Getting Schooled By My Preschooler

24 Apr

The intention of this post is not to incite a princess debate. That being said, I certainly have my opinions, and I’ll admit that I can swing back and forth on the pendulum. Like many of you, the messages and lessons one can gather from fairy tales leave me uncomfortable. Likewise, the sheer overabundance of princess products in every aisle of every store makes me feel very put upon. I’m fairly certain I’d feel the same way about any commercial product that was showing up everywhere and stalling my progress in the grocery store by causing unnecessary “discussions” with a 3-year-old (translation: a 10 minute tantrum regarding a giant Cinderella gift bag we have no use for). Now on the other hand, I know my kids would love to go to Disneyland this summer, and I can’t imagine denying them the thrill of meeting the “real” princesses. We also have a number of princess products that have made their way into our home, and I will say that I rather enjoyed taking my kids to see ‘Tangled.’ So there you have it…I’m all over the board. But as I stated above, this isn’t about the great princess debate. It’s actually about me getting schooled by my 5-year-old.

It happened last week after I took my two daughters to the library. We came home with 8 books, one being a Halloween Disney Princess paperback (yes, it’s April, but the theme here is irrelevant). Although this story wasn’t much of a story, I chose not to protest because they picked out a lot of other great books. Also, it seems that when something is “off limits” it only serves to make it more desirable, and I’d like to avoid making princesses a bone of contention with my kids.

But at bedtime when the 3-year-old wanted to read the princess story I couldn’t hold my tongue. I said something along the lines of it not being a very interesting story or that there really wasn’t much to it and we should choose a better book. To my comments my 5-year-old replied, “You know mom, that’s not very nice. Everyone can like whatever they want to like.”
How could I argue with that?

Over the years I’ve tried to encourage my kids to have as much diversity in their play and friendships as possible. I’ve put so much effort into trying to teach my kids that everything is for everyone – that toys or crayons or movies etc. aren’t “for girls” or “for boys” – and here my daughter was demonstrating an understanding that kids should be free to choose to engage with whatever suits their interest.

While I worried about the messages my kids would take away from hearing a story of Snow White and Ariel preparing for Halloween, a much more important message rose to the top – people should be able to like what they like without judgment. Feeling hopeful that the messages I’ve worked so hard to communicate will continue to sound above the rest and reassured that my kids are developing the ability to question and challenge what doesn’t feel right, we did read the princess story that night…and I did so with much less distress.


12 Responses to “Getting Schooled By My Preschooler”

  1. morecompassion April 25, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    What a great takeaway! Sometimes kids put it so plainly. My friend was talking about naming her daughter “Parker” when her own mom said, “You can’t do that. That’s a boy’s name.” It was my friend’s 5 year-old niece who said, “Actually Parker can be a boy or a girl’s name.” Love that!

  2. Pamela April 25, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Oh…princesses are so challenging. My little one has three Cinderella books next to her potty and though I do want her to have the freedom to explore both traditional femininity and masculinity through stories and play, I was really struggling with one version today where the stepsisters are called ugly. And that’s the full description. I don’t want to teach her what this version teaches: “ugly” = bad. Rather I want her to learn that what made the stepsisters ugly was their behavior. So complicated a message for a two year old who just wants to put on pretty dresses, “go to the ball, gets married, and go on a honeymood bacation.” Ugh. And in that sentence she uttered alone are so many conversations we’ll need to have over the years. I remind myself that the learning is a process and also has to come from within as well. It is hard to balance filtering messages for our kids and teaching them without crushing their unique perspective. I think the fact that your daughter feels comfortable sharing her disagreement with you is a sign that she feels safe to have a different perspective. And that’s great parenting!

    • Hillary Manaster April 26, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      It really is a hard to balance act…protecting our kids from what we deem “unsavory” yet allowing them opportunities to do their own questioning and exploration. I’m so glad you stopped by. You make some very valid points.

  3. Beth April 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Trying to redirect the tastes of a preschooler is a difficult task. I agree that everyone can like what they like, which includes me not particularly liking the pink princess paradigm. I tolerate and hope the stage will be outgrown soon as new interests arise. Good for your daughter for understanding tolerance, and good for you for teaching it to her.

    • Hillary Manaster April 26, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      I’m with you on the “pink princess paradigm,” and I agree that at the end of the day tolerance and acceptance should be the lessons we focus on.

  4. Laura April 28, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    I struggle with this with my almost 5 yo daughter, too. She adores CInderella and Ariel. And now there are the fairies, too. She loves to pretend she is going to the ball and getting married. And it all raises my hackles, because I want more for her than that. I want her to want more for herself than that.
    Then I remind myself that she also adores playing with her dino house, in her cardboard rocketship, and pretending we are wildlife resucers or pirates. (The pirate thing bugs me too – they are violent thieves — why is that so apprealing to kids??)
    For me, I think I am extra sensitized to the princess culture, when it really is only part of the world she embraces. So I hold my tongue a lot. And I delight in finding pricess books that turn the whole pretty but helpless scenario on it’s head. 😉

    • Hillary Manaster April 29, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      I have a hard time holding my tongue sometimes, but I agree with you – reminding myself of my kids’ other interests helps. For every one princess story my kids request I know there are 10 other books with better messages that they would love to hear. For every one afternoon in princess dress-up, there’s the whole rest of the week spent on bikes, at the art table, making mud cakes or playing on the swing set with friends.

      Sent from my iPad


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