Affirming our Children


“You is kind.

You is smart.

You is important.” — Aibileen, The Help

The Help made me cry, not just once but a few times. Movies that depict racial injustice do that to me. I’m often in disbelief at how people treat others and how stupid they look when doing it.

While the film’s depiction of the mistreatment of blacks in the south saddened me, I also cried each time Aibileen, one of the black maids in the story, told the little white girl she cared for those three sentences above.

“You is kind.

You is smart.

You is important,”

and the little girl repeated after her in the most darling toddler southern drawl.

In the book, Aibileen says of the first white child she took care of:

“I loved that baby and he loved me and that’s when I knew I was good at making children feel proud of themselves.”

Making children feel proud of themselves is affirmation and love. It’s not the kind of self-serving affirmation where every child on the team gets a trophy. Those kind of gestures are about actions and teach children that it doesn’t matter whether you do a little or do a lot, every one gets the same reward in the end. That is not how life works and we are doing our children an injustice by fostering that lesson.

The kind of affirmation where you make a child feel proud of themselves is not about what they do but who they are.

One of my sons told me this afternoon that he had not been a good boy at school today. I smiled and lovingly corrected him that he was a good boy; he just had bad behaviors. No matter how unruly or “bad” children behave they are not a “bad child.” What’s bad is their behavior.

I try not to tell my sons that they will be rewarded if they are a good boy but rather if their behavior is good. I think that’s what most parents mean, but there is a difference in those two statements. I want my sons to know they are kind and smart and important and special and loved and … so many other things, for one because they are but also so they can be. We become who others tell us we are. Let’s tell our children things that we want them to become rather than the things we’d rather they not.

 

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