I’m here to tell you that your kids hear you. They are listening. When you say the good stuff and… *cringe*… the bad stuff, they are tucking it ALL away and saving it in their brain so that they can refer to it again, down the road, whenever it’s needed.
What did Mommy say about that? Oh yeah.
I know. Not encouraging. But I thought you should know. And here’s how *I* know.
Last weekend, I watched the movie “The Help.” This is after I finished the book AND after I had decidedly parked myself into a permanent state of “feeling sorry for myself” thanks to screwed up plans. So, “The Help” was a FANTASTIC idea — and when the credits rolled and I had polished off my second glass of wine, I literally sobbed. My husband was very impressed by my performance (read: was pretty much wondering if he had married an alien).
But, if you saw the movie, and you’re a parent, you know what got me. It was when Aibileen, the woman hired to help raise a sweet little girl who was far too ignored by her mother, told her the following:
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
She told this to her regularly, hoping to fan the flames of her self-worth. And that little girl recited it right back to her in the final scene of the movie.
SWOON. *clutching my chest* I loved that. I did.
And then didn’t give it another thought.
The other day, I happened upon a friend and favorite blogger’s post about this very topic. Read it here. While I disagree with her less-than-enthusiastic feeling about the movie and book (WHAT?! Girl, come ON!), I loved her point. It is up to us to build our children’s self-esteem. It’s too easy to harp on the “Did you wipe?” and “I’ll tell you one more time, pick up after yourself” nonsense, that once they get tucked in to bed and out of your hair, you don’t always think, “Did I make my kid feel good about himself today?”
Granted, Angie’s point is also not to go overboard. WHICH I GET. I’ve seen waaaaay too many grown people brought up thinking their finger-painted refrigerator masterpieces owed them some sort of “I’m the awesome-est person ever because my mommy said so” kind of entitlement.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I just simply realized that you need to tell them that they are really great now and then. And not to take for granted that they already know this.
So, I decided to try it. Curled around my enormous almost 6 year old in his bottom bunk at bedtime, with the lights off, and his breath slowing, I whispered to him very carefully:
I think I said it to him another time, too. Not sure if he heard me. I didn’t get a response either time. *shrug* Whatever, it felt good saying it out loud to him. Back to the everyday at hand.
Early this morning, while I was still deciding if I wanted to play possum when he crawled under my blankets and snuggled in deep next to me, he said:
“Mommy. I’m not sure if all my friends THINK I am kind and smart and important and special. This one girl is bossy so she doesn’t think so. But my other friend shares his toys so maybe he thinks so.”
I rolled over and probably looked kind of mind-blown. But I curled around him and we had a chat about how some friends will be good friends and some won’t and how that’s ok, blah blah blah. But he kept coming back to it.
“My teacher thinks I’m special. Pretty sure.”
I guess it seemed to me as though I had somehow given him permission to expect that he IS those things. Like he had actually listened and then filed them away. And had since been going through his day looking for those particular things to be reinforced by others. And sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t.
When I told my 5 year old these things, I also told my 8 year old. A quieter, far less chatty kid, he has yet to give me any indication if these qualities about him have registered at all. But considering how quickly they registered with the younger one, I have to think that he was listening, too.
And maybe they always are, really. I am fairly sure they hear (however, never register that they hear) alllll kinds of other stuff I keep telling them or mentioning off-handedly or yabbering on the phone to others or mumbling under my breath.
All of it, stashed away. To consider and absorb and adopt as reality.
I’m not going to lie when I say that this knowledge scares me a little bit.
I am far too irresponsible to have little stenographers in my life, typing away and stashing every damn thing I say into their minds.
BUT THEN AGAIN they don’t remember to put their socks in the hamper! Or flush! Or sit down while they eat! NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES I TELL THEM.
But, maybe that stuff isn’t really as important to them.
We do our best and hope the good sinks in more than the bad.
And, of course, whatever bad they do take note of simply gives them “character” and “prepares them for the world.”
Now I feel better. I think.