Baby Girl, You Can Say NO!

Yesterday, as I drove to the dance school to sign up my daughter for classes, we chatted about what classes she wants to take. She's been dancing now for five years, and she loves the teachers and classes and performing in the recitals. But she's young, and she still enjoys lots of other things - which is perfect, because she should have other interests. (That's us in that picture, before her last recital.)

I asked her which classes she'd like to take: core, hip hop, company? All? None? Now, I've asked her this several times over the summer, and every time, she had the same answer. Every. Single. Time.

"Core, mommy, and company."

"What about hip hop?"

"No thanks. Just those two. Maybe I'll do hip hop another year."

"Sounds great," I replied for what felt like the thousandth time.

We pull up, get out, fill out the forms, get in line, and our turn arrives to meet with the teacher to register. We sit down at the table across from the open teacher, and she hasn't had my daughter in class before. She asks her age and begins checking the second grade classes. This sweet teacher looks at my daughter and says she is eligible to take second grade core and hip hop, adding that she isn't old enough yet for company.

"Do you want to take hip hop, too?" she asked.

My daughter smiled and nodded yes, and watched as the teacher began to write. I watched my baby girl's smile, and it wasn't genuine. It was a forced "okay-if-you-say-so" smile.

When the teacher looked away, my daughter's face dropped. Then immediately picked up when the other teacher to our right, who has taught my kiddo before, says, "Oh, no, she's been dancing up a year. So she's with the third graders. And that makes her able to do company."

It's true. My baby girl has a late birthday and came into the studio with a couple years under her belt, so they moved her up a grade so she wouldn't be bored. For the last 3 years, she's danced up and (mostly) loved every moment of it (except when she has to miss a party or something for class because let's face it - parties are pretty awesome).  

My girl's face lit up with excitement. I told the teacher that we'll just be doing core and company (hey, I have a budget here!) and we finished the paperwork and headed back to the car.

"I thought you didn't want to do hip hop?" I asked.

"I don't."

"Then why did you say yes when the teacher asked you? Are you sure you don't want to take hip hop?"

"No, I really don't. I just didn't want to hurt her feelings."

Oh my, a teachable moment! One of those opportunities to tell my daughter that she can say no, without being rude, when there is something in her life that she doesn't feel strongly about being a part of. I want her to be able to say no, and not feel like she has to say "yes" to please people or fit in. Mommy was a yes person, and it led to lots of mistakes and heartache (but many good lessons learned). So, how do I instill the strength in my daughter to say no, without having to share the grownup details from my life as to why it's important?

"Honey," I said, helping her with the seatbelt, "you didn't have to tell her yes. You have the right to say no."

"Isn't it rude to tell adults no?"

"Well, I think that depends on how you say it. There are some things in life you can't say no to; well, not without serious consequences. You shouldn't say no to doing your homework. You shouldn't say no to washing your hands after you use the potty. You can't say no when I need to run to the store and you want to stay home, at least until you're much older. Those are things that need to happen for your health, education and safety. But you can absolutely say no to being a part of something you're not comfortable with. You have the opportunity to participate in things like art and ballet and music and sports. And it's okay to say no to doing these things and you don't have to feel bad about it. You have to do something to stay active, but it's your choice as to what that is."

"Do you ever say no?"

"Good question, kiddo. I do. Not as often as I should, though. Sometimes I say no at work, when I don't believe strongly in something. I say no to photoshoots sometimes, when my heart tells me it's more important to be at your games or programs. I even have to say no sometimes when a friend needs help with something and I'm just spread too thin, even when I know my friend's feelings might get hurt. Mommy's still learning these things, too, and that's why I want to share them with you early."

"But I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings." She makes a good point. I was never good at saying no for just that reason. I'm still not great at it. So I wondered how I would explain to a little girl that it was okay for her to stand up for herself and what she wants without making her into an entitled brat.

"There will be lots and lots of times in life, sweetie, when you want to say no, and then there will be time when you will need to say no. No, you don't want to do this. No, you don't believe in that. No, you don't have time. 'No' is not an excuse to get out of doing something you should; 'no' is an opportunity to make a difference and better your life. I don't ever want you to be afraid to say no when it's important for you to do so. And you have every right to saying no to taking an extracurricular class you don't want to take."

Silence infiltrated the car for only a few moments before she piped up.

"Mommy, can we get ice cream? And you shouldn't say no, because ice cream will make life better."

Somehow, I'm not too worried that this kid is going to be a-ok. ;)


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