Social Justice

Teaching Girls Their Worth: Giving Empowering Compliments

This post was originally published on Sweatpants & Coffee, where I write lifestyle pieces.

“A major task of parenting is communicating your values to children. Don’t let an avoidable linguistic habit send an unintentional message that how little girls look is more important than how they think, feel, or behave.” – Dr. Renee Engeln

We talk to little girls a lot about their appearances, no matter how hard we try not to – I mean, their outfits are so cute! Their smiles are precious! We get joy just from looking at them and remembering the silliness and simplicity of being that age. But when we only compliment girls on their appearance, we teach them that being cute and beautiful is the most important thing about them. This is well-documented, and it’s a problem everywhere that we divide boys and girls into a binary and treat them as if they’re radically different, even when they’re hitting developmental milestones at the same time and performing the same on activities. Studies show that we systematically underestimate girls and describe them based on their appearance, while we praise boys on their strength and bravery – even from the time they’re just 24 hours old.

Because of our concern about this, the S&C staff decided to use National Compliment Day as an opportunity to talk about praising the young girls of the world for reasons other than their looks. We want to show them that they are so much more, and they have so much more to offer to the world than their appearance.

Get full-sized printable graphic here. Graphic by Nanea Hoffman.
Get full-sized printable graphic here. Graphic by Nanea Hoffman.
Get full-sized printable graphic here. Graphic by Nanea Hoffman.

If you do want to compliment young girls about their appearance because they’re going to a special event and just look marvelous remind them that they are beautiful both inside and out. It’s not just the outside that matters; we love them for their whole being, and they need to know that.

How do you show love to the young girls in your life?

Here are some additional resources for parents and all others who have young girls in their lives that they love:

  • This is true for compliments for people of all ages, but especially for young people and girls especially: Focus on a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Instead of praising someone for their intelligence, praise them for the effort they put into something. It encourages them to seek challenge; if they’re always told they’re smart, but can’t get something on the first try, it can lead them to feel like a failure and give up quickly.
  • “Ask her open-ended questions. Tell her why she matters to you. Praise her for attributes she can control.” This is another example of the growth mindset.
  • There are many different ways we can boost self-esteem, and they really depend on focusing on her uniqueness and how she moves through the world.
  • Honoring the ways they move through the world and affect others.
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