Saturday, July 28, 2007


It's a blowy, cloud-racing day. It's always breezy in that playground down by the river. Following a week of broken nights, Operation Exhaust (The Child - At All Costs) is in full swing, so I don't immediately clock the funny little girl in the slightly old-fashioned outfit playing with her grandmother.

She's probably about four, quite slight, with a huge, pink sunflower hairtie holding back her dark hair. Her granny is attempting to persuade her to wear a white floppy sunhat. It's too big for her, I can see that from here, and anyway it's way too windy. Anna-mouse's hat never even made it out of the bag.

Anna-mouse is hell bent on a heart-stopping manouevre which involves throwing herself off the edge of the climbing frame, hoping to catch hold of the fireman's pole on the way down. I am a wreck, challenged but happy with her increasing physical confidence and the sheer level of application to her task.

The other little girl is attracted by the climbing frame, too, which has all sorts of ways to climb. Her granny briefly catches my eye and smiles broadly, nervously, wanting to be friends. I smile vaguely back, one eye still on my kamikaze kid.

A moment later the old-fashioned little girl does something - I don't see what - which causes her grandmother to say Oh, that was good, wasn't it.

Yes! The girl replies, delighted with herself. I'm clever!

To which the grandmother, who knows I am listening, hastily - sharply - replies We'll have to see about that.

Will we? I think to myself. Why? Why can't the funny little thing be praised for being clever and - more importantly - for thinking herself so? Why is it so important for your grand-daughter to be modest, at the age of four? What special quality was weeded out of you at that age?

I am quite sure that had the girl said I'm beautiful! her granny would have had no problem agreeing with her in public. It was the attribute of cleverness which so troubled her. This tiny moment touched an enormous nerve in me. As one who could never have boasted I'm beautiful! as a child (I was convinced I was plain for many years. Sadly, I look at photos now and think 'Gosh, I wasn't'), and who never felt her intelligence was great enough to say I'm clever! either, I try daily to infuse Anna-mouse with a positive sense of herself. It has taken me half my life to have any real confidence in my brain, though there never was anything wrong with it. Please God may she already have it!

Oh, let our daughters be clever! Let them trumpet their talents at any age, at all ages. Let them know what it is to know that they can outsmart anyone in the room - or playground.


Stay at home dad said...

I agree with you, but apparently there is a current school of thought that you shouldn't tell children they're clever as it makes them try less hard. You should apparently tell them they tried hard, or something.

However I imagine the granny was just being bitter!

Rachel Whetzel said...

Livvy I love you. I've missed checking in on you... I'm hoping that I've fixed the problem, and I'll be around more often! You are SUCH a breath of fresh air.

Sue said...

It's sad isn't it. Praise doesn't seem to come easy to some but it really boosts childrens morale and I agree with you.

I read somewhere recently (regarding children) how we shouldn't apply names to them (can't even remember the reason why, so turned off I was by this piece of writing)and saying "you're clever" was one of them.

I was stunned (and hence why I couldn't even be bothered to finish the article).

Praise costs nothing and we know ourselves how good it feels.

If it gives them a bit of an edge then why not!

Livvy U. said...

The more I mull about this the more I think it's a fascinating debate.

SAHD - I'll be trying that one! Very interesting.

Rachel - Welcome back!! I'm so glad you didn't go for good. I wondered why you'd gone quiet. I'll be over to you again soon.

Sue - Yes, somehow psychology's gone too far when even positives are negatives. Whenever I'm unsure, though, what I remember most is that nothing beats the child knowing they're loved.

merry weather said...

Hi Livvy, how sad, wouldn't you hope she'd just delight in her grand-daughter's company?

The positive power of negative thinking in some of that generation - phew!

I'm here to offer you the Thoughtful Blogger's Award, (in recognition of your being nothing like this poor lady!) The details are on my page...

Livvy U. said...

Dear Merry
How delightful! I've been over and had a look and am thrilled to accept... Now, gotta go - I have an acceptance speech to write.

Elsie Button said...

Brilliant - i TOTALLY agree with you. i think it's absolute rubbish and i'm already telling betty that she is a clever little thing for the things that she does - because she is!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

If we only give our children one lasting thing - boys or girls - it should be self-esteem. Here endeth my lesson.

Marianne said...

There used to be such a powerful school of thought that children should be squashed and kept in their place. Of course it can go too far the opposite way and give kids a false sense of their own abilities. Praise, where it is genuine and deserved, is always the right answer I think.

Livvy U. said...

Welcome, Pig! Ah, self-esteem, that golden term - that thing we all run after and have no idea how we lost. Come to think of it, mine began to burgeon considerably again with blogging...

Marianne - wise words as usual. x