A contradiction? Perhaps. But that’s not my experience. Telling your child how cute they are does not raise self-esteem. In no way do I think NOT telling them will raise self-esteem, or telling them they aren’t cute (obviously). I’m not suggesting either of those as options. We have a 7 year old daughter who is pretty much the cutest thing ever. Seriously. We get stopped by people who tell her how cute she is regularly her entire life. Her gregarious personality and sense of humor make people notice her even more. On top of that she loves attention, has good pitch when she sings and if there’s music on it’s a guarantee that she’s dancing. Everywhere. You’d think this is all a good thing, right? Cute, musical, outgoing, loves attention.
The issue is that not only does self-esteem not come from being told how cute you are, it can have the opposite effect. In October, 2016 we went to a family wedding. The dance floor was open, but no one was on it – until Tavin took center stage. She’s adorable, has moves, zero inhibition and loves the attention. Everyone laughed, smiled, pointed, and told her over and over again how cute she is. She is amazing, she does have moves and she was a crowd favorite. Since then, however, she comments about how she just wants to be on stage with everyone watching. She doesn’t need any lessons – she just needs the music turned on and everyone will think she’s adorable. That’s what she wants to do when she grows up. On top of that we have shows like Americas Got Talent and X Factor along with YouTube. It certainly looks like all you have to do is get on stage and voila! Fame and fortune abound! She and I had a deep discussion on how it all really works and this process of learning was kind of devastating, which wasn’t my intent. She was in tears and felt like she wasn’t good at anything which isn’t at all true. We won’t all “make it big” in the way she sees things. That shouldn’t have any effect on how we FEEL about ourselves. I want her to be inspired by being a good person and have role models who emulate qualities we should aspire to. Helping others, giving back, having pure intent, being kind, compassionate, empathetic.
Here are some things I want my kids to learn. This was a lot of our conversation – me trying to teach her and her understanding without it crushing her hopes and dreams.
- You can like something and not be good at it. Myself and art for example. I love art. I took an art class in college and the teacher pulled me aside at the end of the semester and told me she’d pass me with a C for my effort if I never took her class again. I suck. Stick figures are my limit and I’m OK with that. I’d be better at being the nude model than drawing one. Liking something doesn’t mean we’re good at it. Lesson number one.
- You can be good at something and not do it for a living. D played basketball all through college. He even went to Portugal to play and he was good enough for a shot in the NBA. Circumstances dictated that wasn’t to be. He still plays, is an amazing coach and basketball has been part of his life since he was a little kid and always will be.I had a record offer on my 19th birthday and I had a modeling contract at 20. Circumstances and decisions dictated that neither of those were money making career options. You can be great at something that you don’t end up doing for a living. Lesson number two.
- There are millions of super cute, talented kids who never go on shows or their YouTube channel never takes off. We’re inundated with success stories. Social media is brimming with fake perfect lives. What it doesn’t illustrate is how many people DON’T make it to stardom or that behind the scenes, life might not be rosy. This can be pretty discouraging for a kiddo who thinks all you need is a stage, some music and everyone will think you’re cute. What isn’t shown is what’s behind the scenes – the lessons, the practices, the failures, or how many attempts it took to make it big. Every overnight success is ten years in the making. Time and discipline go a long way to success and success isn’t always measured in popularity or cuteness. Lesson number three.
- Finding things you like AND are good at and working hard go a long way. So does having gratitude and paying it forward. If we all innately knew what we liked and are good at there wouldn’t be so many reinventions (although I do love a reinvention). Then comes working hard, having a great attitude and the desire to help other people. If being on stage dancing is that thing and you can make it work, fantastic. If you have rhythm, cuteness and confidence, that’s even better. If it’s running a business or being an employee and anything in between that’s just as good if it feeds your inner desires. It’s more about finding happiness with what you do and who you are that’s important. Lesson number four.
- Being cute doesn’t mean much if it’s all you’ve got. If you’ve ever seen “Mean Girls” or been bullied for not being good enough you’ll completely understand. Being cute isn’t nearly enough. Maybe the beautiful person you admired came off as a ditz or was rude and didn’t seem nearly as attractive after meeting them?
I want my child’s self-esteem to come from WHO they are, not what they look like. God forbid anything ever happen to any one of my kids. It only takes one accident to alter your life forever and what happens in that case? The “cuteness” is gone so their value as a person is as well? What an awful existence. I have a good friend Mike who was born without his hands but instead of listening to the ridicule or that he couldn’t do anything “normal” kids can do, he used that challenge to inspire people. He also learned to do EVERYTHING and better than most “normal” people. I have another good friend Sean who was expected not to live past 24 hours and is 3′ tall. He had over 200 broken bones by the time he was 18 and things I take for granted he has to work a hundred times harder at. He’s internationally successful as a motivational speaker and therapist in which he holds a masters degree. These people are amazing for who they are as well as their attitude and determination and drive. And damned if they aren’t also pretty cute as well. Being cute, however, isn’t what fuels them – That’s a side effect of who they are and what they project.
You’ll notice a common thread with the people and links I’m sharing. They found a purpose, worked on themselves and wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of others. They used “disability” as a reason to do more and be more. Those of us who don’t have this uphill battle have the luxury of one less issue to overcome. Regardless, success takes effort, drive, dedication and a positive attitude.
One thing that will almost guarantee I start crying is watching video’s on people who have lost a limb and are embracing their bad-assedness regardless of a “disability”. Whether born without a limb or having it abruptly taken from them, these athletes make me instantly sob because it inspires me. Check out some stories HERE, HERE and HERE. Check out this video as well for a glimpse of a woman who used her “disability” to enhance her music career.
I believe my kids can reach their full potential with support, guidance and positivity with some reality thrown in. I want them to have high self-esteem and confidence like their parents have. Not because they’re cute, but because they have gratitude for the gifts they are either born with innately or the ones they work for. I want any limitations they may have to be lessons in how to overcome and not discourage them. There’s nothing wrong with Tavin being cute or wanting to be on stage as long as we as parents help guide her in what that means. The process, a positive attitude, being happy and a good person.