You will undoubtedly have been the apple of your mother’s eye growing up. Since you were born, she probably thought you were the most gorgeous and beautiful little thing that walked the planet. And I’m sure she told you so!
However is this an issue? Unlike little boys, who are often called ‘cool’ or ‘smart’, little girls are frequently given compliments on their appearance over any other trait. According to a Care.com poll, 54% of respondents said they typically call their daughter beautiful over sweet or smart when they greet them.
So, are the pretty dress and gorgeous hair comments we hear as toddlers the reason that we get so hung up on our own and other females’ appearance later on?
Know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with helping your daughter feel good about her exterior, but remember that what’s inside is just as important and needs just as much attention! In an effort to help you raise the next generation of strong, confident and smart women, you don’t need to stifle your thoughts about how adorable she looks – just show her that it is only a small part of her overall loveliness.
Here are our top tips to raising a confident girl:
Tell Her She is Beautiful
Don’t ignore your daughter’s appearance, just talk about in a way that compliments her mind. For instance instead of telling her that her hair/top is pretty, let her know you love how she put together her outfit or how she chose to do her hair – compliment her creativity.
Depending on her age, you can also impart the knowledge that no matter how stylish you look, the way you carry yourself and the person you are makes the biggest statement and overrides outward appearance.
Cater to Her
Hype up things you sense she already feels good about. It shows you have taken the time to figure out what kind of person she is. When you compliment these aspects of her personality it reinforces the confidence is she already building for herself. It might be how talented she is for getting a solo in the school play or how smart she is for doing so well in her spelling test.
As a parent there are endless things you love about your child. Tell her! It’s so easy to tell her she looks pretty or she did a good job. Now dig deeper and get specific. I’m so proud that you finished that book all by yourself and asked for help when you needed it! You spoke so nicely with Grandma and Grandpa on the phone and it made them — and me — feel so happy. I hope it makes you feel happy, too! Recognise then verbalise what is good about her beyond looks she will incorporate it into her self-esteem .
Exaggerate Your Differences
Girls sometimes feel pressured to be just like their mums. Mums might not even realise that they are pushing their desires on their daughters. So point out to her how she is different than you in positive ways. For instance, if you are known for keeping a messy desk, comment on how neat and organised she is with her belongings. Does she always remember people’s birthdays while you are the Queen of Belated Emails? Tell her you wish you had the ability to remember dates and to be so thoughtful. When she hears how you wish you had her good qualities, she will strive to expand upon them.
You can’t stop someone from giving a compliment but you can use the moment to teach your daughter about herself. As much as you want to jump in and add: “she’s not only pretty but she is top of the class”, you don’t want to sound like you’re bragging. Your daughter needs a healthy balance of compliments so let her enjoy them. Afterwards, share a special moment with your daughter where you remind her that she is not just pretty, but you know she is smart, too. If you must, it’s ok to occasionally let the other person know: “Thank you! She’s also an excellent football player.”
This goes for you too, Mum. When someone showers you with a compliment in front of your children, accept it gracefully. If the good words are about your looks, thank the person and move on. But be sure to talk with your daughter later about how you feel beautiful in ways other than your face or clothes.
Start really young — foetus young. Pregnant women develop relationships with their growing babies and if they know the child’s gender, they talk to them and think about them differently. You might dream about all the pretty clothes you will buy for your daughter and about how beautiful she will be. Shake up these expectations. You don’t need to picture your daughter as a rock climbing instructor or a lead scientist finding the cure for cancer, but daydream about all the possibilities she will have in life and all the wonderful personality traits she will have.
Change Your Vocab
Retrain your brain to use the word smart from the very beginning. Sure the dress you just put on her is adorable, but did she lift up her arms when it came time to slip it over her head? Tell her: “You’re so smart!” Whether it’s figuring out where to put a puzzle piece or identifying her nose, telling her she is smart will start to sink in. Your daughter will become aware of the compliment, learn it about herself and eventually mimic your words. Then one day she will know it’s the truth.
Monitor Your Self-Criticism
It might not seem like your children are listening when beds never get made, toys aren’t shared and homework is left hanging, but our words really do make it past their iPod ear buds. If you say, “Mummy is putting on makeup to look pretty”, your daughter will come to understand that you are concerned about your looks. Use your words and actions to teach her that makeup and clothes are fun ways to play with your appearance but you don’t need them to be beautiful you simply want to use them in a creative way.
And stop asking “Do I look good (fat, pretty, ok, thin)?” when children are in earshot. You might question your appearance but you don’t have to share it. Plus, avoiding these negative thoughts might stop them in your mind all together. Everyone wins!
Get Everyone on Board
Now that you have a game plan, it’s important to share your approach with your nanny, regular babysitters or carers. If you have a regularly scheduled meeting with your nanny (like a weekly sit-down) share these words of wisdom or print this article. It’s important for your daughter to see and hear all her role models acting and feeling the same way.