Petite ‘n Pretty’s founder answers the one question she hears from parents the most
I don’t have a tween (yet), but I get this question a lot from other parents: How do I talk to my tween daughter about the word pretty? Do I talk about it? Am I hurting her if I tell her she’s pretty?
Like beautiful, pretty is a loaded word, especially for young girls.
How your daughter understands and applies pretty to her life starts with how and from whom she first hears it, because hear it she will. If not at home, then at school. If not at school, then on Instagram. If not on Instagram, then from ads literally everywhere. If not from you first, then who first?
Being pretty isn’t an accomplishment or expectation. It isn’t something your daughter should feel like she must work at or achieve. And it certainly isn’t something she should worry about. You can help her know that there’s nothing more she needs to do than be herself to feel pretty.
I say, go ahead, tell your daughter she’s pretty but don’t only tell her she’s pretty.
Pretty Alone is Pretty Boring
You know your daughter is so much more than pretty just as you know you’re so much more than beautiful, but it still feels good to hear it doesn’t it? From your spouse, from your BFF, even (or maybe especially) from your own mom.
As parents, we shouldn’t be afraid to encourage positive self-esteem in our kids. That doesn’t mean every compliment needs to be focused on looks. It's possible to both affirm her in her outward self while nurturing her inner self and admirable behaviors that you hope will stay with her into a confident and capable adulthood.
Is your daughter dedicated to improving as a dancer? Determined to set a new personal record in her mile time? Committed to building up her friends with kindness? A natural at math equations you can’t help her with anymore because they’ve gone way (way) over your head? Or does she have that never-give-up grit to see her goals through even if she fails along the way?
Praise her for her drive. Build her up with kind words. Remind her that effort and hard work are more important than the finish line. Let her know how impressed you are with the time she puts into her projects. Encourage her to learn from her mistakes.
And tell her she’s pretty, too.
Feeling pretty isn’t going to take away her curiosity or creativity so much as make more space in her life for them to thrive because she’s not worried about whether she’s pretty or not. She knows she is.
Help Her Define Pretty Her Own Way
Avoiding using pretty talk isn’t going to protect your daughter from hearing it and applying it to her self-worth. By telling your tween she’s pretty, inside and out, you help shape how she defines it for herself and applies it to her life outside of parental supervision.
I tell my three-year-old, Gia, that she’s pretty when she wears all pink like a princess or scrapes on her knees like a badge of honor. (Girl loves her tricycle...and going fast.) I tell her how pretty her creativity is when she wants to pick out my outfit for work. I tell her that her imagination is the prettiest thing about her when she gets Gen Glitter literally everywhere and is so proud of the work she’s done or when she’s crying so hard the snot is running more than the tears because it didn’t turn out the way she wanted.
I want Gia to hear from her mother that I think she’s pretty as much as I think she’s funny, imaginative, brave, creative and a wee-bit headstrong like her mom. I want her to take that affirmation with her wherever she goes so hurtful standards can’t be used against her. I want her to see how pretty other kids are, too, each in their own special way.
Because what I don’t want is for pretty to become an expectation of polished presentation that only applies to a few (and to a few instances) that she’ll spend a lifetime trying to perfect.
Talk the Talk to Yourself, Too
What kind of mixed message does it send if we shower kids in pretty praises through their tween and teen years, but have nothing positive to say about our own bodies through mamahood? You’ve gotta talk the talk to you, too — because that’s how you walk the walk for her. I know that what I say and believe about myself shapes how Gia sees herself. She watches me put on makeup, helps me pick out my outfits in the morning, tries on all my shoes. And she listens to every word I say about myself.
I want both my children to grow up to be happy, healthy, confident adults who see the best in themselves and others. Doesn’t that start with me nurturing a more positive sense of self that recognizes the full depth and breadth of who they are – inwardly and outwardly? Part of that, for me, means leading by example with positive self-talk.
Teach Her to Give & Receive Compliments
How many times have you backed away from a compliment – about appearances, accomplishments or otherwise – by downplaying it instead of accepting it? Or tried to compliment a friend who did the same? I’m not sure when or why it became vain to take a compliment and own it because, heck yes, it’s OK to recognize and be recognized for something as seemingly small as a masterfully executed winged liner or as big as starting your own business.
Sometimes we don’t see how pretty we are until others tell us and hearing it can be enough to get through a tough day. You can help your daughter feel pretty without exclusively tying her self-worth to her appearance to get through life. Give her a bit more credit than that. After all, you know how smart she is. Feeling pretty isn’t going to take that away.
Junior high and high school are unquestionably a lot of tough days. Looks are too often leveraged as insults. First dates turn into first heartbreaks. And the pressure to fit in is felt through social platforms as much as in school hallways. Through pimples, braces and breakups, what she might need to hear most from you is honey, you’re so pretty.
Because what our daughters think of themselves starts with what they hear about themselves. Before the whole FaceTuned world or a well-intentioned friend or bully at school or first boyfriend tells her otherwise, make sure she knows that someone, especially her mom, thinks she’s the prettiest girl in the world.