be asking ourselves
- When did we show bravery today?
- What did we fail at today?
- Who were we kind to today?
Celebrate the answers, no matter how small the success.
If you have children experiment with the questions. Make a difference to how they see the world and who they will be as they grow up. It takes five minutes and I promise you will enjoy it.
Create an environment which allows them (and you) to be the best version of themselves.
I would love to hear about any success stories.
What other questions would you add into the mix and why?