With so much focus on looks these days, I have 2 beautiful daughters but for either one, please don’t just tell her she’s pretty. Our kids are so much more than just their appearance….boy or girl!
Not long ago, a friend and I were discussing who we “chose” for our kids’ upcoming school year. Our school district has an interesting system where you actually get a chance to put down your top 3 teacher choices for your child’s upcoming grade. There is no guarantee you will get your choices but it is factored in.
But perhaps more importantly on this form, there is a section where you can write about any special personality trait or qualities that you want the teachers to know about that could help make a good match between teacher and student.
So going back to our conversation – my friend was saying that it was very important for her that no teacher ever tell her daughter she was “pretty” because she would then use that to her advantage.
But that got me thinking – how sad that my friend even felt she should have to put that down on her daughter’s form!
Because every little girl or boy is so much more than their looks. I mean, isn’t that what we tell them all the time? “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” “Beauty is only skin deep.” Yet, we all seem to naturally default to these categories of pretty or cute or sporty or smart. And I am definitely including me in this group!
Even on a more intimate level, how many of us have classified our own kids?! “Allie is such a good reader, but Ben really struggles.” “Riley is fearless but Anna is so much more shy and reserved.”
And I bet you.don’t.even.think.about.it. Because it just seems so natural to categorize our kids – organizing and categorizing is how we make sense of this world. But when we begin to apply those same categories to people, a lot of things can go south.
I was thinking how I would feel as an adult if I constantly heard: “Oh that Hillary – she is great with numbers but don’t ever expect her to hold a conversation with a stranger! She is way too shy!” I would start to reconsider any and all social settings! But I don’t think twice when I compare my kids to each other or to their friends.
But after a while, our internal navigation starts to steer the path that has been reinforced over and over. And after a while you forget that you can be anything other than what someone else has told you you are.
So while it’s totally fine to tell your child or another child that they are cute or pretty, let’s try to do these two things as well:
1. Don’t let that be your fall-back compliment. Yes, every child deserves and needs to hear they are attractive because we ALL want to feel pretty. But that shouldn’t be the only nice thing you can come up with. Tell her how awesome her soccer goal was and you can tell it was from all her practice. Tell him how proud you are of him for sticking with learning the piano, even though there were many days he wanted to quit.
2. Remind children what really counts in the looks department – the inside! I know it is so trite and seems silly – but with two little girls, I tell them they are pretty quite often but 90% of the time I will ask them – Do you know what really makes you pretty? And they both will answer with either “my heart.” So in a small way, I hope I am making in-roads with them on what is really valuable and what constitutes someone’s self-worth.
And the other change I am going to try and make is this – I am going to try and silence my own voice that wants to quantify and qualify my kids. Yes, my eldest may be the ‘athletic’ one and my youngest may be the “book worm.” But what if THEY wanted to be something else – am I setting them up for an environment where they feel they can conquer the world or only what they are good at? I hope it’s the former.