It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Vanity, Self-esteem, Tactlessness and more Self-esteem

I hear a roar of Righteous Indignation from Jazz.

“Grace! That is not a very nice word to say!!!”

Then pounding footsteps. Jazz thunders into the dining room, where Poppy and I are colouring. Jazz has been into the dress-up basket. She’s draped in two deep purple satin capes, tied at the middle to make a ‘dress’, with a shiny gold scarf wrapped around her above that, a bodice. It is her Princess Dress, of course.

Obviously, she did not get into this rig by herself. I’d helped tie the capes and wrap the scarf some while earlier, at her careful direction. Since then she has been alternatively gazing at herself in the mirror rapturously and wandering about the house rhapsodizing, “I am such a beautiful, beautiful girl!!”

Me, I am of two minds about this sort of thing. A basic part of me wants to repeat my grandmother’s words at her: “Beauty is only skin-deep, kiddo”, and expound upon the more important inner beauties to which we should aspire. But at the same time, I am aware that this is simply an unsophisticated version of self-esteem. It’s crude, it focusses on the wrong thing, perhaps — certainly the lesser thing — but she’s only four. She’s not denigrating anyone else, she’s not being rude or superior. She’s just feeling beautiful.

And really. Wrapped in a purple-and-gold Princess Dress who wouldn’t feel beautiful??

Which is why, even though I’m finding it pretty over-the-top, I let her keep on with it. Little ones are unsophisticated. This isn’t conceitedness, quite. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, though. A half-step in that direction, and she’ll be way over the line. Still, I’ve let her admire herself senseless for the past 20 minutes.

Apparently her own adulation was insufficient, because after a time of happy self-admiration, she sought some from her peers. She presents herself to them, whirling in her princess glory.

“Don’t you love my princess dress?”

They look up from the puzzle they’re doing on the floor.

I confess to a certain amount of wry gratification when, obviously far more interested in whether the piece with the blue bit goes with the piece with the yellow bit, they look up briefly. Grace is the one who speaks. Glancing quickly at Jazz, she says with minimal interest, “No, I don’t.” Then returns to her puzzle.

Ouch.

The score so far:
Tact: 0
Honesty: 1
Vanity: swift kick in the butt

Hence the Roar of Indignation, and the thundering to Mary for Justice! and Retribution!

“Mary, Grace said she didn’t like my dress!!!”

My tone of voice is emotionally neutral. Calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, maybe she didn’t. She’s allowed to say so, if she doesn’t.” (Because, my precious princess, you did ask.)

Jazz huffs in still more indignation.

“My mommy and daddy say you can’t say ‘no’!!”

Now, I don’t believe that for a minute, certainly not in the sense Jazz is using it. Jazz is simply using the age-old strategy of citing other authority figures in her life to try to get the world to cooperate with their whims and desires. (Of course Jazz cites me similarly when she’s at home. You would be astonished at what Mary thinks is A-OKAY!!!) It’s a red herring, and I know it.

“You know, sweetie, it really depends on why you’re saying ‘no’. If Grace said no because she’s feeling grumpy and just wants to be mean, that’s not okay. But if she really just doesn’t like that dress, she’s allowed to tell you so, especially if you ask.”

Jazz is not pleased with this dictum. “She was being mean! She said no!”

“No, I don’t think so. I was watching. Grace wasn’t making a mean face or using an angry voice. She just doesn’t like your dress, sweetie. Different people like different things. That’s okay.” Now, I may choose to address the whole concept of ‘tact’ with Grace later. Or I may not. For now, that’s not of great concern, and I’m certainly not going to reinforce Jazz’s idea that people MUST say what she prefers to hear.

“I want her to like my dress!”

“I understand that. However, it seems she doesn’t like it. That’s just what it is. Different people like different things. That’s okay. The important thing is, Do YOU like the dress?”

“Yes! It is beautiful!”

“Well, that’s what matters then. Grace doesn’t have to like it, so long as you do. So you can say to Grace, ‘You don’t like my dress? That’s okay! I do!’ “

Heavy stuff, for four years old. Complicated, and Jazz is obviously dissatisfied with my pronouncement, my refusal to DEMAND that Grace stroke her ego.

It’s pretty tough for some adults, come to that. You know what it is, don’t you? It’s self-esteem. Real self-esteem, the type based on what’s on your inside, not your outside. Self-esteem grounded in your confidence in yourself, your worth, your decisions, not based on other people’s opinions and reactions.

I’m raising the bar for Jazz. She doesn’t get it yet, but hopefully, if everyone works at this for the next ten years, she’ll have it when she’s a teen.

When she’ll really, really need it.

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August 9, 2013 - Posted by | Grace, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. I feel like a lot of internet commenters could use your “allowed to Dislike” comment.

    Yup! You can do it tactfully (which Grace manifestly didn’t manage), and you can do it kindly (which she almost did, insofar as she wasn’t being malicious at all, just factual), but disagreeing should always be allowed. Not everyone wants to debate, so the other person doesn’t have to get into a discussion if they don’t want to, but a politely-worded alternative perspective, or even outright rebuttal, should be acceptable.

    Comment by Hedy @ Penny for my Thoughts | August 9, 2013 | Reply

  2. I suspect that if Jazz hadn’t been quite so full of self-praise, you might have been more sympathetic – but her ego didn’t need any feeding, for sure!

    Oh, you’re absolutely right. Had Jazz been less full of herself, I could well have included some introduction to the concept of tact for Grace to my Lessons for the Day. But as I noted, I rather enjoyed seeing her ego deflated a smidge.

    Comment by Z | August 9, 2013 | Reply


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