“Your voice is one of the most powerful things you have” I told my young one.
She’s been working side-by-side with a girl who is a bit above her reading level, and the girl knows it. She points out all of my daughter’s mistakes– loudly and aggressively.
If there is anything to know about my daughter, “Barb,” it’s that, although goofy and rambunctious, she is terrified of getting in trouble at school. This inevitably stops her from standing up for herself.
I’m not entirely sure where this stems from, but she is a rule follower through and through and stays out of trouble at school entirely.
Day after day, we keep hearing about the same girl over and over again. They’ve been working on a team project together and she’s really started to get under Barb’s skin. And frankly, she’s getting under my skin too, because I’m the person Barb comes home and vents to (naturally) and it’s frustrating as a mom to hear that someone is mistreating your nugget.
I’ve asked Barb if she’s given this girl any reason to be mean to her; I’ve asked if she’s said anything hurtful to her, not included her when on the playground, etc. and the worst Barb could think of was when she accidentally mispronounced her name.
So, the other night I sat Barb down and taught her about being strong in her convictions and strong with her voice.
I told her to repeat after me:
“Sarah, I do not appreciate the aggressive tone you continue to take with me. It embarrasses me and makes me feel bad on the inside. If you notice a mistake I make on our team work, I’d appreciate it if you used kinder words to tell me. This is me asking you directly to please use a nicer tone when speaking to me.”
Barb was HORRIFIED. She said there was no way she could say this to her classmate as she’d immediately have her card turned to yellow.
I asked her why and she explained that this was definitely not “appropriate behavior.”
I told her she was wrong. Because she is wrong. How am I to raise a strong girl, eventually strong woman, if she can’t look someone in the eyes and deliver her feelings with impact and meaning?
So, we kept practicing what I’d told her to say to little Sarah the next time she was rude. Barb recited it back to me time and again. At first, she danced around the words while she physically fidgeted with them too. The entire thing made her so nervous, it was visible in everything from her tone to her body language.
My husband told me that maybe I should allow her to deliver it in her own way. I told him “no.”
Why? Because in order to raise a young woman who is able to stand strong with her voice and convictions, I need to raise Barb to have uncomfortable conversations. At eight years old, she does not know how to have uncomfortable conversations. I need to teach her that talking to someone with stern, yet well-mannered intention is okay. In fact, I need to teach her that it is MORE than okay. Uncomfortable conversations are part of life.
It’s something that I struggle with tremendously, and I recognize this trait of mine in her. I want to break that cycle. I want her to be able to stand up and say what she means and means what she says.
It’s hard raising kids who are so lively and energetic at home, yet the opposite outside of the home. They stand up to you when they don’t like your rules, or when you tell them “no,” however, it’s heartbreaking to hear that they aren’t using the same voice when they are actually being hurt away from the home.
I remember being in third grade and not measuring up to my peers in math. I was SO bad at math. Kids were ruthless back then, and I would have done anything to stand up to one of those kids and told them to SHOVE IT. But I didn’t, I didn’t say anything and I allowed people to speak to me that way for much longer than I ever should have.
However, this is where I need to teach my child to do the opposite of what I did; I need to teach her to stand up and SPEAK UP.
I’ve went over this a hundred times with her. I’ve told her that she will NOT get in trouble for (politely) putting that girl in her place.
I explained: “Look, if you punched her in the face, you’d definitely get in trouble– but you are not doing that! You are talking to Sarah directly and delivering your reasonable expectations in a kind tone. You are telling her that you want this to stop, telling her how to do that, and you have every right to ask that of Sarah. I guarantee if you tell her with a kind, yet with direct tone and eye contact, you will put her in her place and she will knock it off. She is used to you bowing down to her every time she says you do something wrong; now it’s time to STAND UP AND SPEAK UP for yourself.”
Barb wasn’t convinced that this would work and furthermore, she was convinced that if she did that, little Sarah would tattle on Barb and then Barb would have to move her card to yellow, thus landing herself in trouble. I told her that I’d follow this up with an e-mail to the teacher and that if anyone got in trouble, it would be me.
Sure enough, the teacher wrote me back and told me that she appreciated my response and for telling my daughter to stand up for herself and that she had Barb’s back.
Obviously, Barb cannot expect me to send an email every single time she finds herself in a hairy situation, however, if that one e-mail lead to Barb seeing the strength in her own voice, then you better believe I sent that e-mail to help her see that she is not invisible, and neither is her voice.
In the end, it worked. I don’t know exactly how Barb delivered the manifesto that I’d helped her prepare, but she said something. Furthermore, she came home yesterday from school and told me that she and Sarah are now friends.
So, it just goes to show what a little confidence can do, and more so, what can happen when you show people (at any age/stage in life) what happens when you stand up and tell them you are done taking their bullshit. It’s a lesson for all of us, really.
We have to raise our girls to be strong with their voice and strong in their convictions. If we teach them now when they are little, we have a lot less to worry about when they are older and navigating college and the big, real world.
When it boils down, we all want our children to know that their voice is not only heard and felt, but it is powerful– no matter their age, gender, academic status or any other factor they feel they have working against them.
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