little girl, big hurts

Found this post in my drafts from March 2014! Posting now because, well, I suck at creating compelling content lately and don’t want my blog to die a slow and painful death 😉 Have some other gems too — not sure why I hadn’t hit publish on all these!?! But here’s one for now — still relevant, now that Maya is nearing four.

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I’m one of those people who says I’m sorry when someone else bumps into me in the grocery store.  If I walk into someone’s office, I tend to apologize for “interrupting them,” even though I’ve asked if they have a few minutes ahead of time. And as a kid, I used to punish myself for the most minor of transgressions.

I really don’t know why this is; why I am the way I am. I would say when I was younger it was due to a lack of confidence, but now I think it’s just habit. Bottom line is I am someone who apologizes a lot.

Which, I’m learning, is really difficult now that I’m a parent. Because parenting is, in many ways, one giant apology: I’m sorry my newborn is wailing in this restaurant. I’m sorry my toddler stole your kid’s toy on the playground. I’m sorry my child ate your child’s graham cracker at snack. I’m sorry my kid just spilled red paint on your white table. And these apologies are just of the early-years variety! Just wait til they get older and start doing/saying some really offensive things.

Oy.

Anyway …

I’m the parent of a very chatty three-year-old who, for obvious reasons, lacks a filter. Like all kids, she says what she thinks — and while usually that’s my favorite thing about her (she has so many questions and ideas and thoughts) —  lately she’s dished out some really hurtful words: to people she knows and loves very well … and even to a complete stranger.

You could say I’ve been embarrassed by her words several times recently — and have found myself apologizing on her behalf more times than I’d like to admit. Likewise, I’ve had legitimate reasons to ask her to apologize to the people she hasn’t been nice to, either. To attempt to course-correct the behavior I don’t like.

Children are malleable; we, as parents, bend and shape them. They need to learn right from wrong — and the earlier they learn, the better. Some things are just not acceptable and I don’t want this “mean streak” she’s been on to continue.

[Of course, it goes without saying: she can’t live in a bubble and I recognize she is THREE and she will say things I can’t control and don’t like, but I just can’t sit back and let her say the types of things she’s been saying without letting her know it’s not OK, either].

The behavior shift began as something innocuous and totally age-appropriate — realizing that if I suggested to her the purple underwear in her drawer in the morning, she would insist on pink … and then two minutes later demand purple, which was very typical 3-year-old behavior; wanting to be “in control.” She basically just doesn’t want to do what I suggest, even if, ultimately, it is what she wants. I get that and work around it; she is three. And now I just give her two reasonable choices now: milk or water. Pretzels or cheese stick. Striped socks or polka-dot socks. Sneakers or Mary Janes. And, for the most part, it works. She thinks she’s in control and empowered, and I know I’m still driving her little train, if you will, to some extent. Win-win for all.

But lately, things have been changing and I’m seeing a side of her I don’t like. A side that honestly she seems a little too young to be showcasing: a mean side. And I don’t like it one bit — and the very fact that I don’t like it one bit seems to stretch out this new, unsettling behavior even more. In the same way she didn’t want purple underwear because I suggested it, now she seems to be deliberately being mean because she knows I don’t like it. Because I’ve told her I don’t like it.

I know what you’re thinking … Melissa, you’re whacked. She’s only three … she can’t be that manipulative at three. Everyone tells me “she doesn’t know what she’s doing/saying” — but I disagree. I think she does know.  And that’s what stings the most.

Every parent thinks their kid is the cat’s meow and smart and surely I’m no different; of course I think my kids are Mensa-bound (kidding, kidding!). But I genuinely believe Maya knows exactly what she’s doing; I can see it in her eyes — she knows she’s hurting someone and admits she isn’t being nice. “I know, but …” And then there’s me saying, “That wasn’t nice; we don’t use words like that” … and it doesn’t seem to phase her. In fact, it only seems to propel her even further — which hurts a lot.

Some people (including Luis and my mom–whose opinions I obviously trust) have suggested maybe not drawing extra attention to the behavior — since it seems to egg her on — and they may be on to something. I also think perhaps I might have overdone the drilling in to her that she wasn’t being nice on those several occasions where she was mean … but in my defense (there I go apologizing again!) it came from a genuine good place of wanting to teach her right from wrong: that we use nice words when we talk to people.

So for the parents out there, what would you do in a situation like this — where you see a mean streak beginning in your young child and want to curb it? Would you ignore it and wait it out? Keep drilling it in?

PS: Since I don’t know what will come out of my child’s mouth next, I’d like to offer up a blanket apology to anyone she has — or might in the future — hurt or offend. 😉 

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2 thoughts on “little girl, big hurts

  1. Can we please live closer? You have described my niece. I often say she’s a four year old “Mean Girl.” She is frequently rude and sharp about people and once insulted what I was wearing. I laughed because it was truly amusing but simultaneously was completely ashamed b/c she SO reminded me of the mean girls in high school and, in that moment, made me feel bad about what I was wearing. I honestly fear for how she’ll be a few years or 12 years from now.

    Nate has his moments where he says something without a filter – like, “Wow, that guy is FAT! He has a huuuuuuuge belly!” and I have to try to explain to him why we don’t say that but why we can say someone has brown hair or a blue shirt even though they’re all observations. (It seems impossible to do.)

    It’s like they’re at the perfect age where they’re old enough to notice and comment or say things but not old enough to grasp the subtleties of why we don’t say/do some things. At age 6, they’ll understand better but until then…. ?

    For me, I can’t ignore it (and I don’t think my sister does most of the time, either). To me this seems like the sort of behavior that would read that as a blank check to say whatever, whenever. I think if we just state, “That was rude” enough times, they’ll start to figure out what’s rude and what’s not. I hope so, anyway. Hopefully explaining enough times why something hurts helps create empathy.

    1. Oh wow, Candice!! First I DO wish we lived closer (if I was still in Jerz we could have lots of coffee dates!). And second, that’s awful about your niece and that’s why I’m so concerned with nipping it now, even if maybe I’m over-reacting. I def don’t want her to be a “mean girl” and she’s never exhibited these tendencies til now (she’s always been really sensitive and kind and empathetic — and still is — I’m just seeing this side I don’t like). I didn’t go into details in the post but the gist is, she has been mean to people we care about– saying she doesn’t want to talk to them on Skype/wants them to leave/wants them to sit somewhere else, etc (and then when we hang up or the person leaves, she cries and gets upset and misses them). Thing is, she knows she’s upsetting me … and she does it anyway. She hasn’t commented on someone’s appearance yet — well except that time she told a stranger in a coffee shop that she “smelled yucky” (even though she did NOT!) or pointed out pink hair on the teenager in the restaurant we were at this weekend — but I’m sure we will have plenty of that to look forward to — eeks.

      I think you’re right–we just need to keep telling them it’s not nice/rude and see what they say. Empathy is one of the best traits someone can have and I always thought we’d be covered … but I guess it’s something I’ll need to work on her; something I thought was a given that really isn’t,

      Then there’s the possibility I’m making a big to do about a couple comments here and there recently …and maybe that’s all it is. Def. will be alert, with eyes and ears wide open!

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