“Slow down, daddy” — everyday moments teach girls to be assertive

I am often asked, “How can I help my daughter to be more assertive?” One of the most powerful answers — something that you can put to work instantly — is already in your hands.


confident 3-yr-old a Fourth of July Story

Last year’s Fourth of July was my three-year-old granddaughter Belle’s first introduction to colors streaming across the sky and their powerful boom!  

Although my daughter Kate willfully bypassed Girl Scouts, she is definitely aligned with the “Be prepared” motto.  Accordingly, the fireworks were explained to Belle well in advance – everything she could expect, from the dark of night to the beautiful colors that would paint the sky to the thundering racket she would hear. 

She practiced at home with a sound-blocking headset – a way to cope “in case,” she explained to me reassuringly, as we sat in lawn chairs that night, waiting for the show to begin.

“Just in case” swiftly became “for real”.  The first boom had Belle plastered in her mama’s arms, as if held by centrifugal force, all bravado having fled, and, with a few whimpers, taking full advantage of the headset her parents had anticipated her with.

Having regained her sense of control, relief visibly spread through her, and she relaxed with mommy and began to enjoy the celebration.  After a few minutes, she remarked – clearly having given the matter some thought — “I like the noise.” From then on, it was pure pleasure.

(I’ve just realized that my two favorite holidays take place in the dark – Halloween and the Fourth of July.  There’s something about darkness, the way sound travels, the intimacy that it provides, that brings people close in a way that is rare –)

Traffic was at a standstill leaving the park.  This is part of the ritual, this island of unpressured time after the fireworks, and soon we were enveloped by the sound of Kate singing in the dark as we sat in traffic.  She invited Belle to sing along.

“It’s my best song,” Belle told me, a little shyly now, and she kept her song inside herself as her mother came to the final bar.

“Maybe sometime you will feel like singing it to me,” I answered.

“I didn’t sing it tonight,” she said, a statement of fact, laced with the slightest tinge of regret.

“You didn’t feel like it,” I interpreted for her.

“I didn’t feel like it” she said contemplatively.  Softly, as though she were trying it on.

Later that night, long after Belle was in bed, no doubt in a swirl of dreams about all that she had experienced that night, Ralph and I talked about it. “You accepted her feelings,” Ralph said, reflectively. I was quiet for a moment. Quiet because for me this is sacred. “This is what I mean by ‘voice,’” I explained. To listen carefully and help children formulate and articulate their inner experience; to give them the confidence that their feelings can be understood by another person; to fully accept them without a need to change them; to me, this is sacred.

When the traffic subsided and we finally began to move along again, Belle called out the green lights.  “Green light, GO!” came her strong little voice from the car seat.

“She understands ‘yield’ and ‘caution,’ too,” my son-in-law Mark said, with a combination of contained admiration and pride.

“Sometimes she tells Mark to slow down,” said my daughter. I could hear the smile of pleasure in her voice that her child is empowered to ask for what she needs — and knows it.

“I say, ‘Slow down, daddy,’” Belle’s voice sang out in the darkened car.

My son-in-law, who is the polar opposite of a Type A driver and is a thousand times more likely to be found meandering under the speed limit than rocketing above it, showed not an ounce of discomfiture.  Far from feeling offended or disrespected, he would want to know if his tiny girl was afraid in the car, and he would want her to say so. Perhaps he was thinking, as I was, that someday if she is in a car with a boy who is putting her at risk, she will not trade away her safety for silence out of the belief that speaking her needs will cost her the relationship. She will be certain, because of the way her daddy responds to her now, at the age of three, that boys are responsible to respect her feelings and her needs, even if they disagree; even if their pride is a little bruised.  Mark’s innate wisdom in this – the intuition that in order for children to be assertive with their peers, it has to have been consistently safe and free of repercussions for them to be assertive with their parents – earns him my deepest gratitude and respect. My granddaughter is in good hands with these two – and her example of a man is a strong, wise and gentle papa bear (who also happens to do great voices for her stuffed animals : )).

The fireworks so vivid in the inky sky were secondary to the joy of hearing a child’s fearless voice ring out clear as a crystal bell, such a perfect manifestation of freedom on that magical night.

Brightly colorful fireworks  in the night sky