When my 5-year-old daughter Maddy is upset with me, along with the expected tears and pouting, she frequently announces to me that I am “hurting her heart.” You might think I’m a terrible mother, but when I hear this response from her I have to admit that I laugh a little bit. Not because I am insensitive, but because it feels to me like she’s overreacting. Or is she?
As an elementary education student in college, I remember a lecture from a professor who talked about thinking of your students walking into your classroom each day with an invisible sign with their name on it that represents their self-esteem. He asked if during the school day were we helping our students keep their sign intact or unknowingly helping to rip their sign apart, piece by piece. In fact, he said some students might enter our classrooms with their sign already ripped and torn. Were we helping to piece their sign back together through our interactions with them, or were we continuing the work that somebody else had started?
As parents we all have wish lists for our children: to be kind, smart, polite, etc. But I believe the most important wish we can have for our children is that they learn to love and value themselves. I imagine Maddy’s sign: probably pink and purple all over with lots of glitter and definitely a unicorn or two added. She is usually a very self-confident young girl but I wonder, would the edges of her sign be frayed and torn from something I have said or done? Instead of simply laughing to myself when she tells me I am hurting her heart, maybe I should listen. Even if it doesn’t change the way I discipline, I should be helping her to put her sign back together, not take it apart.