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Bringing up girls - assertiveness, forthright opinions vs manners and "niceness"

(26 Posts)
Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 21:12:27

I have one dd. She is nearly 9. DH and I have always spoken to her in a grown up way. We always make a point of answering questions as truthfully as possible whilst being age appropriate. We are quite hot on manners - please, thank you etc, if she has a playdate, putting the guest first, and if invited to someone elses, doing as she is told, eating what she is given etc. She is doing well at school, and is generally a joy. This all sounds a bit twee I know - she is 8 and we are not uber helicopter parents or anything.

But - she has opinions, and will voice them. She can put together a mean argument and will use it to her best advantage. She will try very hard to manipulate a situation to suit her. She is shockingly good at this. She is very assertive and confident. I love this - I was not as a child and want to ensure that she has a healthy sense of self esteem.

Over Xmas though my sister referred to her as an ill mannered, spoilt brat. (In front of her - which caused all sorts of ructions which I will no go into here)

This was based on dd saying she didn't really like the veg that came with Xmas dinner - when she was asked. And also that the Xmas stocking had a game in the year before, not just chocolate - again when asked. Basically dsis wanted a compliment and did not get one.....

Now I want to be hot on manners. I do not want dd to be perceived as rude, or well BE rude. But on the other hand, I do not want her to a nice submissive being. I want her to be assertive, and opinionated and not afraid to fight her own corner. I have tried to bring her up to be truthful and honest, and that lying is really bad, as it takes away trust.

I have no bloody clue how to get the balance though. Dd should have replied differently to dsis, but that would have involved lying - as far as she is concerned - and I think she is still to young too get the nuances of it all. My dsis's 3 boys were shockingly rude (imho) the whole time we were there. But that seems to be "acceptable" for boys - whilst dd was expected to be all sweetness and light....

HoleyGhost Fri 11-Jan-13 19:38:22

Your sister was rude to ask and nasty to strop at a child's response.

Your dd was put in an awkward position. Diplomacy with a rude, nasty adult is too much to expect.

Dozer Thu 10-Jan-13 22:09:01

V sorry, but in addition to mulling over the challenges of raising DC, am imagining dry turkey, cold carrots and soggy brussells, and eager to hear more about the bad meal!

How rude of your sister to say those things in front of your DD!

Portofino Thu 10-Jan-13 19:41:08

See, I don't think she was rude either - not even about the stocking thing. She gave an honest answer to questions. She never pulled faces, or stamped her feet, or expressed displeasure in any way. I think there were a lot of issues over the boys behaviour that dsis tried to deflect onto dd - the youngest and the only girl.

Including that they are growing up and Xmas is maybe not so "magical" for her as it once was.....There was other stuff too. FWIW - I never had any issues problem with the boys particularly - but it was clear that she did. The middle one is 12 and a bit hormonal. I put any odd stuff down to that and would not have made an issue of it. I love my nephews dearly. But they are babies no longer...

But I suppose I am trying to think of how I go forward. I encourage honesty and talking about stuff. I need to do some work on how to balance general politeness with not putting yourself last all the time/standing up for yourself ans teaching dd the art of the polite lie - oh that was lovely, thanks so much etc etc.

CailinDana Thu 10-Jan-13 15:05:35

I don't think your DD was at all rude. She was asked directly and she gave an honest answer. That was your sister's doing and I would have expected most 8 year olds to be honest really. Now, if she had just sat there and said "Yuck I don't like this!" without being asked it would have been a different matter entirely. But even as an adult if my sister asked me "what did you think of the vegetables?" I would give a totally honest answer on the assumption that seeing as she asked directly she was actually looking for an answer not some polite bullshit. Or, if she had said "Oh the vegetables weren't great were they?" which indicates that she was feeling bad about it, I would probably say something like "I prefer them harder, but the rest of the meal was so nice I was too stuffed to manage them anyway" - so effectively the truth mixed with something more positive.

Apart from a gender thing, which I do think you have a point about, I think politeness is also a cultural thing. I find British people infuriatingly polite at times - Irish people seem to be more direct, but not in an offensive way (although I do worry British people might find my manner offensive at times).

WRT gender, I think politeness isn't so much the issue, it's more a question of teaching girls to stand up for what they want. Politeness relates to inconsequential things IMO and can be taught in fairly straightforward manner, in the sense that it is always polite to say thank you for something offered, etc. I think the issue you're touching on goes deeper - the sense that girls (and women) should feel they have a right to stand up for what they want in the face of being told it's not "suitable" or that their manner is "bitchy." I think that comes down to instilling a genuine sense of confidence and conviction, which is really hard to do and depends a lot on the personality of the child. But one example would be with your DD and your sister - when your sister was rude to your DD's face I would have said to your sister "You did ask!" and to DD, "DD you don't have to put up with being called names. You are not spoilt or ill mannered. Even adults have no right to call you such things, and you can just walk away, or you can ask your aunt to stop. Never put up with being treated this way, not by anyone. If someone has a problem with your behaviour you should expect them to tell you it in private, in a kind manner, not with rude names in front of everyone." Having a relative comment on your behaviour can leave a lasting effect, even as an adult, and so I would be keen to mitigate that while at the same time teaching your DD how to deal with the situation, as it's likely to come up again in the future. Plus part of my motivation would be the horror with how often I read on MN that women put up with being called names by their partners - teaching a woman that she should always always always be treated with respect starts from day one in my book.

snowshapes Thu 10-Jan-13 11:03:10

Coming back to this. I think it is important to recognise what your DD did right, which was polite - maybe things are different in different households, though - we would want our DDs to sit at the table during the meal and ask to be excused when it was finished, or if the chat was going on too long and they were bored, when they were finished. We would want them to make some effort to eat what was in front of them, but not force them to finish it (coming from an eating disordered family, I would suggest they know when they are full), but not make comments such as yuk, or bleurgh (not saying your DD did this, but my DD would (at home) in response to things like spinach, and needs to be reminded this is not on - I am sure your DD was more polite than this, as I would expect DD to be too).

However, saying, when asked, that something was not to your taste? I'm not sure this is a big issue. The DSs voted with their feet, after all. Your DD was expected to show a level of tact and sensitivity which they were not, so I get your point.

EmmelineGoulden Thu 10-Jan-13 01:56:13

I'm not so sure you should be trying to teach her anything different.

Here's a possible perspective on the situation gleaned from what you've posted:
Your DD is 8 years old and left some of her dinner (which was not stellar). Your sil, looking for some ego boosting that she does not get from her own sons interrogated her about the food (despite it being obvious from the left food that it probably wasn't enjoyed greatly) and other aspects of Christmas. On getting honest answers sil is rude about your dd in front of her.

It's (I hope!) an exaggerated perspective. But don't put it past your daughter to have noticed at some level that she was being played with and used.

It's a good idea to talk about expectations and reciprocal kindness, and behaving well enough to be invited back etc. It may be useful to talk to her about why it might have been nice to give your sil the sort of compliment she wanted, especially since she was lacking it from her sons. But to some extent you are basically saying she is responsible for other people's mental health, so I think it's good to help her see it as an explicit choice (not something to become an automatic reaction) to be nice that she can back out of anytime it is working to her disadvantage.

BunFagFreddie Thu 10-Jan-13 00:58:00

I would expect DS to just say thanks in this situation, be appreciative and not mention the things that he didn't like. Families can be funny and being polite isn't too much trouble at all. It's quite an old fashioned view really and it applies to boys and girls. I encourage DS to be assertive, but probably not so much at a relatives house during the family Christmas dinner! Unless he's getting beaten up by one of the other kids.

As for DD lying. White lies are useful and grease the wheels of many a social situation. There are times when speaking your mind/being honest is hurtful to other people and it isn't appropriate. It's not people pleasing so much, but if people don't do this, they are rude, be they male or female. She is able to start taking that on board at her age and will understand it more over the next few years. wink

Maybe DD could have gone and played with the nephews, people might have expected her to leave the table too. I honestly can't think of many people I know who have double standards for girls and boys when it comes to manners. It was mean to say she was being a spoilt brat. It might have been rude, but children drop some right clangers and any parent should know that!

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 22:58:36

And lunch was pretty horrid, by the way. Everyone was diplomatic really......

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 22:56:37

Gomez, I did not expect them to sit at the table. They did not eat their lunch either, but dd who stayed sat AT the table, was then viewed more harshly for not eating it than they were, and indeed questioned on it, whilst they were not.

I posted this in feminism as whilst I agree, that dd should not have expressed the opinions that she did, I want to learn how to teach her manners and consideration that does not impact on her confidence, assertiveness and truthfulness. I don't want her to be purely a "pleaser" I guess. Something that seems to be expected of girls vs boys....

TwelveLeggedWalk Wed 09-Jan-13 22:41:14

Well to be honest if you're fishing for compliments I wouldn't ask an 8 year old if htey enjoyed their vegetables, and if she is a parent I'm surprised she didn't know that!

Gomez Wed 09-Jan-13 22:40:29

Nowt wrong with saying you didn't like the veg. Rude to 'note' that last years stocking had more in than this years.

Confidence and assertiveness do not go hand in hand with rudeness, nor does the converse hold. DD1 (12)is neither confident nor assertive but can demonstrate rudeness very easily. DD2 (8) is confident but not assertive and has never been rude as she she would hate to upset anyone and would 'lie' to prevent that.

Not sure with what is wrong with leaving the table and going to play Xbox if I am honest or how that demonstrates rudeness, particularly at Christmas. Should they have sat there bored?

Was there anything said about different gender expectations or could it just be that you and your Dsis have different expectations and also just happen to have children of different genders?

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 22:25:03

Thanks for all the replies. Consideration is a good way to go I think. Thank you that was lovely etc.

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 22:17:31

I don't DO that at home I suppose. I don't expect to her to be grateful for a plate of food. I put food in front of her and she eats it or she doesn't. She knows if she is elsewhere she has to eat it, or at least be polite. But she was ASKED.

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 22:12:42

Twelve - I was not very diplomatic to be honest wink. I totally had the impression that dd was expected to behave differently from the 3 (older) boys. They left half their lunch and went off to play on the X-box. To be fair, the youngest said he wasn't very hungry, which was maybe a more diplomatic way of putting it. Dd stayed at the table with the grown ups and was asked directly about what she had eaten/not eaten.

timidviper Wed 09-Jan-13 22:07:54

I brought DS and DD up to exactly the same standards of behaviour so don't think girls should be treated differently but I did instil in both of mine an appreciation of kindness from a very early age (yes, your opinions are important but not more important than the feelings of others). Sometimes I worried that they were too considerate when they came up against less considerate children but, now they are grown up, I can see that it was worth it.

snowshapes Wed 09-Jan-13 21:59:58

I think you can be assertive and respect someone else's feelings. DD got less for Christmas than previous years as money is a bit tighter and also, I kind of decided to be a bit more practical with the presents. She didn't complain and I would have had a bit of a chat with her if she had,I think.

That said, we had a ruck here because DH tried to impose a rule which DD did not agree with. He is her stepdad so that is a whole different set of issues. I happened to think DH was being unreasonable and tried to negotiate between them and he took the huff. I think she was right to stand her ground.

Not sure what that adds. I would not have an issue with DD saying food was not to her taste but agree it could be sweetened by saying what she did like.

DD is nine.

Arcticwaffle Wed 09-Jan-13 21:56:59

She will probably get a lot better at these distinctions in the next couple of years, my 11yo (noone has ever suggested she suffers from a lack of assertiveness, she's loud and hyper-confident) is much better at tact than my 8yo.

TwelveLeggedWalk Wed 09-Jan-13 21:41:26

I think there are two issues here.
One is how your family seem to respond differently to girls and boys and the double standards those kids are given. You can't control everyone else - although you can ask yourself if you think your nephews are allowed to be rude because they are boys, or just because her standards of politeness are different to yours? - but if it genuinely is the case that the same behaviour is treated differently by the adults I think it's fair to point that out. Politely if you can, given that any Christmas hostess is likely to be more than a bit frazzled.

If someone called my child rude names to her face, I might not be very diplomatic though. Actually how you allow your family to address your child is probably a whole other issue!

The separate question is whether you think that you as a family have got the balance between assertive and polite correct for your DD (as an individual, not as a girl). If you think you might have pushed her too far towards assertive, maybe over-compensating for your own lack of confidence as a child (and I TOTALLY understand that motivation!) then it's up to you to reassert some standards. I think she's probably now old enough to understand that you can best get what you want by being firm but pleasant, polite not confrontational, and that sometimes it's ok to smooth the way a little bit - if she didn't like the veg, fine, say thank you to her auntie for the lovely turkey (or whatever).

Interesting question though.

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 21:38:01

So that is the balance I am trying to get to....

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 21:36:38

I am not saying she was not rude - she was. But not in a spoilt ungrateful way, ifswim. She just answered questions truthfully.

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 21:33:19

Yes - that is a good one - that you should think about the other person before you speak

Arcticwaffle Wed 09-Jan-13 21:32:58

I would expect exactly the same levels of politeness/consideration for others/assertiveness from boys or girls. Parents do tend to think that their own child is being assertive while other people's chlidren are just rude though, IMO.

My family is full of people who are assertive, rude or both, and I think there's a big distinction between being assertive and insisting on the brutal truth however much it hurts someone (that would be my father. He doesn't have any friends).

I think 8yos can generally start to understand these nuances, my dd3 is 8 and she's better than my father at it, they know that they feel upset if they do something nice for someone and the person isn't very grateful. Remind her how that feels.

I tell mine that lying to save someone's feelings is permissible, socially expected. They do understand that.

kim147 Wed 09-Jan-13 21:30:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SkaffenAmtiskaw Wed 09-Jan-13 21:23:19

I can see your problem...

I think everyone should be nice, not just little girls, in that, politeness is about making other people feel at ease and comfortable, IYSWIM.

I have a girl too, and I want her to be assertive and opinionated, but also considerate of other people's feelings. We also have a no lying rule, with the caveat that the truth is not always the best answer. It's a bit of a minefield really, and I think the ability to decide when to tell the truth and when not to be entirely truthful to spare someone's feelings is something that comes with maturity. Also when trying to spare someone's feeling without lying, a lot of the art comes from the way things are said, again, something that gets better with maturity.

Portofino Wed 09-Jan-13 21:16:22

Sorry - waffled a bit - but I guess I am asking - how do you keep the confidence and assertiveness whilst teaching manners. And how far should little girls be NICE as opposed to being truthful/honest etc?

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