“Was this new self-awareness a gift or a curse?”
“How does it look?”
“How do you think it looks?”
This is a common exchange that my daughter and I have almost every day. She will try on an outfit or wear her hair a certain way. And, like most kids her age, she wants to know how it looks. Come to think of it, once any of us reaches a certain age. Usually about 6 or 7. We begin to overvalue what others’ think of our appearance.
It’s quite sad actually. Because up until this point, children simply do what feels good. They do what makes them happy. And then. Quite abruptly. They stop!
“There are times I think I’m doing things on principle, but mostly I just do what feels good. But that’s a principle, too.”
They no longer are allowed to skip in the hallways. And after a while they actually lose the ability to skip. To be quite honest, many adults would have more success filing their own taxes than they would skipping. Go try it right now and see if I’m kidding.
Very sad. But true.
The photos you see above are of my kids in a state of uninhibited joy. Two of the photos were taken when they were each about four years old. They are two of my all-time favorites. Simply because they capture innocence and unfiltered youth.
The third photo? I’ll get to that later.
What happens to us? Why do we allow others’ opinions to matter so much and ours’ to matter so little?
I am guilty of this myself. Not when it comes to how I dress or my overall appearance. I do try to look presentable, but I have long since given up spending more than 5 minutes worrying about my outfit or my hair. Whenever I sit down to get a hair cut, I don’t have a clue what to tell them. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want my hair shorter.
But the one thing I don’t do is dance in public. For some reason I worry about what others will think. I don’t know why. I have never received any formal dance instruction so it’s not like the expectations for me are high. Yet, I still am self-conscious about it.
So I don’t dance.
I can’t count the number of times I have sat, while others danced. While my wife and kids danced. Without me.
But that changed last year. It had to. My daughter invited me to a Daddy-Daughter Dance at her school. I was nervous leading up to the night. But I had decided that I was going to go out on the floor and do my best.
And you know what?
I survived! Nobody laughed at me. Nobody made fun of me. And nobody tapped me on the shoulder and told me to get off the dance floor. Even if they had, I wouldn’t have listened.
I have no idea why my expression was so serious in the photo above. Without a doubt, it was one of the highlights of my year. More importantly, look at my daughter’s face. She was so happy. Her Daddy was finally stepping out on the floor with her. And the girls in the background? I have no idea who they are or what their situation was. But that could easily my daughter standing off to the side. Wishing her Daddy would just come dance with her.
But not on this night. Not ever again!
As parents and leaders of children we must be willing to step outside of our comfort zones and do things that may scare us. We ask our students to do this all the time. And yet, do we allow them to see us in vulnerable situations? Instances in which we may fall flat on our face?
We should. Because until we start showing our students that, we too, are fallible, they are not going to allow others to see them as such. They will stop taking chances. They will continue to worry about how they look. And they will stop valuing their own opinion and start seeking the approval of others.
Last summer my family and I were fortunate to spend a week in Mexico on vacation. It was a lot of fun and there were even staff assigned to creating fun on the beach. One day the staff invited everyone to play a game that involved trying to catch a water balloon that was thrown up into the air.
This sounded like so much fun. My daughter signed up, but didn’t really want to participate because she was worried about how she would look in front of everyone. She eventually joined the activity, but only halfheartedly because she was so nervous and didn’t want to look silly.
She dropped the balloon on her first try, and therefore did not advance to the next round. My wife gave a valiant effort, but dropped her balloon as well. I got lucky and caught mine. In the second round we had to spin round and round and then try to catch the water balloon.
I caught it! But… in the process, fell to the ground in a pile and ended up with sand covering my entire body. My wife and daughter said it was one of the funniest things they had ever seen.
But you know what? I didn’t care. It was fun. And I was modeling for my daughter that it’s okay to look silly. She was able to see me having fun and not giving a hoot about what others’ thought. I did drop the balloon in the next round. No matter. I had had a blast.
Is it any wonder that our students and our children worry about making mistakes? The majority of the red ink on the work we hand back to them has to do with what they did wrong, not what they did right.
To make matters worse, most of the ads children see on television are related to helping them improve their appearance. As if there’s something wrong with the way they are.
I say throw away the red pens! Get rid of the ads!
Back to the photo collage above. Two of the photos show my kids at that beautiful age when others’ opinions don’t matter. An age where they feel free to express themselves for who they are.
The third photo? The one in which they are both making crazy faces. It is significant because my daughter, who is much older now, did not feel inhibited at all. I believe it was because she was not alone.
Let’s make a vow to;
take chances and
Let’s be four again!
It will be so much fun!