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I refuse to make my 'sassy' girl play nice

Julie Ryan Evans is an editor and writer who has covered everything from Capitol Hill to the politics of preschool. A mother of two, a runner of races, and a gourmet chef wannabe, she currently lives outside of Orlando, Florida.

Other parents may judge, but her sass will serve her well later in life

"I will git you for that. I cude throe you in to the chrash can." This was written on the note hand-delivered from my "chrash"-talking 6-year-old one day recently when I told her to turn off her iPad. She begged; she pleaded; and when I wouldn't give in, she resorted to misspelled threats.

I did everything I could to hold back my laughter as I looked at her indignant, angry face waiting for my reaction to her note.

A couple of weeks ago, she was at indoor trampoline facility. My husband said he watched in awe as she marched up to a tall boy who looked about 13 and snatched a ball right out of his hands. "Hey, give it back," he told her. "No," she said and bounced off.

I could go on (and on and on) with examples of my spirited (or bratty, some may say) little girl doing everything in her power to test limits, get her way and assert herself and her opinions — not always in the most polite or productive ways. Some of them make me cringe, and some require punishment, but as naughty as she gets, I ultimately admire the guts she shows and her unwillingness to back down from getting what she wants.

I feel the judgment — real or perceived — of other parents who probably think I should scold her more when she talks back, dole out stricter punishments when she crosses lines and get her to "play nice," but I find myself stopping short oftentimes, because as frustrating as she can be, I'm rooting for her and that sassy spirit.

Right now she believes she's right about everything and will tell anyone who will listen. She is scrappy, fearless and won't let anyone push her around. A few weeks ago, she and a friend danced — and with abandon — in their bathing suits on a sand stage at a resort, waving and bowing to the restaurant audience like they owned the world.

I watch her with a mix of respect, humor and a healthy dose of terror for the years to come. If this is 6, what's 16 going to look like? The dramatic screaming matches, arguments she just won't back down from no matter what, her sharp, biting tongue... I think of all that mixed with hormones and… help me now.

But what I fear even more than the battles to come is her losing that sass. I fear the day when she gives in to "good girl" ways. I fear the time when she will feel less like she owns the world and more like she owes the world — owes it conformity, owes it the ideal body type, owes it to be a "good girl." And that sassy little girl will be but a memory, someone we tell stories about and shake our heads, remembering her antics.

Many of us remember a time when we thought the world was ours, until one day, without ceremony, we just didn't. Over the years, the sass subsided, as peers cut us down with words and actions, adults made us do things just "because we said so," and somewhere along the way, we gave up the fight, started questioning our instincts and gave in to playing nice. Somewhere along the way, the idea of dancing on a sandy stage became something we'd never imagine doing… sober, at least.

Of course, she has to play by some rules, and for the most part now, she's well behaved at school and with adults who aren't me. We work to teach her manners, respect for all people and a good sense of right and wrong. But those lessons are easier learned. Sass can't be taught, but oh how it can be squashed.

I was raised in a house so strict there was no tolerance for sass. The Catholic schools I attended tolerated even less. To this day, I have trouble asking for what I want, asserting myself and confronting people and situations that should be confronted. While I don't entirely fault either entity, I wonder how much better I'd be at negotiating salaries, at speaking my truth, if my own sass had been nurtured a bit more.

With girls especially, as many challenges as such a sassy, limit-pushing personality will present, that edge will ultimately serve them well in relationships, in the work world and in everyday matters. How to make sure the edge isn't too sharp, I’m not sure, but I'd rather deal with the sharpness than dull a girl down any day.

So we'll see. I may regret my sass-nurturing ways a million times over as the tween and teen years hit. That sass I love so much now may just push me to the brink in the long run. But hopefully it will also help her navigate those tough years, stay strong in her beliefs and let her be her own sassy self. We'll work on the threats.

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Don’t take bratty teen behavior personally

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