How To Compliment Little Girls

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted to his Facebook page this article on how one should talk to young girls. The gist of the article – don’t focus on their looks, focus on their intelligence and other fine qualities.

All this talk about not focusing our compliments on their looks is crap. It’s all wrapped up in our own baggage and inability to appreciate ourselves. We are physical creatures. We all like things of beauty. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s teach our daughters to love themselves – their smarts, their looks, their character, everything they’ve got.

I’m trying my darnedest to raise young ladies who celebrate the beauty and complexity of being a woman. A huge part of that is helping them feel confident in their skin and own who they are. I want them to love, embrace and respect their bodies. You can’t do those things by ignoring their looks. On the contrary, you celebrate it.

I will not ignore their looks for the sake of making them feel smart. I do not believe brains and beauty are mutually exclusive. My girls can be both attractive and smart. Feminine and athletic. You know, all those delicious gender specific traps of being a female and their “masculine” counterparts.

So here’s my radical idea – let’s compliment girls on their looks in magical and amazing and unexpected ways. Let’s give them a little something to slip into their back pocket so when the icky days of adolescence arrive, full of pimples and hormones and gorgeous girls without pimples or bad hair days (but plenty of hormones), they can hold on tight to words that make them feel sparkly and beautiful. (note: they’ll hold in this back pocket lots of compliments, not just ones about their looks…ones about comedic timing, engaging storytelling, a knack for fixing cars, being an attentive listener…).

So how exactly does one compliment a little girl without being too surfacey? Be creative, full of imagination and connect them to something greater than themselves. Wha-what? What am I talking about? Here, some examples:

  • My oldest daughter has brown eyes and I tell her they’re the color of the earth, rich and full of life and possibility.
  • Other days I tell her they remind me of yummy chocolate which always makes her giggle. Chocolate is a source of joy for her.
  • Our youngest’s eyes are the color of where the sky meets the sea at dusk. I tell her they are just like her grandma’s & like her uncle’s.
  • When I brush their hair and pull it away from their faces, I tell them it’s as strong as a rope like (gasp) Rapunzel (I know, Cinderella Ate My Daughter…bite me) and it’s all because they nourish their bodies with the right foods.

Complimenting a little girl on the things we find beautiful on the outside does not have to be shallow.

  • Make the nature connection.
  • Make her feel honored to carry on a unique family trait.
  • Get silly. Make it fun.
  • Focus beauty on the importance of a healthy & strong body. Hooray for fruits & veggies! Hooray for exercise!

This is just a jumping off point. The sky’s the limit. Remember the best compliment you ever got? Of course you do. Because it was magic and made you soar. Remember that feeling the next time you go give a compliment to a little girl. Choose your words wisely and with intention and make her feel proud to be herself, inside and out.

The best compliment I ever got came from a college professor (no, not a weirdo creep-type, he was of the grandpa-ish variety and super sweet and kind) who would light up every time I smiled and told me he would go out of his way to catch a glimpse of it. His words were so sweet but the part that stayed with me was seeing him smile because I smiled. What’s the best compliment you ever got?

UPDATED 9/10/11: I think it’s so funny the HuffPo piece got so much attention. People felt all sorts of strong about it. I love this vlog on the topic and this older post on the same subject, both from some kickass mamas I read on the regular. Since having written this I wanted to add two things.
First, the logic is all wrong on the original piece. This is the message I’m getting: If you want girls to be confident in and value their amazing traits such as intelligence and wit, then bring positive attention to them (aka praise). According to this logic, then: If we refrain from giving positive attention to a young girl’s physical appearance, then she will not be confident in or value herself physically. I know, I know. I’m taking it to a whole other level but hey that’s what having my own space on the world wide web is for, no? If what you water grows, then why not water the whole garden? (Clearly, I should refrain from writing fortune cookies)
Secondly, Growing up I was complimented for both my looks and my not-looks (smarts, etc.). What was the affect on me? I’m a confident person who once in a blue moon feels really icky about her looks and other days feels like a total idiot. Is it all a result of the kind of compliments I got growing up? Yes and no. We’re all doing our best with our own kids and, despite our best efforts, will mess them up in some way. Same goes for other people’s kids, good intentions, sometimes misinterpreted outcomes. The important thing? Good intentions and talking about a whole lot of other stuff lest your child become super self-centered and arrogant. 


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  1. I was JUST reading up on articles like this to prepare for my 4 month old daughter. I think the operative word is “focus”. You wouldn’t want to dwell on looks but I don’t think physical compliments are completely taboo. I do think that our media has a huge emphasis on physical looks and sexuality. Our daughters need to have the proper self-esteem and confidence to see those as simple marketing gimmicks. The compliment that has stuck with me was from an ex-boyfriend who said that my body was like a dancer’s out of the blue. In my younger years, I had always been insecure about too small boobs and really muscular legs. When I heard that compliment, it gave me a lot of security since I saw dancers as strong, athletic, and confident people. I embraced my legs as powerful and realized learning golf would be easier with smaller boobs 🙂

    I think your approach is great Carla. I am going to start using them on my baby today!

  2. I definitely don’t think that beauty should be a focus. The problem is, that in our society, we do encourage girls to find their self-worth through beauty. Now, there’s nothing wrong with feeling beautiful or complimenting our daughters’ looks, but we definitely have to be aware of how often these compliments slip out of our mouths in comparison to compliments about intelligence, strength and empathy.

    Pointing out a girl’s beauty constantly can cause her to see this as her most important indicator of value, so I’m glad you’re looking for new ways to tell your baby girl how much you appreciate her. <3

  3. I’ve been following this topic through the original article, Girl’s Gone Child, Momversation…and I love your take on it. Your comment examples are beautiful.

  4. You really don’t get it. We need to start emphasizing what girls can do instead of what they look like. The world around them emphasizes beauty, but if people close to them give them compliments on their person, they will know that they are important and valuable because of their character traits. No one is refusing to make a little girl feel good about herself, but comments on the way she looks should be as infrequent as we comment on the looks of a little boy. Most women do not embrace their beauty, most women look at themselves and hate the way they look. They only embrace their beauty because that is what they have bee trained to do since birth.

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