An edited excerpt from Canadian psychologist Dr Vanessa Lapointe’s new book, Parenting Right from the Start: Laying a Healthy Foundation in the Baby and Toddler Years. Dr Lapointe is touring Australia in March 2020 running seminars based on her book in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, hosted by Maggie Dent.
My youngest sister recently got married. She has a six-year-old bonus daughter from her husband’s first marriage. Lucky me, I was assigned hair and tiara-positioning duty for sweet little Chelsea on the day of the wedding. This is possibly the best thing you could ever ask of me (as the mom of two boys, I never get to do that sort of thing in my home!).
I have an unwavering belief in a couple of things: first, I know I have big swagger as an auntie; and second, I am a rock star when it comes to hair and makeup and, of course, tiaras.
So it didn’t faze me when my sister said, “By the way, she hates having her hair done. I can never get near it with a brush. Good luck!”
On the morning of the wedding Chelsea was dropped off, and she and I began prepping and primping. So little did it concern me that she hates having her hair done that I forgot about my sister’s warning. I had no worries that this wasn’t going to go well.
I didn’t say things like “What do you want me to do with your hair,” or “What colour of elastic do you want me to use,” or “You just let me know if I’m pulling too hard.”
If you read carefully between the words of those statements, you can sense hesitation and deference.
Instead, I said things like, “I know exactly what is going to be perfect for your hair,” and “Pink or blue elastic, my love?” and “That was a little ouch, but here we go, I’ve got you.” Chelsea sat there and loved it. Why? Because I had no self-doubt about how this was going to happen.
That is swagger. That is being large and in charge, and never losing touch with kindness.
Later in the evening one of Chelsea’s cousins bumped into her as they were playing around, and her tiara was knocked askew. Chelsea burst into tears and a frantic groomsman came rushing over to my table to let me know they were having a tiara emergency.
I scooched over to see her while she was in meltdown mode. Crouching down, I was already saying things that would let her feel heard, because that’s what big people do when they are truly kind and in charge.
They don’t minimize or brush off. They step in and see and hear with swiftness and certainty
I said things that stated the obvious, but I said them with compassion—such as, “Oh love, your tiara got knocked” and, as she raged on about her awful, mean cousin, “You don’t like it when he makes your tiara go sideways,” and “That made you really upset,” and “Of course you are angry.”
Then I started to walk her through the meltdown: “You can be angry. You are allowed. That makes perfect sense,” and “I am right here. I know what we will do. I have extra hairpins with me, and I am going to get it sorted out.”
Within a minute Chelsea’s tears stopped. I settled the tiara into place and told her she was gorgeous.
A smile replaced her anger, and she darted off to find the cousin that she really likes.
I stood up to walk back to my seat and happened to catch the gobsmacked expression on that groomsman’s face. As I walked away I heard him say, “That was amazing!”
You know what that is? That is swagger. That is being large and in charge.
This is a small-scale example of what kind of energy backs the sort of big person who is full of confidence in guiding their child through life.
Your challenge as a parent is to find it within you to bring that sort of energy to the moment-by-moment reality of your little person’s everyday world.