I am very nervous because my daughter is saying things to her dolls that her mom is saying to her. Not the nice things, but the not-so-nice things. "I'm not proud of you; you're being fresh," was the straw that made me write in, but it has gotten to the point where my daughter is repeating my wife's unduly harsh reprimands verbatim. I don't know why I find this so frightening. Should I be concerned? What do I say to my wife? I am worried that this is the start of an unhealthy, resentful relationship and I want to derail the train before it becomes a runaway. Help.
From: Conducting a Runaway, Providence, RI
Dear Conducting a runaway,
Yes, she's likely reflecting language she's hearing from her mom. But it's not necessarily bad that she's using that same language with her doll. It's a way for her to feel a sense of power in a relationship. Giving voice to dolls, stuffed animals, and imaginary friends play -- these are typical and healthy ways in which young children discharge emotion and work through their feelings, especially feelings of anger. In itself, it's not cause for alarm.
That said, however, I share some of your concern. Here are some things to consider:
How often does mom say these kinds of things to her? The statements you cite are shaming and, indeed, have the potential to harm a child's self-esteem. Is your daughter's getting a steady dose of them, or are they the exception rather than the norm? Does your wife say them in anger or are they ever said in a joking kind of way? Does your wife ever take pleasure in your daughter, or is she more often angry, sullen and/or unhappy, which could be signs of depression? What kind of role model did your wife have from her mom? For some women, it's as if there's a tape running in their head of how their mother talked to them and they can't help but repeat it, whether it was positive or negative.
Obviously, you need to assess your family's situation. At the very least, though, I'd suggest that you find some kind of parenting workshop the two of you can do together that might lead to a more positive approach to daily life for all of you. I'm thinking of something like this, that Nancy Samalin offers in NYC.
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