It’s next to impossible to look at your child and not revel in their beauty. It doesn’t matter what they physically look like; you see perfection in every inch no matter what. And naturally you want to tell them that… especially when we have daughters.
It’s no secret that society places a lot of value on a woman’s looks. We’re inundated with that message, and even moms who have done the self-healing work about body love want their daughters to see and embrace their beauty. But telling your girl that she is pretty or smart isn’t the way to do it. In fact, it can cause more harm than good.
“I am a big fan of praising kids for the effort behind things,” mom of two girls and clinical psychologist Tina Gonzales tells Scary Mommy. “I don’t typically say things like ‘you are pretty, you are smart’ because then kids think ‘I am only good if I am pretty or smart.’ If we praise the effort and the work that goes behind those characteristics we learn to feel good about trying our best versus the outcome.”
That isn’t to say that you should forgo complimenting your child’s looks entirely. After all, they do have to have confidence in a looks-driven society. Gonzales says that when it comes to specifically praising a child’s appearance it’s important to remember not to praise things they can’t control, like hair texture, eyes, or facial structure.
“If I say ‘you are pretty’ or ‘you look cute’ it is usually in regards to them dressing themselves or picking a new hairstyle,” says Gonzales of her own interactions with her daughters. “I always praise them deciding on a brave outfit or something new.”
In other words you’re praising the effort behind cultivating their own looks and style.
“Try saying ’wow it looks like you worked hard on putting that outfit together, that looks pretty.’ Or ‘wow, I saw you take a lot of time and used good problem solving tricks to figure that out,” suggests Gonzales.
The truth is, your daughter will hear many people compliment her physical beauty in her life time, but she might not hear about all the other ways she is valuable. You are her greatest source of encouragement, make sure she knows she has a lot to be proud of.