“Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
Who doesn’t remember this classic line from the evil queen in Snow White? While our children prefer to relate to the sweet, kind and, of course, beautiful Snow White, it is the Queen who speaks to the place inside of us all that wonders, “Am I good enough? Am I accepted here?”
Young children easily fall in love with the “perfect” Disney princesses and seek to be like them from the sparkling tiaras to the plastic high heels. I was amazed to see my daughter, who prior to age 4 only wanted to wear the softest of tag-free cotton clothes, was now wanting to wear polyester and lace to look “princess-y.”
Not Feeling Good Enough
While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look our best, or for wanting to be seen as pretty, sometimes this desire gets stuck in our children. Their play then becomes rigid, name-calling or teasing begins, and exclusivity creates feelings of not belonging to the group anymore. When the desire to be beautiful interferes with having fun, enjoying play and simply being with friends, we can step in playfully to help them move out of this rut and back into that place where they feel comfortable in their own skin again.
During one playtime when my daughter was 4, she and a friend were arguing over who was the most beautiful. Back and forth they went, getting louder and louder over whom was the most beautiful. I looked at them, both pretty in pink dresses and tiaras, and said with playful indignation, “No, I'm the most beautiful!”
They looked at each other and chimed in together, “No you're not!”
How Laughter Loosened the Tension
“Yes I am!” I said back, chasing them around the house. I ran wildly, saying, “I’m the most beautiful!” They teamed up saying, “No you're not!” We chased and laughed for about 5 minutes until I said I needed a break. Then they joined hands, looked at each other and said, “We're both the most beautiful!” And went off happily to play.
The laughter and fun of these types of playlistening games then makes listening to the inevitable tears easier. My daughter went through a time where she thought her hair was never “right.” I'd put it in a ponytail or a bun and she would complain about it being wrong somehow. I'd calmly say, “I'll try again to get it right if you want me to.”
Even Princesses Need to Cry Tears…
After a second try she'd rip the holder out of her hair in tears telling me to do it again. At this point, I'd kneel down beside her and say, ‘I don't think I'm going to be able to get it just right now. Let's wait awhile and I'll try again later.”
This would bring on a really big cry. She'd say she hated her curly hair or even she hated herself. I'd gently tell her I loved her and thought she had really beautiful curly hair. She argued against this while I listened and held her in a loving gaze. I tried not to argue back, but to simply hold the space for her to show me all the hurt that was there.
Listening to her dissatisfaction with herself was hard. How could someone so young feel so badly about her self? I hoped the work we were doing now would continue to help her as she got older and faced these issues even more.
Luckily, these feelings didn’t stick. After listening to a lot of tears about dresses not being right and hair not being right the issues started to dissolve. What was amazing after one big cry in particular was that she went back to the bathroom and just stood looking at herself quietly in the mirror, then she said to me, “My hair's just not bugging me like it was.” She seemed amazed at this. I could see the relief in her and this calm acceptance of herself. She rarely fussed about her hair anymore after that and was so much more relaxed about her appearance.
Moments like these show me how much our emotions drive how we feel about ourselves, and others, and influence our behavior. When we can let it out safely, with the support of a caring listener, we find the relief and peace that were there all along.
For more Playlistening ideas read Playlistening Changes My Daughter’s Mood in Minutes and Build Connection With Your Child Through Play: Playlistening.