In this series, the focus is to help foster and nurture an open and profound bond between father and daughter, one that transcends the awkwardness of puberty. (I wrote about it in more detail here.) And in that spirit, I’ve agreed that once a week I will answer – honestly – any question my husband puts to me. However, this week I’m doing something a little different. I’m adding an addendum to an earlier question, and talking about building body confidence in children.
In week four, Dan asked me about body dysmorphia and in my response I spoke about my fears for our daughter. I have concerns about my own preoccupations rubbing off on her, and I feel a great responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen. I want Pixie to grow up with a healthy relationship with her body and to be confident. The onus is on us to promote that attitude.
Well, I’m sure to a degree promoting body confidence in our children is a case of leading by example. But also, I wanted to share a little something that happened this week, which made me wonder if perhaps this won’t be quite so tough as I first imagined…
Little Pixie sustained her first ever graze this week (no, I do not wrap her in actual cotton wool, she’s just been lucky!). It was so minor I was completely unaware of it – until she discovered the resultant scab on her knee when I was getting her dressed.
She examined her injury with great interest. Like most littlies, our Pixie has very keen eyesight, and she displays some OCD tendencies when the tiniest, most minute fragments of dirt are concerned (possibly my fault). Having painstakingly sought out an errant speck and plucked it off the floor, she will come to me with her offering held daintily between two fingers with cries of ‘BIN! BIN!’ And we must take it to the bin.
So on close inspection of her knee, Pixie declared ‘DIRTY!’ Naturally, she wanted to remove the offending dirt from her skin, and equally naturally according to the laws of biology, that was not possible without reopening her wound… I had to think on my feet.
I tried telling her ‘it’s okay/leave it alone, Sweetheart’ etc – to no avail. It was dirty, ergo it had to be removed. Without giving it too much thought, I gently took her leg and I kissed her knee.
And in that simple action, I inadvertently but comprehensively altered her perception.
Pixie watched me convey love and tenderness towards the imperfection on her leg, and it was enough for her to revaluate her own distaste. She kissed her own knee and became fascinated rather than disgusted.
It was only with hindsight that I realised perhaps I’d already begun the complex process of encouraging our daughter to accept herself – flaws and all. And it was not with any profound lectures, but in an organic gesture bound up in my love for her. Best of all? She responded.
Of course I appreciate that as our children grow older they will not always follow our lead quite so immediately or dramatically; influencing them will become more and more challenging. But I do wonder if perhaps this hasn’t demonstrated an important lesson:
The best thing we can do is simply follow our instincts and love our children; sometimes that’s enough.