When Zeca was five, Luisa went to pick her up from school but our son came to the car to say that Zeca’s teacher wanted her to come to the classroom. When she walked into the room, she found that Zeca was in a standoff with a child about cleaning up the work materials they had shared. Zeca felt she had already cleaned up more than her share and refused to put the work mat away. The teacher told Luisa that neither child would be released until they had resolved the conflict.

So there they stood, face-to-face, arms crossed with a work mat spread out on the floor between them. Nearly 30 minutes went by before Zeca bent down and began rolling up the work mat. Then she stopped at the exact midpoint, stood and crossed her arms once again.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a simple power struggle. But she is now 10 and just last week said: “You know that compromising is always a struggle for me.”

I think back to myself at 10 and I was nothing like my daughter. I was quiet, followed every rule and never questioned authority. When faced with conflict, I generally conceded. And though I have become better at asserting myself with age, there are still times when I remain silent to make it easier for others.

My daughter’s confidence extends beyond classroom squabbles and voicing her opinions. She practices a kind of radical self-love that I envy. Recently, she came home from school and said that several people had complimented her on her new sweater. “They told me I looked good!”

I asked her how she responded and she said, “I said ‘I know!’”

I turned to her and told her that she couldn’t respond that way or people would think she was arrogant. She looked at me and said, “I feel good about myself. That’s not arrogance. When I think I look good, I should be able to say so.”

She is right. In a society where girls and women are objectified, it is empowering to claim your worth rather than wanting or expecting someone else to give it to you. 

It is not easy to parent a strong-willed child and there are days when my partner and I are exhausted from the effort. But most of the time, I stand in awe of her strong sense of self and the way she speaks up for herself. We are trying to teach her humility and to respect others but, at the same time, she reminds me to be assertive and that there is no shame in loving yourself.  

PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH

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