How to Talk to Little Girls

A  friend posted this article, “How to Talk to Little Girls” on Facebook yesterday, which talks about NOT praising little girls on their appearances but rather on who they are, their interests, intelligence, athleticism, etc.

Reading it, I immediately realized I am 100% guilty of this.

When I see Maya smiling in her crib each morning, how can I NOT say, “Good morning, gorgeous!”? It’s the first thing that pops into my head; she IS gorgeous!

For the first several months of life, babies don’t do a whole ton and their personalities are forming.  So we comment on their little hands and feet; their spiky hair (or lack thereof!); their blue eyes; their chubby arms; their dimples; their cute baby booties. There’s just not much to go on at the start so we begin with the obvious: physical appearance.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to doll this kid up. She’s usually color-coordinated and accessorized head to toe, and she seems to like it (she doesn’t pull her hats and headbands and socks and shoes off … YET).

So I going to stop dressing her cute? Of course not. But I will be giving more thought to what I say to her — because even at six months, she’s a sponge soaking it all in.

And I want her to know she is loved and adored for much more than just her pretty face.

While I think it’s too soon to call a 6-mth old “smart” (and every parent thinks their kid is the cat’s meow) we can really see her developing cognitively and physically more and more each day. And, according to this article, we should be commenting less and less on her appearance (even now!) and more and more on the essence of what makes Maya, Maya: a curious, determined little 6-month old girl.

Yes, she’s adorable and sweet … but she’s also funny. She makes us laugh blowing raspberries in the backseat and back to us; “talking” to Rocco (she is reaching for him all the time now; it’s pretty cute!); and squealing in delight when we walk in the room.

She is developing cognitively and physically more and more each day, and we need to continue to praise her for those things. For example, in the past week alone, she has been able to sit unassisted for several minutes at a time and can play with and rake toys from a sitting position. She’s putting two syllables together, saying “da-ba” and “ba-da” and “da-da” and who knows what else she babbles; none of it means anything yet. She repeats intonation/inflection with her “Ahs”. And she’s started pulling shapes out of containers and pulling rings off the ring stack (and stuffing them in her mouth!) and closing her baby laptop (attached to a “work station” of sorts).

All of these things are wonderful and we are definitely praising her for them … but this article was a reminder of just how important it is — and will be — to emphasize those traits other than appearance. If a little girl (or boy) only hears they are “cute” “pretty” or “handsome” then they might tie their self-worth to those traits, while there are far more important things we can comment on or talk to them about.

It’s also a good reminder for when I meet other small children, not to immediately comment on their appearance but rather to engage them in [age-appropriate] conversation.

I am still going to probably slip and say, “Hello, gorgeous!” when I see her … but I’ll also make sure to talk about something other than just her appearance … like how proud I am that today at babyschool she played the keys of the piano (instead of just staring at them like she did a few months ago).

Everyone wants to be loved … that much is for sure. But we should make sure our children know they’re loved for the right reasons: reasons that go far beyond what they look like.

How about you? How do YOU talk to little girls or boys? Do you think we put too great an emphasis on appearance and, if so, how can we refocus our attention?

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6 thoughts on “How to Talk to Little Girls

  1. Really cool that you are mindful of this Lissa, ESPECIALLY at this age! I wanted to say, the reasons we should try to people have to go far beyond what they look like AND how smart they are or what they perform at, etc! Do we need reasons?

    😉

    I have to be careful/mindful of this concept when I teach yoga. I might find myself praising with “appearance words” such as “beautiful” or whatever the word is, and that gives the impression that it is about what they look like in a pose or whatever. I refocus the attention by encouraging them to praise themselves for mindfulness or attention or self-care, etc. Or I will use different praise phrases that focus on the sense that I get from a students inner energy and power.

    1. Thank you, Clare! 🙂 I can totally see how that could be a challenge with yoga, which is as much a physical as it is mental exercise. Yay for mindfulness!

  2. I have to blog on this myself – and I think it’s important to think about this in regards to boys, too. That said, I tell Nate he’s handsome and cute a hundred times a day… AND I just read a super good book that talks about how you shouldn’t tell kids they’re smart, but instead specifically praise abilities and efforts. Man, could this be any more complicated?

    For my niece, who is 1 1/2 and the only little girl I see regularly, I do tell her she’s pretty a lot but in thinking about this, I realized I actually compliment her clothes more often. “Aw, hi Brookie, what a pretty dress you have on today! Ooh, I love the bow in your hair!” I wonder if that counts as the same thing? Or is it worse because it’s about her possessions, so it’s promoting materialism? Or is it promoting good personal style?? Gah!! LOL (For the record, I think it leans more toward promoting personal style.) 🙂

    1. Thank you for bringing this article to my attention! And I totally agree, this goes to boys too. And I tend to agree re: personal style 🙂 It IS complicated. And I believe in building up a child’s self-esteem in a multitude of ways; my parents were great at that and for all my issues, they began LATER in life … not in childhood, where I was wholly loved and adored and praised and complimented by my parents. My issues were all mine and mine alone and came much later.

  3. This article went totally viral on FB so I saw it too! And, while I see the author’s point, I don’t completely agree with it. As far as I’m concerned, little girls should be told they’re beautiful, because they ARE – and because it makes them feel good! I remember absolutely glowing as a little kid when people told me I was beautiful, and on the occasion that someone tells me so as an adult, my self-esteem goes through the roof. I struggled with poor body image for years, and I actually think that if I had been told that I was beautiful more often by my parents, I would have felt better about myself as a whole.

    Of course, I think it’s important to also praise girls on their intelligence, talents, and athletic abilities, but come on, many girls are girly and should be treated as such! 🙂

    1. I see what you mean, Alison … very good points. Like I said to Candice, I was praised and complimented constantly by my parents and see no harm in it. But it definitely wasn’t always about my appearance (sometimes yes, but not always). It’s hard to make a freckly, pale, red-headed kid feel beautiful but they did their best. I think it’s just something to be mindful of — not always addressing the physical/superficial part of someone.

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