January 8, 2016
If You Give A Kid A Vision...
Posted by Steph
I was eagerly sifting through the clearance racks at Old Navy with a miniature Elsa trailing behind me. It was the battle I chose not to fight today. It was Friday. And I'm one of those work-in-progress parents who still has a lot to learn; learning to pick my battles is an ongoing lesson.
I had errands to run this morning, and we weren't leaving the house without Maggie being dressed in head-to-toe Elsa. This had been made clear to me from the moment she woke up
Maggie: "Mom? I'm going to wear my new Elsa dress today."
Me: "Well, we have a few stores to go to. So maybe you can put on the Elsa dress when we get home."
It was a silent stand-off, and in the end, I decided it wasn't worth the fight. She was willing to wear a jacket, so what did it matter that she was boasting a princess outfit (complete with glittery cape) underneath it?
We stopped at a craft store, where the cashier, a middle-aged woman, noted, "Oh, don't we look fancy today?" She said it to me, rather than Maggie, in that chiding, indulgent way that we often speak to little kids, like, "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we're all in on the joke." Maggie smiled politely and nodded.
After the craft store, we made our way over to Old Navy, whose enormous 75% window clings were too much temptation to bare. I was going through the clearance items when a deep voice from an aisle away said, "We have a princess in the store today!"
I immediately looked down at Maggie, who was looking up at me confused.
"He's talking about you, love," I informed her, smiling.
Maggie looked toward the aisle, where the Old Navy employee approached from. He was young, maybe college aged, with a shaved head and erring on the hipster side of fashion. He spoke directly to Maggie, crouching down so he was eye-level.
"Your dress! It's beautiful! What's your name?" he asked.
She looked up at me shyly before answering him. "Elsa," she said.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. We don't have a princess in our store today. We have a queen!" he proclaimed exuberantly.
I watched Maggie take this in, her smile sheepish but proud. He spent another minute engaging her, complimenting her dress and thanking her for gracing him with her presence, before politely excusing himself.
We waved goodbye, and I continued looking around the store. Maggie-Elsa continued to walk behind me, but I couldn't help noticing the transformation that had taken place since our encounter. She stood taller, and looked in the mirror, assessing her dress.
"He really thinks I'm a real princess," she told me.
She looked people in the eye as we walked, nodding, and making jovial conversation with pretend kingdom visitors. Maggie acted like royalty because she believed the notion that she was royalty. Because someone else believed she was exactly who she thought she was, who she wanted to be.
When I was a social worker, we often discussed self-fulfilling prophecies. In the field of child protective services, it was the phenomenon that a child, particularly in a situation of abuse and neglect, is told negative things over and over again from their caregiver.
"You'll never amount to anything."
"You'll turn into a drunk just like your father."
And, in turn, the child takes these words to heart and they inadvertently come true. It's as though the parent believing these negative things about their own child wills them to become truths. I watched these situations become reality, with kids fulfilling these negative parental prophesies without even realizing they were doing it. It had become so engrained, it's all they knew to become.
Our words, our beliefs, have power.
We must wield them wisely.
I watched how a positive vision, believing that a little girl was a princess, made all the difference. We all want our kids to do well. We want them to thrive, to grow, to excel. I wonder, though, if we fall short of believing what they could be. Of believing in what they aren't yet, but could become.
I realized from watching the princess encounter at Old Navy that there is a difference between encouraging our kids and giving them a vision. It's one thing to say, "I know you can write." And another to say, "You are a great writer." One supposes untapped potential; the other assumes the potential is realized.
What if we began believing in what our kids will become. Believing it, even if it isn't yet realized, but claiming the belief and believing it for our kids?
How might that increase their confidence, their self-esteem?
This morning, Maggie was, if even for a few minutes, truly a princess. And maybe princesses aren't your thing (they aren't particularly mine). But perhaps next time it's believing they are a teacher. A healer. A leader. An engineer. Believing that they not only have the potential to change the world, but that they will.
That they already are.
If you give a kid a compliment, they'll feel good for a few minutes.
But if you give a kid a vision - a positive, uplifting, motivating vision - they might just prove you right.
To Pat from Old Navy in Exton: thank you. You gave both me and my daughter something to think on today.