I read something the other day.  A Mom said she rarely tells her daughter that she is beautiful.  She doesn’t want the daughter to be overly focused on appearances.  I get this.  I don’t like that people are often judged by how they look.  I don’t like that other qualities are often over looked.


You knew there would be a but…..

Can we be harming our children just as much by never commenting on appearance?

I’m going to take you back to my childhood.  As the dinosaur passes by my window, you can see my Mother lecturing me.  Now my Mother was/is obsessed by physical appearance.  She never left the house without make-up, and if she did she wore large dark sunglasses, even at night.  She invented eating disorders.  She sold cosmetics as a living.  For the record- these behaviors are bad.  These behaviors led me to a whole bunch of self-esteem issues, that I have fought my entire life, and continue to fight.  And while my Mother was at the extreme end of the spectrum, the underlying message was the same.

My Mother never said I was pretty.

So why is this important?

A child has to feel that their parent thinks they are wonderful.

What’s the catch?

A parent must make sure that the child feels they are wonderful and conquer the world, because if your parent doesn’t think you are wonderful, who will?

Conversely, a parent must make sure that the child does not develop an ego or become arrogant.  A parent must let the child know that there will probably be others that will be better than them.

What?  you say.  Do I still have a head cold? you ask.  How can a parent do two completely opposite things?

That’s the great mystery of parenting- to make their child feel like they can conquer the world, but know, at the exact same time, that they might not succeed.  How do parents do it?  I don’t know, but you guys will be the first ones I tell when I figure it out.

Now back to looks.  I know from personal experience, not thinking you are pretty leads you to make a lot of really poor decisions about men.  See, no matter what lessons we teach, everyone wants to be attractive- they want others to find them attractive.  Seriously- do you own a mirror?  Do you look in the mirror?  Is it really “just for you”?  Or do you care about how the world views you?  So when a really crappy guy says you’re pretty, and you’ve never been told that you were pretty……you forget about all the bad things this particular guy is, and focus on the word “pretty”.  Then, there are the crappy guys who never tell you that you’re pretty.  Guess what?  You go to them to, because in your adolescent mind, your mom doesn’t think you’re pretty, or she tells you you’re not good enough, and you begin to think that that is what love is- love is a person that highlights all your faults.

So- here’s my advice.  Compliment your children on all aspects of their personality and appearance.  Encourage them to be clean (I know there are people that will disagree with me on this, but I don’t care- I think you need an occasional bath)  Encourage them to eat healthy and exercise.  These are just good habits that will keep you healthy.

Tell them that they are attractive and smart and organized and talented and funny and hard working and all the other things that they are. Let then know you love all aspects of their personality, as well as them. Kids need to hear these things from their parents.  It’s a cruel world, and things are not going to go right the majority of the time, so let them know there is always a soft spot for them to land in, at home.  You need to be their rock.

70 thoughts on “A Fine Line

      1. The mind of a young person can be fragile adolescence can suck conflicted emotions other adolescence can be cruel through their own insecurities projected rather than face them. I am of course speaking from past painful experience.

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  1. I believe in positive enforcement and kids need positive comments! Especially when it comes to looks. With the media, specifically in Western culture, it’s a requirement these days. It’s just too easy for them to be misled. I’m one of those people that think social media has made it worse, but I won’t go off on a rant about that… 😉 Great post! ❤

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  2. Yes! Yes! And… YES! Be the rock. Be the safe place to land. Love them fiercely. Children have been entrusted to our care. If not you, then who? If there is one thing I would change in the raising of my daughter it would be to eliminate the word “but” you did a really good job, but you should also… Ugh! Parenting is tough. Do your best. Love ’em while you got ’em. The time goes by quickly.

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  3. I don’t know how she did it but I credit my mother with my healthy self image in appearance terms. I got the sense early on that I was an appealing package in every sense. Looks were not emphasised but they were important to her and vanity was a mortal sin . As I got older I was a much less appealing package. She could criticise like a boss and did so constantly about my character and my behaviours but not much about my appearance. I was not vain growing up, perhaps it was something I was unresponsive to so she didn’t bother. Not much to offer here just personal reflection on something I have often wondered about. She did have a tendency for doing things by the back door.

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  4. Yes! When I was about 14, my mother saw me looking closing at my face in the mirror (as 14-year-old-girls will do) and said, “Don’t worry, honey, if your nose gets any bigger, you can always have a nose job.” Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that my nose was anything less than perfect. To my sister, she said, “Your mouth looks so big when you laugh,” and to this day, my sister still covers her mouth whenever she laughs. Thanks for a good reminder that what parents say to their children makes a lasting impression. (Fortunately, my husband loves my nose!)

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  5. That woman has taken the perfectly good advice about not making beautiful be the thing the child thinks is most important a bit too far. “You’re beautiful,” shouldn’t be the ONLY or most important thing you compliment your child on, especially girls. But it should be in there along with, “You’re really smart,” and “You handled that well, and especially, “I’m proud of you,” and “I love you.”

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  6. My Mom was not one to comment or give positive reinforcement. She seemed to think it was spoiling a child. I grew up with no sense of who I was and certainly would never have presumed to have dreams and those I did were hidden dreams never containing hope. In spite of it all life has dealt me some wonderful things. I just wonder how much more I might have achieved..

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  7. I certainly do believe that we need to compliment our kids as they grow up, and even once they are grown. It is an important piece of helping to build their self-esteem and self confidence. There is a huge difference in paying a compliment and pushing a lifestyle of eating disorders and unrealistic expectations. They will only develop those toxic habits if that is what is taught to them. There will be enough exposure to the judgemental Barbie dolls of the world that think you have to be a size 0 and eat like a bird, or be so arrogant, etc….society as a whole will see to all that. There needs to be the positive reinforcement from home that our kids are great exactly the way they are.

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  8. My mother, a petite woman, was all about “neat.” When I appeared neat to her, that is when I was very thin, conservatively dressed with my naturally curly hair stretched straight, I looked pretty. But me just as me was never pretty. It’s odd looking back on her influence over me, but had she been able to tell me I was pretty no matter what, I think I’d have had more confidence.

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  9. I call my daughter “Beautiful” and “Pretty” in the manner of Richard Dawson on the old Family Feud. I loved how he would call everyone Pretty. I focus mostly on my kids’ compassion and kindness, telling them I’m proud when they exhibit them toward others. A few well-timed words gives them the right message about what’s valuable.

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  10. Yes, even if your tween child already has all the self-confidence in the world, and you marvel at how she is all the things you never were, you still have to say it. Is my humble opinion. I tell my 9yo so she is not foreign to hearing it from someone. Because….no one in my family ever said it to me, either.

    The first time I heard it I was blown away (from a boy, an older student at University, at age 19…He was 22) and the rest of my 20s were a mess because I focuses so much on that word, or his reaction to how he found me (attractive) that I made a whole bunch of bonehead decisions. I probably still would have made bonehead decisions because that is what one does when one is 20-something, but that first realization someone found me attractive? I had no experience, no idea how to handle that.


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  11. I think it’s also important for girls to hear that they are beautiful from their fathers, or other male role models in their life. My dad was really good about that, but I still was “everybody’s friend and nobody’s girlfriend” for the longest time. It wasn’t until my older brother (who was part of the popular crowd) complimented me that it really meant something. He gave me the ego boost I needed to feel like I could “compete.”

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