Sometimes I find myself exclaiming, “you’re so smart!” when my daughter figures out the number of probable raisins based on the raisins in her cookie (think: word problem, only real-life cookies in your hand). And she just recently began to pull herself up onto the top of a swing, and I exclaimed, “you’re so strong!” Of course, what I’m really saying is “I didn’t know you could do that” because I’m excited to see her grow in so many different ways.
There’s nothing wrong with these phrases, really…
“You’re so smart!”
“You’re so strong!”
We often tell our kids they’re smart or they’re strong. We think we need to tell them. And I get it. We’re fighting a culture that tells girls they need a man to stand up for them, and tells boys they’re dumb because they can’t sit still in class; a culture where girls are more likely to be talked over than listened to, and where boys are valued for their athleticism versus their emotional intelligence.
But the other day I was thinking, what if your kid isn’t smart or strong? And what if they aren’t capable of doing something? What if they aren’t brave or kind or helpful or thoughtful either? Aren’t they still worthy?
The truth is, kids don’t need to hear that they’re capable or clever, beautiful or brave. What kids really need is to feel heard. They need to feel accepted. They need to feel understood. And when we can’t understand, they need to know that we WANT to understand and that we’re willing to suspend our reactions and assumptions in order to TRY to understand.
Brave, kind, capable.
Those are all just words. They don’t describe someone’s worthiness.
In order to help our children grow into their best selves as defined by their values and interests they need to know they are worthy right now. And our job as adults – parents, teachers, family members, neighbors – is to help them find that place by accepting kids for who they are RIGHT NOW. When we make space for who they are now, they learn they are worthy NOW. And when they are worthy NOW they can stop trying to prove themselves to be that “perfect” person in some made-up future when they’re suddenly capable of doing everything right all the time.
Why do they need to be accepted for for who they are right now? Because I’m already in that made-up future; and frankly, I’m still not “there.” And you’re not there. No one ever gets there. And we ALL deserve to be accepted for who we are right now anyway.
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