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Robin Quivers

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How to Build a Better Child

Posted: 06/28/11 11:09 AM ET

This may seem like a strange subject for me to tackle, but it sort of fell into my lap. I am part sister, part aunt... and part mother and grandmother.

There, I've outed myself. I've never had a child, but years ago I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. At the time I just wanted to take a little kid to the circus. I was sure I was capable of that and not much more. What I got was a teenager with so many needs it took two Big Sisters to fill the bill. But my Little Sister Lea and I grew to love each other, and today we are like family.

Lea now has a life partner named Rosa and they have three kids of their own. Their nine-year-old daughter Danasia is lovely, with beautiful dreadlocks. Recently, some of the other girls in school told Danasia that her hair looked like worms. She has had some other problems in the past with kids at her school too.

I can hear and see and feel the pain her mother feels. How can we protect Danasia from the idiots of the world? Why doesn't the world see what we see? Why isn't the world rushing to wrap its arms around her?

There is a moment when you realize that your child has to go out into the world and that he or she is going to be hurt. It's heartbreaking to know that this one negative comment to your child will only be the first of many assaults on her, some large and some small.

I'm not talking about bullying; bullying would actually be easier to deal with because acts of bullying can be witnessed. I'm talking about the things we hear about ourselves day in and day out that undermine our sense that we are okay just as we are. This happens to everyone, not just the kids who get bullied. Why do you think those kids who commented on Danasia's hair were so critical? They've been told that their own hair is not okay so they must endure the pain of having it straightened to make themselves more acceptable.

I've heard parents talking about this before, but never felt it so keenly until now. I had the opposite problem from Danasia in school; kids didn't come after me because I was almost a bully myself. It wasn't that I looked to cause problems for other kids; I was just incredibly self-protective. My home was a place of turmoil, so I went to school looking for sanity and peace. If anyone disturbed that, I tried to kill them.

Hearing about what Danasia was going through, my immediate reaction was to teach her to fight. I started thinking up devastating comebacks for these conformity freaks. Then, thank goodness, sanity returned and I quickly remembered what it's like to lash out at others. It never feels good and doesn't solve the problem. What I would really love is for Danasia to become immune to the craziness and pain of the world.

The vaccine is high self-esteem. It's time to stop expecting the world to always do the right thing. We have all survived the world and we all know that there is no such perfect place. The place we do have control of is inside. Every baby comes into the world in total self acceptance. It never occurs to a baby that it's too fat or has bad hair or isn't pretty enough. Parents have to realize that the idea that something is wrong with a child is first introduced in the home.

Too much of our conversation is filled with comparing, contrasting and judging. Even if we were perfect in every conversation with our children, saying only positive things, they would still hear us commenting, critiquing and disparaging each other constantly. We act as if these opinions with which we litter our conversations are the most important things in the world. We are totally careless, spewing this garbage everywhere. As children begin to understand language, they also begin to deduce that the way they are is not okay.

It would be great if we adults were to take more care with what we say to one another, be more conscious of what we are putting out in the world. But that would be fixing the world and not building a better child. What I want Danasia to know is that her original opinion of herself is the most important and the most true. She is perfect just as she is. Any opinion other than that is irrelevant.

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