Today is my daughter’s 7th birthday. She’s the co-founder of Climbing Trees and my inspiration.
So, THOSE seven years sped past! And it got me thinking, as our children growing up often does, about how old she’ll be in 7 years time (a teenager) and in another 7 (turning 21). As a young girl there’s plenty about the world that I don’t want her to know about yet (as my scrambling for the remote to switch away from inappropriate ads reveals). Equally though, there’s some wisdom and guidance she should know now, over half-way (wait, what?) through her pre-teen childhood. So here it is:
1. Don't worry about what other people think about you; they are too busy worrying about what you think of them. Nobody cares as much as we think they do about what we say or do or like. As Dr Seuss says “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Learn that early on and you'll fly high without the worries that can stifle a person. Be proud to be the person that you are.
2. Don’t sweat the school stuff. Yes, you need to do your best at school. Learning is important. But don’t worry and stress about tests and exams or worry about how good (or bad) you are at stuff. Nobody is good at everything. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. So just try hard, do your absolute best, then go and enjoy being a child. And, always remember…
3. It is far better to try and fail than to never bother trying. It is far better to challenge yourself and get things wrong, than to take the easy route. Mistakes and failures are useful. They give us an opportunity to learn that we may not have had if we hadn’t made that mistake. As such, mistakes become valuable learning tools which give us a springboard from which to grow and flourish.
So step up for the challenges you face, stretch outside of our comfort zone, choose the difficult puzzle or book instead of the easy one. In doing so, my brave bold girl, you’ll learn, improve and thrive.
Sometimes you’ll make bad choices but they will handily teach you how to make more positive better choices next time. If you just follow the easy route, sure, you’ll do well, but you’ll have learned nothing and will be overtaken by all of those who took the more challenging path and learned how best to succeed en route.
With this in mind I shall try to remember to shower you with praise for trying hard; for the amount of effort you put in to somethings rather than being good at something. Devoting time to doing stuff you love and challenging yourself to do better will teach you beyond measure that you can do anything you set your mind to with practice and determination.
Plus (added bonus) doing stuff you are passionate about will give you a focus and escape route when you need one and, as you get better and better at these activities you love, your confidence in yourself and your abilities will grow alongside your skills. A wonderful win-win from simply doing your best at the things you like best.
4. Be Savvy and Proud To Be You. You are safe and loved and I am here for you now and always; whenever you fall, whenever you get hurt; whenever you need me. However, I cannot protect you from some stuff – such as the big silly fibs that greedy media and shopkeepers sometimes tell us to try to persuade us to buy stuff. Even though you are not old enough to spend much money yourself, you will still be exposed to these fibs.
Therefore all I can do is inform and equip you with knowledge so that you may be aware of the fact that what you seen on screen and in the pages of magazines is often no more real than the cartoons you’ve watched. This awareness, I hope, shall enable you to process the increasingly narrow and overtly persuasive images you are bombarded with so that you might opt to ignore and resist the stereotypes that are fed to you. So here is the unfortunate truth darling girl:
To make as much money as they can, some grown-ups bend the truth so that we might buy stuff we don’t really need. They do this by airbrushing imperfections from people’s faces in the pages of magazines. They do this by making products look way better in adverts than they actually are in real life. They do this by telling us shoppers that some things are ‘for boys only’ and some things are ‘for girls only’ by splitting boys/girls stuff into different departments. Obviously this is wrong, but they do it anyway.
Luckily, many clever people see past these fibs, just like you will now be able to do, and choose to buy things which match their own values. For instance people want to know that stuff they’ve bought is made by people who are paid a good rate for their hard work or that some of the money they spend on stuff is given to charities which help make the world a better place.
Other dissatisfied customers will start up their own businesses to provide a choice not currently being offered which counter these stereotypes or provide a more honest account of their ingredients, just like you and I are doing. That’s a wonderfully pro-active way to resist the status-quo of shopping and media. But we can’t all be entrepreneurs.
So, perhaps the best way to avoid being tricked by the silly media and shopping people is to be proud to be you; be proud of who you are, what you look like, what you like (to wear/play with, and so on) so that you don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others (especially when the images of those people are false, having been airbrushed); so you don’t feel the need to conform to limited definitions presented via gender stereotypes; so you are content to simply be you; imperfections and all, because it is those imperfections, which everybody has, which make you authentic, likeable and unique! Because there is nobody else in the world exactly like you!
5. Ask questions. I want you to do as you’re told when I or my teacher are instructing you. However, I also want you to question things that you don’t agree with or don’t want to do for good reason (for example, if a classmate dares you to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing). You should be obedient when it comes to safety and parents/teachers intentional guidance, but you should not feel you have to conform always, no matter what.
6. Let It Go! Cry, breathe and move on. Don’t hold grudges against someone who has been mean. Forgive them. Equally, if you do something wrong, forgive yourself too (and remember the important lesson about making mistakes). It can take a lifetime to master how best to react to stuff; but if you can cry it out, take some big deep breaths to help you to gain perspective and then move on; you’re doing very well indeed and your life will be happier.
7. Keep talking to me. Yes I’m often busy. I know I check my phone a lot, but I will always have time for you, no matter what. Keep on asking me to play with you. I will find the time. I will listen to you and, most importantly, I promise to hear you over the clutter of my everyday life as a grown-up. If you don’t want to wear a school dress because it’s uncomfortable and you want to wear shorts instead, tell me. I’ll hear that and let you choose, within limits, what feels right for you.Tell me when you disagree with something. Practice using your own voice.
Equally, respect that I will always have your best interests at heart, so you won’t always get your own way. If I give you some independence now, you will be able to use that independence to solve issues where you can. But please use me as a sounding board to talk through problems. You can have some control over your life, even now aged 7, just express yourself and share how you feel with your team mates (daddy and I). I promise to always let you in and hope for you to always let me in too.
Because we’re on the same team; team YOU!
This blog was first published on The Huffington Post UK.