I have what you might call a “sensitive” child. One of those – if you look at me sideways I may burst into tears – children. I too am a sensitive human – I feel big feelings… often, but of course I’ve learned to corral it when I need to. My daughter is at this critical point in elementary school where she has a vested interest in being able to get through the day without shedding tears in front of her peers.
So the other day I sat her down and we had a long chat about toughening up. But maybe not exactly like you’d think. I bet a lot of you bristled when you read the title of this article – I would have too. But hear me out. It went like this:
My girl, there are things about your life that are true, and will always be. These things are as follows:
We, your parents, are on. your. team. Full stop. Whether you made a bad choice, said the wrong thing, had a bad day – no matter what happens. We are your people. We will stand beside you and stand up for you and pick you up each and every time you fall. Nothing you do, say, or don’t do or say can ever have even the most minute effect on this. There is no annual fee or upkeep you need put forth. You can rest in this. It is a fact of your life.
So many people love you. You’ve got a veritable tribe of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends who act like family, et cetera and so on ad nauseum, who are yours, and you are theirs. This is a fact of your life.
You are in charge of who you are. If you are kind, you can leave each day behind you knowing you did your best to be a person who was kind. And no matter what kid in your class was mean to you or what teacher made you skip second recess, if you were kind, then you can sleep easily each night. It is never, not ever, too late to be kind – even (especially) after you have had a moment that was particularly unkind. Doing your best to be a kind person in this world will be a fact of your life.
You are you. As Dr. Seuss so aptly said, there is no one alive who is you-er than you. Because of this – you can be brave and strong. You can say what you think and what you feel and what you want. The world needs more people who are just who they are. Tell your friends what you want to do at recess. Be kind to the kid who is being picked on even if no one else is. Wear and like and do what you like just because you like it. Being brave and strong will be a fact of your life.
These things (among others) make up a sort of invisible shield that lives, let’s say, in your chest.
Everything that happens to you, every choice that you make, goes up against your shield, against the facts of your life. If you miss a word on your spelling test, put it up against your shield, and it will bounce right off. What is a word, or a test even, against these beautiful and true facts of your life?! It’s nothing! Not even a thing. You’ll do better next time. If a friend at school says you are boring, or a bad dancer, put it up against your shield. Why, you are you! How can that be boring or bad!? *Bounce.* If you get in trouble with your teacher because you were talking during quiet time, once you have made your apologies, put it against your shield. You got in trouble, but then you were kind. See how it bounces right off?
You see my love, these little things that happen to you (and will continue to happen to you forever and ever, amen) create little lies in your little mind. You missed one on your test? You are stupid! Your friend said you are boring and they are right. Your teacher yelled at you? You are a bad kid. These are the lies I’m talking about. These are the lies that doubt and fear tell us. But they are nothing when they are bounced up against your shield, against the facts of your life.
Which is that you aren’t stupid, you are a human who makes mistakes sometimes. You aren’t boring, you are you. You’re not bad, you are kind and brave and loved.
Every day of your life these little lies will appear. If you forget your shield, it’s easy to let these little barbs make you cry. But if your shield is up, you can say to yourself: I am loved. I am kind and brave and strong. This? This little thing is nothing, up against those facts. With practice, you won’t even have to think about your shield anymore. It will just be a part of you. Something that is. Let these facts of your life make you strong, and tough. Not a life where you don’t have feelings – because you will have those always – but a life where your feelings aren’t facts. And the facts can’t be changed even by your biggest feelings.
And so: toughen up, buttercup.
Strap on your shield and head out into the world. And at the end of each day, come back home where you are safe and loved and tell us all about the events of your day. Tell us about every little thing you bounced off that shield of yours. Cry, if you need to. If you have some worries, some little leftover lies hanging over your head, let us help you carry them by simply saying them out loud. Watch as their power leaks out, like a giant balloon with a tiny tear, until it is a powerless pile of plastic on the floor.