I believe labels can be powerful in both harmful and empowering ways. This is especially true for young children who are developing an inner dialogue with themselves, one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives. As a mother of daughters, I choose my words with great care. I want to use words that will encourage an appreciation for their bodies, a deep sense of self-worth and an overwhelming sense of being wholly loved. Labels are something we all use on a daily basis without even realizing it which makes them a perfect place to start examining the language we use.
My kids hear everything. Even when they ask me to repeat myself a dozen times, I know it’s not unlikely they heard me the first time. Which is why it’s not just what I say in conversation with them that matters but also what I say about them in conversations with others and what I allow others to say about my kids.
A perfect example is when a stranger says hi to my daughters while we’re out running errands. It’s not uncommon for one or even both of them to smile, reach for my hand or move closer to me and leave the stranger’s questions unanswered. In moments like these, many adults will chime in, “Oh, she’s being shy.” Shy, shy, shy. I loathe that word; it makes me want to light my hair on fire. Of the vast spectrum of emotions my child might be experiencing, did it ever cross your mind that perhaps they’re simply being cautious with a person they don’t know? Perhaps they want to warm up to you at their pace and not yours? Perhaps, and this is a biggie, it has nothing to do with you and they’re just hungry and tired and don’t have it in them to engage in small talk? Shy is a label I no longer tolerate around my children.
It’s easier for me to identify the irksome language other people use to label my children than it is to notice my own labeling faux pas.
Every night I kiss my girls and whisper sweet nothings in their ear. I always end with “I love you, princess”. I’ve been saying it, with some solid regularity, since they were born. The other night I caught myself saying “princess” and really had to stop myself. We are not anti-princess in our home. We are mindfully selective of these royal “role models*” and how they influence our daughters. We love Merida. Not so keen on Adora. We’re team Tiana, all the way. Cinderella? Meh. Am I depriving them of some life changing experience by not letting them glorify the Disney princess squad** in our house? I don’t think so.
I’ve explained to my daughters how what and who we surround ourselves with plays a big part in influencing us. So I tell them if they like princesses, choose the ones with admirable qualities. Choose the ones that empower them as little girls. None of this putting your life on hold until prince charming comes around. Fooey.
Shy is specifically negative while princess is positively vague. Not exactly the way to celebrate precisely how great my daughters are. I want there to be no doubt in their minds that they are always enough just as they are. So I bid adieu to “princess” (as well as shy) and welcome words that rejoice in the gifts they were born with, the gifts they’re still figuring out that I’m so luck to witness.
Here are ten positive labels, ten kickass alternatives to calling your daughter a princess.
Let me know in the comments – what empowering labels do you use with your young women?
*Princesses as role models – Disney princesses not so much, at least not all of them. Certainly my first choice for role models for my girls are real women, from history, our neighborhood, our family. But let’s keep it real. We, as parents, do not get to choose their role models. We can give gentle guidance but ultimately they will choose. I provide my girls with value based reasoning and we discuss each of our opinions. It would be foolish of me to think princesses do not in some way impact my daughters.
**Our family’s choice to be mindfully selective in the princess department is a choice we make based on our values. It is not ever a commentary on anyone else’s choices for their family. This, of course, applies to all parenting choices. My best friend’s daughter is a huge Disney princess fan and we’re still total BFFs. Her family, their values, their choices. My family, our values, our choices. Simple.