Sunday, October 06, 2013

Training Wheels

I took them off all the bikes this week. They had already been twisted round out of the way for a long time, so it was time. It was a bittersweet moment. Teaching your kids to ride bikes is supposed to be one of those iconic parenting moments: running alongside and then letting go as they fly off under their own power.

I tried it with Duchess, several years ago, holding the handlebars and struggling to balance her. She made little progress and I got tired very quickly. I gave it up and never got back to it. They figured it out on their own, instead. Deux did it with a small bike last summer--starting with just walking and balancing and then gradually adding pedals. This year he moved up to a properly-sized bike and Duchess followed suit. Now the twins are practicing on the small bikes, walking, coasting, and slowly adding pedals. (No fancy pedal-removing bikes here--they just work around the pedals.) I am proud of them for being self-reliant and a little annoyed at myself for not being more involved.

It's been a few days of glorious sunshine after a week of downpours--the world all over green and fresh after the dry summer. It's supposed to rain again tomorrow, but bikes are the perfect thing for chancy weather--a quick dry with an old diaper and they are ready to go.

I found this note on my reading from December of 2009:
The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. A book that made me wish that the Duchess was eleven, so I could give it to her right away. And then made me glad she was not, because like all fairy tales these days, it reminded me of how very quickly little girls grow up. A fairy tale by someone who knows how a fairy tale is supposed to go and gladly complies.
She is not eleven yet, but she is nine and I think it is time. For months I have been dropping hints and encouragement to broaden her reading horizons from series books, to little avail. And then I found her already deep into Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I warned her it was sad, but she insisted on carrying on. If she's ready to listen to a suggestion, I think she might enjoy something a little lighter.If not . . . there are plenty of other good books on the shelf for her to find on her own.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Beauty and Brains

I was recently part of an online discussion about raising daughters to have healthy body images. One surprising thing that came out was multiple women mentioning that they had been told consistently as children that they were beautiful, and yet they still grew up with a negative body image. On the other hand, my parents talked very little, if at all, about how I looked, and I grew up with a healthy body image.

It's been established in several recent studies that telling children they are "smart" is actually counter-productive--it causes them to be more fearful, less willing to struggle with problems, and therefore causes them to learn less. It communicates that smartness is an innate factor that they cannot change, and therefore the important thing becomes to look smart at all costs, mostly by avoiding anything difficult. Children praised for hard work, on the other hand, feel that learning is something within their control, and are more likely to tackle more challenging work and learn more.

I wonder if telling children they are beautiful (or handsome, but this seems to be a lesser issue for boys so we'll gloss over it for now) has a similar effect. After all, listen to the subtexts of that statement:
  • Your body is valuable because of how you look to other people.
  • That appearance is something innate, out of your control.
  • Oh, and incidentally, for now, to me, you meet up to that elusive standard.
No wonder praising girls for being beautiful doesn't help much in ensuring good body image. Like praising them for being "smart" it puts all the emphasis on things that they cannot control and on what other people think.

If I think instead about the message I *do* want to send, it would be more like this:
  • Your body is valuable because it is there for *you* to do things with. (Therefore drawing attention to and noting when they seem to be at peace with themselves--when they are learning to use their bodies well--when they have found activities they enjoy--when they work hard and grow in skills.)
  • Love is the most important part of beauty. You will always be beautiful to the people who love you. And while love cannot be guaranteed, it can be nurtured. (Therefore learning to give and receive love, without regard to appearance.)
  • You can and should take good care of yourself and your body. (Therefore encouraging and praising good hygiene, good health, good--individual--taste in clothing, etc. )