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Monday, August 01, 2011

Motherhood Mondays: How to talk to little girls

This Saturday, Toby and I were riding the bus downtown, when a six-year-old girl sat down next to us. She was wearing a white dress and sparkly red flats, and her blonde hair was twisted into a braid. My first instinct was to compliment her hairstyle, but I stopped myself...

I had just read the GREAT article How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom, which encourages adults to ask little girls about ideas and books, instead of complimenting their looks. "Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything," says Bloom. "I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are...It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it?"

(It's true! It's really easy and almost instinctive to compliment a little girl's appearance, don't you think?)

"Clothes or hair or bodies...it's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn," Bloom writes. "Try this the next time you meet a little girl [ask her what she's reading]. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it...Model for her what a thinking woman says and does."

So, instead of telling the girl on the bus how much I liked her hair, I went ahead and asked her what books she liked. She told me that her mom was reading The Little House in the Prairie to her at night, and that they read one chapter per night, unless it was a long chapter, in which case they read half. We talked about books for five bus stops (that's a long time in midtown traffic!) and then I asked her what she had for breakfast. "Pancakes," she said. I told her that I loved pancakes with lemon and sugar, and her mom looked up and said, "That's how I ate them growing up in Germany." And then the little girl told me how she had gone on an airplane (!) to Germany earlier that summer and how she had seen a fox during her trip and how her grandparents took to her swimming and to the movies, where you could eat pizza in your seats.

I was thrilled by our conversation! (Although Toby fell asleep:) It was so much more interesting than braids.

Lisa Bloom's advice to have real conversations with little girls (and boys!) is wonderful. (Think: "Have you been swimming this summer?" "Do you like animals?" "Do you know any jokes?") Changing the conversation topic is such a seemingly small thing, but it can make a profound difference, don't you think?

What's your take? Do you instinctively compliment little girls' looks, too? What else do you talk about with little girls? Do you remember having smart conversations with adults when you were little? Do you have any young girls in your life to at the moment, or do you have a daughter? Will you take Lisa Bloom's pledge, too? (Think how amazing it would be if we all did this from now on!) Do you think it's important or not that big of a deal? I'm curious to hear your thoughts... xoxo
P.S. This book looks fascinating, too. Plus, more Motherhood Monday posts...

(Photos by Darcy Hemley, Deborah Donenfeld and Charles Gullung, via Momfilter)

455 comments:

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670f3ac2-c1c0-11e0-b013-000f20980440 said...

I try to think about whether I'm complimenting something that the kid can affect/change (what she's reading, or what she thinks) or not (Her pretty hair, etc). People in general have very little control over their physical attributes (or their inherent intelligence) but they can control their work ethic and thoughts. I read an article about this a few weeks back, talking about complimenting a child's intelligence (Wow! You got an 'A!' You're so smart!) versus work habits (Wow! You got an 'A!' You must have really worked hard and done all your homework!) Seems like a very simple thing, but consider that if the kid simply thinks s/he is smart, then the A is no real achievement. If it's linked to work that they did, then the achievement is theirs. Possibly a more in-depth subject than this article, but. . .

Abbey said...

love this post and love little house series .. my dad read me a chapter a night...

babbleandbaklava said...

This is so true and so insightful - thanks for posting!

Courtney said...

I LOVE this! It explains why sometimes, if no one compliments on how I look when I dress up, it hurts my feelings! That's stupid when the fact that they want to hang out with me has nothing to do with what's on my body, but what's in my head!

ACP said...

I just wanted to chime in. I love this concept! I am guilty of complimenting my 13-year-old sister on her cuteness - since she was teeny - BUT I also think that hopefully if I keep telling her she's beautiful and has great style (etc etc etc) then she will believe it. So my intentions were good, although after reading this article I'd like to change things up. :)

Thanks to you and Lisa Bloom!

Terri said...

Wonderful...I'm doing this

milk tea + polkadots said...

It's so true! My first instinct is to compliment little girls (and boys too sometimes) on how cute they are. I just found out I'm having twin girls. I'm definitely going to take this article's advice the next time I speak to kids. :)

Jan's camera said...

Ist is so true. I always want to tell a little girl how pretty her dress or shoes are and I have to stop myself because I believe that little girls will grow up with the "princess syndrome". Whatever that is, but I know it is pink.

Casey @ Classic with a Pop said...

I completely understand your point, but to be honest, society is going to focus on our daughters' appearances and instead of avoiding the reality, I think positive comments from parents and strangers about a girl's appearance can go a really long way in terms of self-confidence. No matter how much we want to believe that self confidence should not come solely from looks (and it shouldn't, not disagreeing with you) I think we have to be mindful of the fact that our daughters will still pick up on this way of thinking from social interactions in general, and if we equip them with positive thoughts and compliments about their appearance instead of waiting for the world to bring them down, it can do nothing but help.

Stephanie said...

I have an almost 5 y/o daughter, and while I do try to engage her in other topics of conversation, more often than not, I will compliment her on her looks/hair/choice of clothes that day, right off the bat. I do think you can compliment girls without putting all the focus of conversation on appearances. A sincere "You look very lovely today!" and then moving on to other topics is ok, no? Or do you think the compliments should come after other more substantial conversation?

My daughter is very conversational when given the direction. She's not reading yet, but we do read books chapter by chapter.

Steering the conversation away from the standard 'girl' talk is truly a wonderful idea. Thanks so much for the enlightenment!

And I will definitely share this!

Misty Murfin said...

I am a mum of two girls and am sorry to say I have never even considered my actions in this way - but will try very hard to do so from now on. Thank you for raising it. I do think that I will continue to compliment my girls regularly on their appearance though. Too many of my friends have very negative body/appearance thoughts of themselves and I want my girls to feel confident about their appearance but equally value all parts of what makes them individuals too. We do need to emphasise that so many things are much more important than our appearance, but I can't deny that the way I feel about how I look affects my confidence immensely.

Sara R said...

This is the approach my parents had and I do think it gave me a lot more self-esteem.

Hope said...

I love this post! It goes hand in hand with this one http://www.emergingmummy.com/2011/06/in-which-i-promise-not-to-call-myself.html .
Our daughters and sons need a brighter future and we can provide that for them through thoughtful conversations and attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Love this post! I have a hard time figuring out what to talk about with kids in general, so this was great even on just that basic level.
I don't love the page breaks. In fact I notice I steer clear of blogs that do only page breaks for every post. Don't want to keep having to click back & forth on blogs, ya know? Scrolling down is easy. Thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

ahhh so good! man, i wish people hadn't commented so much on my appearance when i was little (and not so little..).. I would have been way more comfortable much earlier voicing my opinions. this is so important.

AnneG said...

On a more intimate level, I find a nice way to build self esteem for my girls is to give them projects and games that require them to think. My girls have never played with a barbie- or wanted to with toys like these Educational Toys

literating said...

After reading both articles, I wrote up the Y-gene side of this train of thought:

How to Talk to Little Boys

Thanks for this, sis.

Kim H. said...

I must do this with my five-year-old daughter! I need to focus on how amazingly smart and funny and sweet she is!

VW said...

Absolutely agree. What a timely post - I just ranted about the Disney Princess Machine and how I'm trying to fight it off to protect my 3 year old from the girl culture.

Anonymous said...

A male co-worker of mine noted that the first thing people say to his daughter is that she is pretty. He tries to tell her often that she is smart because he wants her to value that even more than being attractive. Of course, he also compliments her looks sometimes, but he tries to focus more on other things. I think that's pretty awesome. It made me aware of what I say to my one year old girl. Thanks for posting another great reminder.

Anonymous said...

Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water! I agree it is important to talk to girls and boys of all ages about their interests, views and inspiration,BUT I also think it is important to tell girls that they are beautiful. I make a point to tell a girl, particularly a tween or a less than gorgeous teen that she has beautiful eyes, or a gorgeous smile.
I don't remember ever being told that as a young girl and my self esteem when it came to looks was in the toilet. It took me a long time and a husband who told me I was beautiful often to finally see myself as such.

Little Miss Monogram said...

This is a real game changer for me as the mother of two girls. I really do love this!

Khinna Kaminske said...

I'm guilty of doing the same thing. I have a little girl, and a little boy. My favorite part in the article is, " Model for her what a thinking woman says and does." Thank you for sharing. I plan on sharing this with friends and family too.

Anonymous said...

I am a Kindergarten teacher and get to have all sorts of conversations with young boys and girls. Oftentimes they can be very "deep" conversations and it thrills me every time to hear what intelligent comments come out of their mouths! Sometimes they teach ME! ; ) This post is an important concept and more people need to realize what thoughts these little brains are capable of producing! I have seen some parents/caregivers who speak to their children as if they are still babies... SO annoying! Is IS okay to compliment those fashion savvy little girls though, the ones who throughly enjoy dresses that twirl and sparkly shoes, especially if they dressed themselves! But it is MORE important to get them thinking about the more intellectual parts of life. More people should try this!

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Eden Gold said...

wow, I have never really seriously considered this and i also adore this concept. Enhancing looks/dress/appearance will commonly exclusively create a extremely light discussion. I love it that you simply discovered of which she ingested hotcakes as well as visited Philippines come early july. When i ask yourself just what exactly Toby will require to to express any time he or she starts to yak!

Cam | Bibs and Baubles said...

I love that suggestion. Kids always like to talk about themselves and what their interests are. Sometimes, we just don't give them the opportunity. :)

Pudgy said...

I am in love with this article! IT was full of life and pure love! :) this put me in a happy place today! COuld you share things like this or anyone here with my group www.facebook.com/ilovebeingablackfather .. We get a lot of flack b/c of the name but there is something very necessary in this mission! It must be directed this way! I'm super duper busy so if someone would keep me posted on more of these it would be tremendous to me! I will share via fb.Thanks to my friend Kalita for this post!

Anonymous said...

At first, I instantly agreed. Of course, girls, little or big, should be related to in other ways than their looks. And it does us all a world of good to be mindful of the full person we see in front of us,her smile, her ideas, her being. I do, though, have a problem with taking the concept to the extreme and not giving girls or daughters the opportunity to express their selves physically. As important as their ideas, their sense of humor is their sense of their bodies and how they want to express themselves physically and how they want to be perceived. If we go straight to their minds and pointedly ignore what we see in front of us, we are saying that their favorite t-shirt with the polka dot dog is not important or the pony tail she put in her hair because it looks like the horse in the book she read isn't important either.
I just think a happy medium is the best approach. Admittedly difficult to do on a bus trip in Manhattan, the mind,the body and the spirit should get equal play time.
I grew up being acknowledged solely for my ideas, my mental aptitude, or lack there of, and being told directly and indirectly that my looks were not important. Well, good people, they are. In part as a result of that approach, I felt guilty for looking attractive and getting positive response for my looks and feeling uncomfortable in my skin. Regardless if you feel blessed or cursed by your looks, a loving parent can do well to understand her daughter's response to her looks and help her hopefully reach a place of peace with her looks as well as her mind and spirit

LB said...

I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter, and she is so beautiful, but I have to remind myself that her outer beauty is not why I love her. She is clever and ridiculously funny, and she takes such risks that I never did or would. I am in awe of her, and so I try so so so hard to tell her that she is smart, kind and important (if you've read "The Help" this will resonate). Every child, girl or boy, should hear these things every day.

Grayson Dempsey said...

I love this and really really try to do this often (I have two little girls of my own). I find it hard though because looks are so "external", so it is easier to say to ANYONE that you are just meeting "I like your earrings" or "Great shoes!" rather than "Hi! What do you like to read?" I guess I need better true ice breakers to start up conversations with kids - once we know each other I tend to ask the deeper stuff, but I do find myself often reaching out to boys and girls alike by complimenting their lunch boxes or their quirky ensembles or things like that. Advice welcome :)

Ellie said...

I love this idea! But i also think in some cases a compliment can be a good thing. there are some girls that you can just tell they don't get praised a lot, and hearing a compliment from a stranger can mean A LOT. :]

Anonymous said...

This is awesome. Beyond awesome. I'm in a teacher prep program, and often fall into the "complement" trap. This leads to such better conversation- and sends a message. Love it.

scott said...

the conversation souns really interesting, thanks for this post

Erin said...

I love this idea. My brother and his wife recently adopted a little girl and it has been very insightful and I refer back to it when I have conversations with her. She is so funny and engaging when you allow her to be. Today I found this article http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/06/04/494018/study-tv-hurts-the-self-esteem-of-girls-and-children-of-color-but-bolsters-boys/
and thought it was interesting in relation to how to talk to girls- and how cultural norms are projected through different media formats. Although we think we have achieved equality in many ways in the United States today- when we look back at how children are subconciously socialized we see that there are still many more steps to go.

Kathy said...

I love this article and a great idea.Unfortunately, we grow to think it is quite natural to compliment a child's looks, not getting to emphacize who they really are..Thank you. I will remember this. Never too old to change how we see things.

The Meaning of Me said...

I really love this - thanks for posting. Had to jump over and read the Lisa Bloom article, too. I don't know that I can add anything new or different than has already been posted here, but let me be one more vote for YES! With our daughter, Husband and I hope to show her that all parts of a person are valuable, that it's the whole person. Do we tell her she's beautiful as well as engaging her in conversation about her interests? Absolutely - because that's important, too. She loves clothes and shoes and takes pleasure in creating her own outfits. So complimenting the look she creates is complimenting her creativity in that area. It's really about finding the right balance, understanding the person in question, and helping her learn that no one part of a person is the only part. We want her to know that being healthy, strong, and kind matters. Will any of us know these things about the next stranger we meet? Probably not. But just keeping the idea in the back of our minds that there are many options to open conversation other than simply the standard "nice dress" or whatever, gives us lots of opportunity.

Again, thanks for the post. Loved it, loved the conversation in the posts. I enjoy your site! :)

Elizabeth M said...

I love this! I worked with children at camp this summer, and if I wasn't sure what to say to them, I always asked them what they were reading.

Yana said...

I really like this idea. For some reason it has never popped into my mind. It's too easy to talk about how pretty a little girl is. But actually, I'll admit that i do not really know how to talk to little children boy or girl, so it's probably easier to defer to topics I'm used to. I will definitely try this.

Susie said...

I love this concept, but I definitely think a girl is born with a certain desire to be beautiful... Obviously society has warped that idea to an unhealthy extreme... But I don't think there's anything wrong with telling a little girl she looks pretty. Just not ALL the time. There definitely needs to be a balance of talking about girly things, and talking about adventures and books, and telling a girl she's smart and creative, not just pretty...
As far as telling a girl she's beautiful leading to things like plastic surgery... I for one, never decide I want to get a boob job or botox because someone compliments me on my looks... It usually gives me a boost of confidence and helps me to stray from that sort of thought.

These are obviously just my opinions, and you are definitely right about people doing it too often. But in moderation, and when it's a genuine compliment, I think it's perfectly fine.

Linda said...

Thank you for this. I have always had trouble talking to youngsters. Always asking, how's school? What subject do you like best? I even do this with my 8-10 year old granddaughters.

bajantomorrow said...

Absolutely LOVE this idea. After just reading the beautiful co-sleeping post and now discovering this gem you are officially my new favourite blog. Brava!

Bec Clarke said...

Thank you so much, I missed this article but what you said is going to stay with me and hopefully help our family.

Call me *DUTCH* said...

What a great idea!
I am a Retired Substitute Teacher and I miss the active-interaction I had with all (my) students.
This post makes me ask how can I get back in contact with the kiddos when they all are rushed from place to place and not given the time to "enjoy" by reading?

Kate Runyan said...

I love this topic because I try very hard not to buy anything for my two year old niece that would impose gender. I refuse to buy any easy bake ovens, Disney princess kitchen sets and vacuum cleaners. Instead, I purchase puzzles, coloring books and reading books and she loves them all! But of course, she loves the tupperware in the kitchen above all else, stacking and unstacking! For those interested in the topic, look up Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.

Elvi said...

This reminds of The Little Prince ... and btw we do this to boys too in a different way .. I find myself complimenting their superhero shirt and asking what sports they like ... lol

“Grown-ups love figures... When you tell them you've made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?

... instead they comment and ask questions about appearances ... (among other)

" Instead they demand "How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? " Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince

Catie Beatty said...

This is one of those topics that I can see both sides of. I LOVE hair and clothes, etc. so my first instinct is to complement. On the other hand, it really does reinforce the idea that image is the most important thing for girls to worry about. Similarly, my niece LOVES hair, make-up, and clothes as much as I do. However, she's 3 and shouldn't really be worrying about these things yet, but is it simply because she loves them the way I did when I was her age? I loved make-up because my mom wore it and clothes because they were both an outlet for creativity and a way be whoever I wanted to be (still the same today). When I let her try on my make-up I want it to be because she loves the process or the colors, not because she thinks it makes her more worthwhile as a person.

I bet that little girl loved her shoes and sometimes it's just fun to share in the joy of sparkly red flats. Maybe phrasing it differently or saying something like "Those remind me of my favorite shoes growing up..." would help change the focus.

heronsister said...

I find this helpful. I struggle to talk to most children -- they don't seem to respond much. It's easy to take this personally and assume I don't come across as interesting or trustworthy or something. So with girls I do fall back on clothes, etc., but this has reinforced my resolve to stick to more interesting topics. It's so important!!

John Devid said...

It seems to me that you have written from your practical experience. I like it. You have write what I do generally. I regularly visit Attractthemnow and learn this kind of attitude.

jhon silly said...

Very nice articles and very wonderful
Dress up games for girls
and I love it.

Andrea Jene said...

It is fabulous that a post like this continues to resonate three years later. Think of all the little girls that have been and will continue to be influenced by these real conversations. Thank you for this post!

The Ampelophilosofer! said...

I must have been an ugly kid, because everyone would compliment me on my math skills, and i agree! We should encourage little girls to be smart, to become leaders, to do something great with their lives. it has been bothering me great coming back to Cyprus, and realizing that women here think they were only meant for the house, that they can't do anything with their lives. And these women raise their girls the same way. It bothers me so much i want to scream! But me personally, everyone talked to me as if i was a genius, but i always felt insecure about the way i looked. It is very important to let girls know they are Beautiful! If a person thinks they lack in looks or brain it's as damaging.

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