Recently, a yoga teacher I follow on Instagram posted a picture of her daughter, a young girl around age 4. In the photo, the young girl is clearly distressed, and is crying. Below, the girl’s mother, the yoga instructor, has written about how her daughter took scissors and cut her own bangs. The picture, the mother tells us, is taken just after the mother has told the daughter that now the mother will have to shave her head. It ends with the comment, “I hope this makes you smile.”
I briefly scanned the comments, hoping I was not the only one to whom this picture did not bring a smile and a “Right on, Mom.” Instead, I found a lot of individuals laughing and supporting this move on the mother’s part, and a number of posters referring to someone who disagreed with the picture as a hater, a dumb individual who probably doesn’t even have kids. I considered composing a thoughtful response, but did not want to give my time and effort to a forum that was likely to cause me stress and add to the already ugly comments on the thread. Nor did I want to have to revisit the picture of the crying girl repeatedly in order to respond. I unfollowed the yoga instructor, which will likely go unnoticed, but felt right.
There were several reasons I found this photo unsettling, and I’d like to touch on several of them. Before I do so, let me assure you, I have children, one living, and one deceased. I do not, and have never used, punishment. My son, now age 13, is a lovely human being.
First, the mother told the daughter that her head would be shaved as punishment. I do not believe the mother will do this, of course. But heaven and the fates forbid that one day in her childhood this little girl gets cancer, and loses her hair or has a brain tumor, like my nephew, and really does need her head shaved. Her mother has already introduced the idea of her head being shaved as punishment, and younger children are prone to magical thinking, so if in fact she experiences either of the above hair losses, it’s more likely this little girl will think her hair loss is punishment for something she has done. That is a heavy weight for a small child to bear.
Second, I think it is always important to remember that hair will grow back. She’s four. She likely doesn’t care what her hair looks like, and was likely exploring something she’s seen adults do. She was not trying to “be bad.” It would be far more effective, for the relationship and for skills development, to help the child understand the safety issues around scissors. And to get really crazy – let the child know they are beautiful no matter what their hair looks like – and if they want to give themselves another haircut, let them know you will help them, to ensure their safety.
Some of the comments referred to the necessity of punishing or disciplining a child for using a pair of scissors on his or her hair. The primary caregiver of a child is their secure base. When life gets frightening, when mistakes are made, the child returns to their secure base to be reassured, to touch safety, before returning to exploring their world. When a child makes a mistake, and the secure base shames them or frightens them, they are less likely to turn to that secure base in the future – it breaks down trust, and breaks down relationship.
Finally, I found this picture upsetting because, for me, yoga is one way in which I learn to respect and support my body, to respect and support my world, and to recognize the connection I have with every living being. When a mother takes a photo of her distressed child for the rest of the world’s amusement, the only thing I feel is disconnection – and that’s not something I want to support in my world.
In the next few posts, I'll share some resources for those curious to know more about nurturant parenting, how to support secure attachment with your child, and how to live without discipline.