All right, some of you Moms of little 2-5 year old girls know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of you have Divas, and you know who you are!
I have a little girl who just turned four, and she is a recovering Diva. We’ve stopped catering to her hand and foot– you know, like removing the brown M&Ms out of her pile, making sure her ruffles are straight, and helping her to coordinate clothing. Generally speaking, we had stop fussing over her. Which is REALLY hard when you have a sweet little girl! You just want to buy them little hair things, shower them with gifts, and sweet talk her all the time! They are born so precious and covered in pink, and there never seems to be a right moment to toughen up.
But all this fussing only causes the Little Diva to emerge. You know, the twirling around in the living room for all your visitors to admire, the patting your hair sweetly when they want something, the fussing over having the right color nail polish or “make-up,” the refusal to go out with you just because they’re pouty. Think teenage drama queen in miniature.
Diva-personality can be created for a variety of reasons. In my case it was because I had three boys in a row before I had a girl, so I was tempted to indulge. In the case of some relatives of mine, the parents simply favored girls over boys. Girls were “easier” and pretty while boys were difficult and rough. In the case of a friend of mine, she simply had a lot of girls in the household! And she herself was kind of a drama queen, so the climate was conducive.
Which brings me to the main point: it is naturally easy for a girl to slip into this caricature, and easier if you do lots of fussing. Somewhere around the age of 1.5-2.5, little girls catch onto the uniquenesses of being a girl. They understand concepts like “matching” clothes MUCH earlier than boys, the importance of icons like Disney princesses on their lunchbox, and the importance of “girl” toys, etc. Because girls mature faster than boys, their social and emotional awareness kicks in early. They notice the special treatment they get, even if they can’t articulate it, and they can start milking it.
Now I do think treating girls differently than boys and giving them gentler treatment is appropriate. I don’t think androgynizing our girls is the answer. But it’s easy to go too far. A typical girl can handle only about a year of special treatment before it starts to take over her personality. Ask a mom with a Diva of 6 or 7 years old… by this point, it’s much harder to get the spirit out.
So around our house, I have made more of an effort to make my girl run with the boys. I still treat her with more emotional sensitivity, I think, because she puts that out there. But I don’t give in to her specificities, or hold back discipline if her brothers were in the same position. For example, I no longer do the clothes thing with her unless we’re going somewhere where she needs to dress up and look pretty. I used to dress her every day and make a fuss over this and that, or her hair, now I let her dress herself, praise herself, and I just do her hair matter of factly. When we went to a friend’s wedding, of course, I made the big deal about it and brought out the curling iron, lace slip, perfume, etc. She loved it. But I don’t indulge her on a daily basis so she grows up thinking clothes and beauty are the point. I think I bought into my relative’s advice before that all the girly stuff was really important in the beginning… but now I see it as a main route to Diva-land. When I hear about Suri Cruise criticizing her mom’s clothes, I am even more sure! Cute at 4 maybe, but not for long.
So I’ve started to make progress on the external appearances thing. And I plan to be beating back that demon for a long time. For discipline, I have had to make more of an effort there too. I think I went lighter on my girl because she always understood what she did wrong and made efforts to change her behavior… TOTALLY opposite my three boys! My three boys I can scream at and they aren’t damaged at all. I can correct the same thing day after day and they nonchalantly seem not to notice. And two of them have a really hard time understanding anything interpersonal (i.e. like “you know if you keep cheating like that, your brother isn’t going to want to play Candyland with you anymore right?”). But my girl was naturally conversational about these topics by 3 years old, so I figured just talking was really enough.
Wrong! Girls definitely need to be on the same discipline standard as boys, or they will start becoming difficult. Maybe even slightly tighter before their emotions take control. They may not keep doing the bad behavior as outright as boys do, but they will float around the gray area, whining, pouting, sulking, resisting, and trying to get their way by making you emotionally cave. If you don’t punish these things (or discipline before it starts), you will definitely get a Diva. Some divas will be strong-willed, and some will be sweetly passive aggressive, but all divas know exactly where the line is drawn and will dance around just before it. Whereas most mothers of boys are tired from their boys crossing the line all the time, mothers of girls get tired from trying to prevent their girls from crossing it. If this is confusing, just think of teenage behavior again. Teenage boys tend to defy and do what they want because they think their parents are ridiculous. Teenage girls tend to make life emotionally draining for Mom and Dad until they’re ready to shake her!
So I apologize if this post is too stereotypical. It is simply the easiest way to describe a very real phenomenon. Your little girls, if treated like little girls, have the propensity to rival Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in drama. Even though they are only tiny people, they have great big emotions, and can learn the basics of manipulating them even before they can understand what they’re doing. It is your responsibility as the parent to stave this off and keep doing so at every stage, for the betterment of the whole family. Especially if you have more than one girl. You want your girls to feel precious and fussed over, but only to the point that it helps others bond with them. If the dad or brothers feel resentful, that’s a warning sign. Also, attention can help them develop positive feelings about themselves and femininity. But if it starts taking over their personality or the family dynamic, you have to rebalance the priorities. Girl for the family, not the family for girl.