I grew up being a nice girl. I was always cooperative, respectful, and agreeable. I got good grades, I was always team lead doing the extra work in team projects, and followed instructions perfectly.
However, it’s also hurt me over the years. I was too loyal, staying in a friendship, relationship, or workplace too long because I was afraid of rocking the boat. I put others before myself and was taken advantage of several times. It took me so long to figure out who I was and what I actually wanted in life. It wasn’t until I was done identifying as “nice” that I was kinder to myself and honored my own priorities.
So, when my 4-year-old daughter threw a tantrum and I overheard my husband say “I won’t leave this room until you ask me nicely” — I stormed into that room and defended her.
While I do want to raise her to be kind and considerate of how her actions make other people feel, I also empathize with the need to express, to be left alone, and to work through something — without necessarily needing to conform to others’ expectations on how she does this.
Here are my values on raising my daughter to be strong, not ‘nice’:
1. Her voice needs to be heard
When my daughter is using her words to specifically ask someone to leave her room, that needs to be honored (as long as she’s not harming herself or anyone else). If she gets interrupted, I make sure she gets to finish. If she’s struggling to try to get the words out, I wait and let her compose them. I want her to know there is power in her voice.
2. Reinforce her decisions or finding a win-win
If she says ‘no’ to something, I respect it. If it’s something that will benefit her but something she wouldn’t know at this developmental stage (like brushing her teeth or eating vegetables), I do my best to work through it with her. Sometimes, she just wants me to brush her teeth for her, or we take turns. She prefers some vegetables over others, so we plan to cook a mix. It’s not perfect, but I’d rather she form her own opinions and know they hold value in the world. Of course, sometimes we will have to force her to do something (like get her ears checked at the doctor’s office for a possible ear infection), but my aim is to have more moments where we can honor her decisions — and provide her with ample opportunities to make decisions that it will be low-risk to support her on.
3. Modeling kindness and setting boundaries
I work from home, and my daughter knows that when I’m in a meeting, I can’t engage with her. I do my best to give her a time when I’m free and give her my full attentiveness then. This means I’ll face myself towards her, and look directly into her eyes so she can talk to me. Sometimes I’ll observe her planning her day out (After we make pancakes, we can paint then watch a show), making deals with her brother or dad (If I eat dinner, I can play with the bike in the backyard after. Deal?), and calling me out when I am slipping on my word (I thought you said you were done at 4:30). I want her to develop this awareness of what is important to her while understanding what is important to others.
These have just been a few of my observations. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect, but I feel if I can have more moments or days where I am intentional in guiding her to be her most authentic self, I will have raised a strong girl who is kind and honors herself rather than being nice at her own expense.