Julia Landry over at Parents.com has written a short piece about what we do when we tell little girls how pretty they are. She thinks that by focusing on appearance we send the message to our girls that their appearance is what is most important or valuable:
What’s wrong with “You’re such a smart girl”? “You’re so creative”? “You’re so good at drawing”? “You know so many words”? Sure, tell her she’s pretty, because she is… because all children are. But don’t leave it at that. She isn’t even three yet, but everything anyone says to a toddler leaves an impression, and so a repeated focus on “prettiness” only tells her that it’s her appearance that is important, that it’s her blue eyes or her blonde highlights that people think are her best qualities, and not her big vocabulary or her sharp curiosity about everything around her.
I couldn’t agree more. I noticed when my daughter was in the 2-3 year age range that everyone would note how pretty she is–and I feel into this trap too of commenting on her appearance. I tried not only to refrain from this but to praise her other attributes and especially her behaviors and accomplishments.
Chapter 1 of Bronson and Merryman’s Nurtureshock discusses how praising someone for being smart actually inhibits their motivation to work hard. It is much more important to praise what our children do rather than what they are if we want them to strive for achievement and excellence in whatever they do.
So praising the appearance of our young girls sends them the message that this is what we value most about them and directs their attention away from what they can accomplish, towards what they have genetically inherited.