I am the mother of a wild girl.

She is almost 5 years old. A terrifying age. Sometimes she acts as though she is only two, sometimes as though she is 13. I am told this is typical but something in my heart tells me it's more than that.

She runs. Her legs pump the grass hard while her thick hair flows in unkempt waves across her face. She twirls, spins, creates worlds all her own. She doesn't sit still, she sleeps very little, she collects bugs and tries to catch lizards, as though they want to be contained like she wants to be contained. Nothing that wild wants a cage. Nothing that wild wants to be held so tight.

Her emotions also run. She feels things so deeply that she will cry when her little sister cries, feel pain when I am hurt, see a baby upset and want to comfort it to happiness. Her face blooms in red splotches, her eyes leak tears, her emotions fall out of her heart, out of her mouth, and onto her sleeve. She isn't old enough to know how to push them back inside. All she knows is to let them escape.

She is so different from me.

I am the mother of a wild girl.

Her tantrums are explosive. Her cries are feral. She has barred her teeth against me, one time biting my thumb so hard she hit bone. She was a year and a half. She has used her fingers like claws and scratched grooves into my skin. She has thrown toys at my face and used her fists on my shoulders and legs. When she succumbs to her emotions and is exhausted, she cannot get out of the space she falls into, a space so full of tears and red splotches on her perfect cheeks and a mouth open wide. Her screams escape pink lips.

I know it is bad when she tells me she cannot breathe.

"Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth," I tell her.

"I can't!" she screams.

"Just try. In through your nose."

"I can't!"

"Out through your mouth."

"I can't!" she says as she tries to sputter out her breath.

"Why are you upset, sweetie?" I ask.
"I don't know!" she says. She often does not know what has made her so upset to the point of being unable to take a breath. It means that I don't know why either. It means that I have to guess as to how I can make it better.

I've been told to validate her feelings, so I do. "It's okay to feel upset. It's okay to cry." I watch my little girl slump into child's pose on her bed as she rubs her face into the bedspread full of purple birds.

I worry I've pushed her too hard with my questions. I worry I've clipped her wings. I worry she will one day hyperventilate and become overwhelmed by a full-blown panic attack. I worry that I'm never going to know what to do to help her through these dark tunnels she finds herself in.

I could eat her up I love her so.

"Can I give you a hug?" I ask.

She nods her head and so I pick her up into my arms and hold her tight. She is so big, 40 pounds and tall like me. She somehow is able to curl herself against my body. Womb tight. She is still crying and screaming, but the sobs began to lessen the longer I hold her. I stroke her brown hair away from the tears on her face. Finally, I learn to say nothing.

I am the mother of a wild girl.

In a world in which women are told to be tame, soft, quiet, I have a little girl who challenges it all. I do not want to dampen her fire, but I do want to teach her how to harness it. How to control it. I wonder if the future holds space for the wild girls to run free. I hope I can carry her far enough to see such a place come to life.

I am the mother of a wild girl.

"Is she always this wild?" the man at the grocery store stops me and asks. The man is older with dark hair seared by streaks of white. He watches my daughter as she runs around the cart and holds on to the sides. He is a generation away and I wonder if he would ask me the same question if I had a boy running through my legs.

I don't know what to say so I smile. "No," I say. "She isn't." I feel instant regret at the dishonesty behind my words, at the way I've hidden behind a lie.

Would my daughter be so ashamed? Never. And so I must learn to speak my truth about who she is and love all of her fiercely.

I am the mother of a wild girl.

I know I'll be asked the same question again because this is the world we live in. Next time, to the aging man in his polo shirt and khaki shorts, to the man who looks differently at my daughter because she cannot be contained and feels that she should, I will tell him that yes. Yes, she is this wild.

And you should hear her roar.

Raising a mentally strong kid doesn't mean he won't cry when he's sad or that he won't fail sometimes. Mental strength won't make your child immune to hardship—but it also won't cause him to suppress his emotions.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. Mental strength is what helps kids bounce back from setbacks. It gives them the strength to keep going, even when they're plagued with self-doubt. A strong mental muscle is the key to helping kids reach their greatest potential in life.

But raising a mentally strong kid requires parents to avoid the common yet unhealthy parenting practices that rob kids of mental strength. In my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, I identify 13 things to avoid if you want to raise a mentally strong kid equipped to tackle life's toughest challenges:

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