Horn tooting - FamilyEducation

Horn tooting

August 10,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Monday night at dinner, T. and Scott and I had a lively discussion about the fine distinction that exists between tooting your own horn, and bragging. T. was confused. "What horn?" she wanted to know. We explained the expression to her, and spent more time having fun demonstrating examples of horn tooting and bragging. T. did a beautiful imitation of bragging, complete with the sing-song voice inflections and Scott was pretty good at supplying examples of horn tooting. But it struck me that there is a very fine line between the two, and a huge part of the difference centers around the tone and delivery, and people's perceptions of the horn tooter.

I spent much of Monday listening to a lot of public horn tooting from colleagues, and it occured to me that most of it--if not all of it--came from men. They also seemed so at ease with it, and so skilled at pulling it off, making me wonder: is horn tooting something boys learn? Do they learn how to do it because they feel entitled tof? Is it considered unseemly behavior in a girl, who might be taught early on that it's better to sit back demurely and wait to be noticed? Do we overlook horn tooting in men because we expect it and, unconsciously or consciously judge women when they do it? 

I am not, by nature, a horn tooter. I am trying to work on this, because I have learned that sitting around and waiting for others to toot your horn for you seldom happens, but it's hard--especially for me. Sometimes, in fact, I feel misplaced embarrassment instead of pride when people compliment something I have achieved. But our discussion around the dinner table on Monday made me think hard, though, about how I can better teach both my kids to speak up for their accomplishments and talents. It made me think about how important it is that my daughter in particular learn this skill, given how prejudiced the world seems to be against girls and women who have learned to do this.

I'm curious: how do you teach your children the difference between bragging and horn tooting? Parents of daughters, how do you help your girls speak up for themselves, and encourage them to feel proud of what they have accomplished? How do you teach them to learn and appreciate the importance of owning their talents, successes, and skills?