Little elf and I have been dancing to the new Sharon Van Etten. Suddenly, she stops and says “I don’t like my hair.”
This isn’t unusual. She seriously resents how her hair stubbornly refuses to grow as fast as her longer haired friends. It doesn’t help that she’s obsessed with Tangled and that her idea of long hair is proportionally unrealistic. Yesterday, I caught her quietly cutting chunks off it – luckily she’d only managed a couple – on the grounds that it would “help it grow faster.”
Then she said “I don’t like the front of it.”
Then “I want it down my back and it isn’t.”
Then it took a turn for the worse.
“I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror…
“I don’t want anyone ever to recognise me… “
By now, she was curled up in my lap and getting teary. I tell her that she’s beautiful and clever and that hair grows slowly and that she has to be patient – and how much more hair she has than me in any case. But then we reach the heart of it.
“I don’t like my voice – everyone think’s its funny…
“All the grown-ups think my voice is funny. Everyone else’s voices aren’t funny but mine is.”
Ah. Little elf has a speech impediment, or rather, her speech is developing more slowly than it should do. It’s reached the point where her school have referred her to a speech therapist who’s given us some flash cards to work with and assured us that it’ll probably sort itself out. Basically, there are sounds that should be at the back of her throat that she enunciates from the front and vice versa. I had a similar problem which led to years of torture in elocution classes.
There are days when she speaks quite well and other days when we can hardly understand a word she says which for a bright, chatty, talkative little four year old girl must be a nightmare. And she does talk – her teachers tell us that she’s clever and sociable – but that she’s also wilful, mischievous and inclined to only do the things that she wants to do. Is there a correlation of some kind?
She talks some more and nestles into my arms then suddenly jumps up and asks to watch Whatnots. It’s like a switch has flipped.
I don’t think there’s a self-image problem so much as a self-esteem problem brewing and its all to do with her talking. But later on, she and dudelet put on a bit of a performance and little elf tells us three long and incomprehensibly complex stories about “Fahder Cwissmass” and his body parts (I don’t think you want to know). We all applaud enthusiastically. Thankfully, her dudelet (who’s eight) understands that of the things he chooses to tease her about, her speech is off limits.
There isn’t an easy answer to this one – her nursery teachers work hard with her and are very supportive and we – the three of us – do what we can to provide the most nurturing environment we can manage. I just hope it sorts itself out before more structured intervention becomes necessary.