Fierceness in kids shows self-confidence

Published 9:51 am Friday, May 25, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

All three of my children are fierce creatures — not in the same way or to the same degree, but all fierce in their own ways.

In the oldest, fierceness rests under the surface; she has the maturity to know when to let her fierceness bubble out. But if someone pushes the wrong buttons? Treats her with condescension while giving advice? Makes a decision for her that she’s capable of making on her own? Watch out.

Email newsletter signup

The boy in the middle is quiet, but fierce with questions — like whether humans would be more efficient with four arms instead of the standard two — and does not relent until he gets an answer. This can be very frustrating for his parents, friends, teachers, even complete strangers. He hasn’t learned that his questions aren’t automatically everybody else’s questions. Sometimes, though, his fiercer encounters spark fascinating conversations on the most unexpected topics.

Now the youngest, she’s also quiet, but possibly the fiercest of all. She’s the one who feels overlooked, forgotten or pushed to the background compared to her sister and brother. She speaks up for herself with vigor when she thinks it’s necessary, but she hasn’t quite learned to temper her fierceness with tact and patience (especially when putting up with the insensitive stupidity of the morons she lives with).

Before I go any further, though, this personality trait I call being fierce: What does that mean? To me it means being stubborn, imaginative, self-confident, willing to make sacrifices for important goals or unwilling to agree that wrong answers are correct or to put up with intentional ignorance. What it does not mean is a feeling of “entitlement,” cynicism, false arrogance or plain old obnoxiousness. It doesn’t mean they can’t admit when they are wrong about something (though this one is hard on them).

It takes years to figure out how to manage this fierceness. A balance is necessary, if unpleasant social consequences are to be avoided. When they were young, tact was often not a consideration. They often came across as obnoxious. They had no clue how their fierceness appeared to others; in other words, they didn’t know how standing up for themselves or insisting that their questions be taken seriously might look through other people’s eyes.

Even with the steep learning curve, however, it’s a good thing, this fierceness. I’m glad, almost relieved that they are fierce creatures. Part of that satisfaction derives from what I remember about my own childhood.

In those memories, I was not fierce about my questions and opinions when I was growing up. I stayed in the background, listening and observing. I was the quiet kid in the corner playing with the fire trucks while the other kids played noisy games with each other. I was the boy reading books in the library while the other boys played pickup games of kickball or four square; if I was forced to join their games (usually by a well-intentioned teacher) I just did whatever the others told me to do, even if it was stay out of the way or go and stand by the wall so “we can use you for target practice” and then watch me cry.

If I was fierce at all, it was about satisfying my curiosity — wandering off or lagging behind in museums, experiencing hours spent in bookstores and libraries as minutes, actually reading encyclopedias – because all the stuff I absorbed in those different places sated my desire to learn everything I could about life, the universe and everything.

So it took me awhile to get used to having these three fierce creatures around. They were pretty fierce even as littlest ones, when I was home with them all the time, sometimes standing against the wall as they used me for target practice. (Nerf balls kept the tears to a minimum.) Somehow, using patience and endurance I didn’t know I had, I successfully managed to guide them to a more balanced exercise of their fierce powers.

Being fierce will help them thrive in the wicked world of grownups they’re headed towards (in which the oldest has already arrived). Being fierce means that they are more likely to achieve their dreams.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.