Yesterday during a "Princess Playdate," my 3-year-old, Jane, dressed beautifully in her Cinderella costume, scrunched her face into the meanest looking mug she could muster, looked fiercely at our little neighbor (a.k.a. Tinkerbell), and insisted, "I want you to go home now."
To add insult to injury, she turned from the wounded little fairy to me, and with all of the sassiness she could summon, said, "I never want to play with her again!"
It wasn't the first time I'd seen this sort of ugliness, but there was a hate in her tone that seemed new to me. Where could she have seen this lack of compassion? I wondered as she crossed her arms and stomped off at my reprimand. Luckily, Tinkerbell's mother arrived shortly after and my daughter's wish was granted. But it left me with the most unsettling feeling.
How do I teach my daughter to be kind?
I love the new Cinderella movie for the signature line: "Have courage and be kind." And I often ask Jane, when the beast seems perched on her little horizon, "What would Cinderella do?"
I know that Jane is not perfect. She is this little human in transition. She is developing her sense of self, her identity, her character all by taking in her surroundings, processing them to the best of her ability and shaping her attitude accordingly. And I know that I expect a lot from her in how she treats others; that may be too much pressure on one so young. But dang it, if I could identify the one virtue that is most important to our time here on this planet, that virtue would be kindness. So maybe I needed some of Cinderella's advice myself. I needed the courage part. It takes courage to teach your child kindness.
After about five minutes in her time out spot, I asked her, "Why were you so mean to our friend?"
And through tears, she said, "Because I wanted my pizza." Dinner had been ready for about 20 minutes, but I'd decided to let her play a little longer at her own request to avoid sitting down to eat. Maybe she'd just been hungry? I told myself, trying to convince myself that this was a decent excuse.
But, no. Making excuses is not having courage. "Just because you're hungry or tired or fussy, that doesn't give you the right to be mean to another person," I told her.
"What does 'give me the right' mean, Mommy?" she asked, with quivering lower lip.
"It means that it's never OK to be mean or to hurt someone else," I told her, looking directly into the little eyes that I created within my own body. I pulled her into myself, holding her, letting her cry, letting her feel the fullness of being wrong, but having a mama who loved her anyway, loved her enough to expect the best from her.
"I'm sorry, Mama," she whispered, gaining composure.
"You don't have to say you're sorry to me," I told her. "You didn't hurt my feelings. But, tomorrow, we will say we're sorry to our friend and invite her over again. It takes time to learn how to be a friend, but it's the most important thing you'll ever learn."
She looked at me briefly, understanding the importance of the moment. And then, we went and ate pizza.
Some people may say that I should have just "Let it Go," in the words of one other famous princess. But, letting too much go, in my opinion, only reinforces the idea that she can make excuses for being cruel. So yesterday, I tried to tame the beast within my little beauty. Tomorrow may not be as easy. But if I only have the courage to keep trying, maybe I can help her cultivate the kindness that we both know is in there.