Monday 14 April 2014

Please Don't Tell My Daughter She is Shy

My two year old is lots of things. She’s loud, determined, curious, thoughtful and always changing. She might be loud and excitable one day, and quiet and thoughtful the next. She might be daring and fearless one week, and cautious and unsure the next.

My daughter is a work in progress, she hasn’t yet figured out who she is. She is still trying things out, being shaped by her experiences, and, sadly, listening to what the world tells her she should be.

I try not to use labels to describe my daughter, I want her to figure out who she is, I don’t want her to be who she thinks I expect her to be. I don’t want to tell her she’s messy, or clever or creative. I just want to let her be, and I would really appreciate if the rest of the world would support me in this.

I hate hearing people assign traits to her, I hate listening to people tell her she is quiet, or clever or ‘bossy’. I hate when the same words crop up, reinforcing society’s ideals of who my daughter is, before she has even worked it out herself. I worry that if she is repeatedly told she is something, then that is what she will grow up to be, because she will think it is who she should be.

We went for a walk today, and Ebony wanted to go over and look at some horses. A rider was stood with the horses, and seemed over the moon that a child wanted to look at her horse. The rider went into CBeebies-mode and started talking in a very loud sing-song voice. She was so pantomime that I half expected her horse to actually turn out to be Ant and Dec or the Cheeky Girls.

“Hello! Oh wow, you like horses? Great! Do you want to know my horse’s name?”
Ebony stared at her awkwardly from a distance.
“Oh, are you shy?”
More staring.
“You ARE shy! Little girls aren’t usually shy around horses.”

Because, y’know, it takes testicles to truly understand the motivations behind horse-induced shyness. Of course.

This was the first time Ebony has ever been described as shy. I have never described her as shy, and I have never heard anyone else say it to her. And yet, this afternoon, as we were sitting on the sofa, she turned to me and told me she was shy.

It’s so depressing that an off-the-cuff remark from a strange can resonate with a child, and that it could actually affect how they think about themselves. I don’t want my daughter to classify herself as shy, or even feel that she should be shy. I want her to talk to people, and not talk to people, as she sees fit. And if she grows up with a dislike of painfully over the top friendly patronising horse riders, then that is fine by me. She is going to have to put that already impressive shit-eye to good use at some point.

Firstly, she isn’t shy, but I suppose she’s slightly cautious of strangers. Isn’t that normal? And anyway, if she was shy, rudely pointing it out is hardly going to make her warm to you. And finally, perhaps, she’s not shy, maybe you’re just being weirdly over familiar towards a total stranger.

Next time, I’m definitely going to reply with, “Oh, she’s not shy, I think she just thinks you’re weird.”

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