I was sitting peacefully, cross-legged on the floor, meditating in the early hours of the morning when I heard an insistent knocking on my bedroom door. It was my 3-year old (soon to be 4) darling daughter, Maya, who woke up extra early and wanted to hang out. I let her sit in my lap as I continued to meditate for a few more minutes, basking in the love I felt for Maya and appreciating this time when she’s still young enough to allow me to cuddle her.
I opened one eye and saw Maya looking up at me with curiosity. She asked me what I was doing, and I explained that it was my meditation time and she’s welcome to join me anytime she wants. I stroked her gorgeous honey colored curly hair and told her how beautiful it is. To my surprise, her eyes filled with sadness and her lips curled into a pout, “I don’t like my hair” she said, hanging her head and looking down at her feet. “I want long, white hair – like Elsa!”
Ah yes, Elsa…the nearly-perfect creature from Disney’s Frozen movies that has taken the world of toddlers and young pre-teen girls by storm! Maya’s obsession with all-things Frozen had started after the sequel to the movie came out late last year, and that’s when the pretend-play had begun. It was seemingly harmless and normal, as children always like to imagine themselves as make-believe characters from movies, TV shows and books. But now I was starting to worry that Maya’s obsession with this fictional queen who possessed magical powers was unhealthy.
I prompted her to open up to me further by asking her questions and intently listening to what she was telling me. The conversation went something like this:
Me: My love, you have gorgeous golden hair that everyone adores, why don’t you like it?
Maya: I like long hair, and I don’t like golden color – I only want long white hair, like Elsa!
Me: Maya, everyone has different hairstyles and colors, and they are all beautiful in their own way!
Maya: Stop calling me “Maya”! I want to be Elsa!
Me: Why do you want to be Elsa? Maya is such a wonderful girl!
Maya: Because Elsa is good, but Maya does silly things (she looked so sad and ashamed when she said that, it almost made me burst into tears).
In a horrific instant of realization, I flashed back to the times when we had told Maya to stop doing things that queen Elsa wouldn’t do, like picking her nose in public or putting her feet on the dinner table. We, as care-givers, were responsible for her belief that she was silly and not like her idol who would never do such things! I also remembered other care-givers playfully saying to Maya that she was being a “silly-billy”. I saw it all so clearly in that moment, how our words are so powerful in influencing the development of her identity. It was my turn to feel ashamed. I continued the conversation:
Me: My love, you are not silly – you are smart, talented, kind, strong and beautiful! Let me remind you of all the fantastic things you are good at!
(I started listing all of her skills and talents like counting, writing her name, reciting the alphabet, singing, doing well in gymnastics class and at school, swimming, riding a horse and biking.)
Maya listened and perked up a bit – she was starting to feel good about herself. “But Elsa has magical superpowers and she can freeze water and people and shoot ice out of her hands,” she insisted.
Me: Well, you have your own superpowers that are equally impressive! Let’s see…you can make other people smile with your smile – look at your gorgeous smile and those white teeth! (I took her over to the mirror at this point so she could look at herself.)
“Look at your eyes – they are such a unique green/grey color and they sparkle when you are happy! Look at your nice skin – it’s so soft! And look at your hair – the curls, the color and how it’s getting longer every day!”
Maya was now smiling and touching every part of her body that I was complimenting with appreciation. But this didn’t completely satisfy her, she still wanted to be like Elsa and have her magical superpowers.
Me: When you grow up, Maya, you can be anything you want to be – anything or anyone!
Maya: Don’t call me “Maya”!
Me: Alright, but I just wanted to let you know that I have a wonderful daughter named “Maya” and I love her very much. I don’t love Elsa – I love Maya! So does Papa, Deda, Yaya and Geeta (grandpa, grandma and nanny.)
With that, Maya’s attention span drew its limit and she was on her next mission – rummaging through my makeup drawer. I decided to let it go (no pun intended) for the moment but this incident was on my mind for the rest of the day.
I called a family meeting with my husband Dean and Geeta, and told them about what had happened in the morning. Everyone was in agreement that we needed to empower Maya to believe she has all the power she needed within herself. We planned out what we are going to say to her and what we should stop saying to her. No more comparing her to Elsa, or anyone else, and definitely no more “silly billy” or other words she might associate negatively with.
The thing about our young children that we must realize is that until the age of about 6, their prefrontal cortex hasn’t fully developed. That part of the brain is responsible for the ability to choose what we believe. If someone tells us something negative, we can disregard it and make up our own mind about what we want to believe. Before the age of 6, however, kids’ brains work in a way that allows them to absorb as much information as possible in a very short amount of time, so their brain doesn’t discern the information received and it gets downloaded as fact that they believe.
That’s why it’s so important to watch vigilantly what we say to our young children. If you say to your son that he is being annoying, he will believe you and form the opinion of himself in that way. Even if you say it as a joke, he will believe it to be true!
This brilliant observation is presented in a book I’m currently reading by Caludia Beja, whom I recently met at a retreat which her son was hosting in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her book is titled The Definitive Guide for Extraordinary Parenting: 14 unconventional principles to raise successful children. How lucky that she gifted me this book, which came at just the right time as I am facing this exact issue with my daughter!
And it is because of this observation that I realized – Maya’s ability to understand that Elsa (or anyone she watches in her shows) is not real is limited at the moment, so instead of trying to explain that to her, the best thing we can be doing is empowering her and uplifting her with positive affirmations.
Maya with mama and papa on the beach
That afternoon, as we went to the beach for our family sunset time, we kept encouraging Maya with our words, telling her how brave she was for learning to use the boogie board for the first time, and how kind she was for sharing the shovel with her friend. I now wanted to draw focus on her inner qualities rather than her looks, which I had already done earlier by sitting her in front of the mirror. I wanted to make her understand that her superpowers were those that she already possesses and are available to her anytime. So what are Maya’s superpowers that we are encouraging her to use every day?
Sharing is definitely a great and important one! Being friendly and approachable is another. Being brave when trying new activities or going to the doctor. Politeness when interacting with friends and strangers alike. Self-love and love for others that help the world to be a kinder and better place. Caring for our Mother Earth by picking up plastics and saving lights and water. Have fun coming up with your own ideas or let your kids do that!
Here are 7 qualities (or superpowers) that you can remind your son or daughter they possess and to practice daily, so they can grow up to be winners for life!
Generosity – sharing and being kind to everyone with her words and actions.
Self-love – being kind to himself and saying positive words about himself. Also relates to the next one…
Confidence – knowing that he has mastered valuable skills and appreciating himself for that.
Curiosity – being inquisitive about the world and wanting to learn as much as possible about new subjects. Also wanting to master new skills that will add to her confidence.
Fearlessness – being brave in trying new things and approaching new friends.
Gratitude – giving thanks for everything good in her life and appreciating what she already has.
Imagination – being able to create and knowing that everything is possible, without limits!
These are mostly the same as the 7 qualities of winners, which I discuss in my book “I Am Winning – A Guide to Personal Empowerment”. Developing these qualities can start at any age and is available to absolutely anyone!
It’s going to take a while, I’m certain, for Maya to start realizing all of her newfound superpowers and how she can use them to her advantage, but it is our job as parents to let her know that she is not only already amazing in her own way, but she is also capable of achieving anything she sets her mind to.
For now, I will let her pretend-play and look up to her fictional role models – it is after all, part of the fun of being a kid. But I will keep reminding her that the one that has power over my heart is none other than MAYA!