Recently I witnessed my 8-year-old daughter rather effectively deal with someone who was bullying her. My daughter started taking dance classes when she was 2 years old. When she was 5 years old she discovered she liked jazz as a dance style, so she started taking jazz and ballet. The dance school she was taking classes at commented that she might want to try a competitive team with their school. She wasn’t taking dozens of classes, and wasn’t an obvious prodigy or anything, but they said she had great flexibility, she liked to “perform,” and she was sassy.
So, I asked her if she wanted to tryout. I explained the requirements of five classes per week, and that it was a commitment to a team, and that her teammates would be counting on her. She said she was a little scared of not doing well, but she liked the idea of being on stage and being on a team with friends whom she enjoyed spending time with. At the end of those conversations she decided she wanted to do it. So, on the team she went.
As with anything, there are supporters of your chosen activities, and there are detractors. Having a preference for one activity over another certainly doesn’t make someone a bully, but when a person belittles what you do, insults the very idea of any young girl competing, and describes the people who run the dance schools and competitions as “exploitative,” it certainly smells of bully behavior. And it’s very unfortunate when that person happens to be your kid’s dad.
To be sure, some parents and some schools and some competitive events can take things too far; parents may live vicariously through their kids, and some kids may not enjoy the experience at all. But, literally thousands upon thousands of little girls and boys dance and love it. While I am not a dancer, and I wouldn’t ever choose dancing to compete in, I see the value in competing with a team as a child: camaraderie, discipline, self-esteem…yada, yada, yada.
But my daughter’s father told her in no uncertain terms that dancing was fine, but competitions are a “rip off.” The music is always inappropriate. The costumes and make-up are too much. And he said:
“All those people want to do is use you to buy their trophies and pay their fees and make money off of you.”
“There is nothing good about what you are doing.”
“It doesn’t help you out in your life or your future to do this.”
It’s a little off-putting to refer to my daughter’s father as her bully, but he was quacking like a duck, and he looked an awful lot like a spade.
But, it turns out, I didn’t need to defend her, because she didn’t skip a beat. She told her dad that she understands that he may not like dance as much as she does, but dancing is her passion, even if it isn’t his. She also told him that the girls on the team she competes with have appropriate costumes and music, and the dance school she competes for has nice teachers. She is proud of her school and she wished he would watch some of the other teams from her school perform, because they are amazing and talented, and he might just like it if he actually watched it.
And then she gave him an example. She told him a story about an imaginary boy coming home from school and telling his dad that he really loved soccer and that all he wanted to do was be on a team with his friends and play in games and play against other soccer teams. She said, “Now, imagine that this boy tells his dad all of this, but his dad tells him ‘no,’ he can’t do it, because he doesn’t like soccer and he thinks it’s bad…Now, is that fair, Dad?”
At this point in the conversation, Dad goes silent (while I’m kvelling over my daughter’s mature argument and giving her virtual high five’s in my mind). And then he says, “Well, that is a very good example. I’m glad you said it that way.” He proceeded to admit that if it is her passion, then it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t care for it, and that she should go after her dreams and her passions no matter what anyone might say to try and stop her.
And that is how an 8-year-old does it…drop the mic and walk off the stage.
As parents we don’t always get it right, and I absolutely include myself in that. Sometimes our kids can be our greatest teachers, because they speak simply and purely and they don’t let the personal minutia get in the way. My daughter taught her father something on that day, like she has taught me on so many other occasions.