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I hardly ever seem to get to the cinema, and where I live in the Middle East, the various TV channels tend to carry wall-to-wall football (currently the Asian Cup is being hosted here, complete with vast outdoor screens, fanzones and celebrations every night in Downtown Msheireb) so it’s only when I travel that I catch up with the latest films. On a recent flight the screen seemed to be filled with endless Christmas movies. Scrolling past Home Alone and The Grinch I happened upon The Barbie Movie – and thought I’d quietly find out why people liked it so much.

It quickly had me. And in particular the theme of Barbie longing to be normal, to be ordinary – rang so very true.

In her book A Mind of Their Own – first published long before the Barbie movie – Katharine Hill writes so wisely about this theme. I remember doing a double take when editing her chapter ‘It’s ok to be ordinary’, thinking, ‘Really? Is it ok to say this kind of thing?’ Which shows how much I’d been influenced myself by the self-esteem movement. When I found out that ‘Ordinary Barbie’ had become a major trend on TikTok, I made a mental note to trust my author’s insight more.

Here’s a wee snippet from that chapter:

Jack’s football team had had a streak of wins and, to their delight, found themselves in the end of season league final. The match was talked up for weeks and in corners of the playground tactics were discussed in hushed tones. On the big day, Jack’s mum joined the other parents on the sidelines to cheer the team on. It was a tough match, but they held their own, and for most of the second half they were winning 3-2. Then with one minute to go, the opposition scored. With the score still a tie after extra time, the players now faced a penalty shoot-out – a tough enough gig for grown men in the Premier League let alone a team of impressionable eight-year-olds. As Jack stepped up to take the final penalty, he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was all down to him. The goal looked enormous – how could he miss? His mother’s heart was in her mouth as she saw her son step forward and kick the ball with confidence, then watched it sail over the goal and into the field beyond.

On the way home, Jack was inconsolable and everything in her wanted to stop him hurting. Phrases like ‘You played brilliantly’, ‘That was such a great game’, and ‘Your team were the best’ were on the tip of her tongue. But Jack’s mum was wise. She knew that when we overpraise our children they see through it – it doesn’t ring true. So she tried another tactic. ‘Jack, I know it was disappointing to lose, but I loved the fact you were brave enough to take that final penalty. I was proud of you.’

I love this story, and the wise discussion about the self-esteem movement that follows, and how we don’t help our children by over-praising them.

“The life-sapping pressures on our children to prove themselves to be special and extraordinary is something that we, as parents, can work hard to lift from their shoulders.’

Katharine gives some great practical ideas as action points: things like giving specific praise – instead of ‘you’re great!’ ‘You were so careful building that tower of bricks’ – going big on birthdays and affirming each child’s efforts and good qualities.


Above all it’s important to help our children have a realistic view of themselves, and this means encouraging them to celebrate their strengths and to know and manage their weaknesses.

There is so much that is practical and helpful in this book, I just wish I’d read it when my own children were young.

A Mind of Their Own: Building your child’s emotional wellbeing in a fast-changing world by Katharine Hill – out now.

About the author

Stephanie Heald is a seasoned editor and publisher and currently Director of Kilfinan Press. She has served on a number of charitable boards including the NGO Tearfund. She enjoys cycling, walking and sea kayaking, and divides her time between Doha, Qatar and the Isle of Mull.