Turning Your Child’s Negatives Into Powerful Positives

by Jessica Graham May 17, 2016

Each of us has parts of our characters that are less than desirable.

That’s doubly true for kids, who are grown-ups in progress. But sometimes what we see as a negative in children is the proverbial diamond in the rough. With honing and polishing, something brilliant can emerge. In the opening chapter of her book The Year of Yes, TV producer and creator Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, The Catch and How to Get Away with Murder fame, makes an admission: She’s a liar. She’s not a liar in the con artist, flim-flam kind of way but rather she invents things. She writes; she hyperbolizes; she weaves make-believe into reality, prolifically. The fascinating takeaway from Rhimes’ book (and life) isn’t how she manages to do it; it’s how long she’s been doing it. She’s been inventing stories and other lives since she was a kid. She documents playing pretend in the pantry with the soup and vegetable cans as well as a getting in trouble at school for telling another child that her mom was a Russian spy. Think what would have happened if someone had squelched that creativity straight out of her if someone had shamed her imagination. It’s something that we adults often do, unintentionally.
While we shouldn’t permit our kids to go around spinning falsehoods, we also shouldn’t shut down the glories of their imaginations.
When my son was in preschool, at pick-up one day his teacher asked me about my husband’s long-term business traveling. My husband was on-the-road, but he’d be home before bed that night. When I looked at her in bafflement, I learned that my son had shared that this daddy was gone for several weeks. It was one of many believable whoppers he’d been regaling his teachers with. I was appalled and, of course, made the logical leap that lying during finger painting and naptime would lead to a life of dishonest wrongdoing and misdeeds. But his teacher just laughed and praised him. “What a great imagination,” she said. Her words gave me a whole new perspective. And while I still had a talk with him about the difference between the truth and pretend, the conversation’s direction was much different than it would have been without her wisdom. While we shouldn’t permit our kids to go around spinning falsehoods, we also shouldn’t shut down the glories of their imaginations. We should teach them to preface their tales with, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “Let’s pretend that…”. A friend once mused aloud, “Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Steve Jobs parents?” She wasn’t saying it in the oh-it-must-have-been-great-to-raise-a-genius-kid kind of a way. It was more of a rueful shudder. A man so exacting that he is rumored to have fired an employee who purchased cheap bags because he thought it diminished Apple’s image must have been hell to raise. What was it like to help him with his homework or plan his birthday party? Do you have a kid who cries when their food touches, always needing the peas to be separated from the carrots? That child will make a fine pharmacist or scientist some day, keeping the chemicals and compound separate (or he’ll be that weird adult that eats M&Ms by color, but I digress). Or what about your kid that is always taking apart things that are meant to be left together? That’s the early making of an engineer or an inventor. Little girls, in particular, get harangued for bossing the pants off of everyone at a young age. But with the right guidance, some day your little task master will become an authoritative, self-assured woman. You don’t need to spin doctor your child’s weaknesses à la politician (“It’s not that he ate the chocolate cake instead of the apple, it’s that he simply can’t recall.”), but it wouldn’t hurt to view things from a different perspective. Think about the long game. It might save your sanity in the short term.

Jessica Graham


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