Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How To Help Others Talk to Little Girls

I'll start off by saying----I believe that my daughters are some of the most beautiful creatures on the face of this earth!

If you have daughters, I'm sure you feel the same way about them.

We can't help ourselves, really. They s t r e t c h us, but we know every freckle, and are familiar with every scar. We see our light in their eyes, and we're smitten. Like magic. Our eyes only see the beautiful creatures we are raising---the hard stuff falls away.
One of top articles shared on facebook in 2011 was Lisa Bloom's write-up in the Huffington Post titled, How to Talk to Little Girls.

I read it, along with the rest of the world, and tucked it away in the recesses of my mind.

Then, I was confronted with the reality of our culture's go-to-conversation-icebreaker with little girls--appearance. The reality of all Ms. Bloom's article talked about hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Over the past several weeks, we've had some visitors to our home, and the girls and I went to visit my husband at his office.

Compliments and praises from friends and family flew at my daughters:
You're so pretty!
That skirt is adorable!
What cute shoes!
Oh, those pigtails are so sweet!
Meanwhile, my daughters are standing there, uncomfortably, inching closer to my legs. And I was, equally uneasy, smiling awkwardly, or maybe my mouth was gaping open, I can't be sure.


In her article, Ms. Bloom says this:
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.
The barge of compliments and gushing praise, and the inability to speak to my daughters about anything else was mind-boggling to me.

I'm pleased to tell you that one of my husband's co-workers actually spoke with my daughters about something other than their appearance. It was refreshing.

He asked the girls about going to the park, and new words they had learned to say. He showed them (and let them handle) geodes from his travels. He let them explore with some magnetic balls he had in his office. He even responded to them with sign language, when they signed 'thank you' for letting them play with his "toys". 
As I've mulled these recent instances over in my mind, I've reach a conclusion.

I believe, as parents we need to take Ms. Bloom's words a step further. Certainly, we can do our part to engage the little girls in our lives with intelligent conversation that engages their minds.

But there's more.  

Standing by, smiling awkwardly, as someone drenches my daughters with compliments about their appearance, is doing my daughters a terrible disservice.

As parents, we can't remain passive, hoping that everyone that approaches our daughters has read and embraced Ms. Bloom's way of talking with girls in a way that engages their minds. 

As our daughters' biggest advocates, it behooves us to force help others to do this.
Tell Ms. Smith all the colors that are on your skirt.
Show Mr. Jones the sign for 'shoes'.
Can you tell Mr. Miller how many pigtails you have in your hair?
Why don't we show your grandpa the pretty flowers we planted in the garden? 
Don't get me wrong---there's nothing wrong with a well-placed compliment. And I understand that these people are well-intentioned.

But, when you lead with their appearance---you're telling my daughters that the most important thing they can do is to show up and look pretty.

We are not raising our girls to be wall flowers!

At age two, my daughters are smart, and funny, and active. There are a million different ways to engage them without ever mentioning what they look like or how their hair is styled. I dare you to try.

And parents---I dare you to step in, and steer conversations focused on your daughters' appearance. Help others to engage their minds. Show off their brains, their talents, their abilities, their interests.

How do you engage little girls in conversation? 


championm2000 said...

Wow. Thanks for making me stop and think this Tuesday morning.

I'll be pondering this question all day, and I am also forwarding to my husband now.

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

I really try to talk to little girls (and boys!) about something other than their outfits / their hair / their shoes. It takes extra effort to gauge how old they are, and what is appropriate to say to them...but it's so very important.

I love your reminder that we - as parents - have a responsibility, too. When the inevitable superficial comment comes the way of our girls, we need to step in and help expand the exchange.

Thank you for such an awesome post, Julia!!!

Helene said...

I read that article too and it was definitely good food for thought.

I talk to Bella often (and all my kids actually) about how people are beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.

You brought up such a great point about how as parents we can help mold better conversations between others and our girls by talking about other things besides appearances!!

Oh and BTW, thank you so much for the beautiful picture for Bella's room!!! She loves it!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have twin girls as well (mine are 11 now) and I was like you when I had that lighbulb moment! my girls remind their friends that toys and colors don't have a gender and I LOVE the fact that they are free-thinkers and know that beauty is not everything, and true beauty radiates from the inside.

Christina Stopka Rinnert said...

Interesting that when we see a little boy we don't necessarily start with "Oh, look at your cute hair/ shirt/ outfit!" I like your advice for steering the conversation without becoming confrontational (because that is what MY initial response was!).

Anonymous said...

I have thought a lot about this same article and here is my perspective. Kids are what we tell them they are. You are beautiful, smart, funny, fat, stupid, mean....they believe what they hear. I feel it is equally as important to feel beautiful as it is smart, funny, etc. so I make a conscious effort to tell my daughter she has all of those traits. I feel exhausted at the daunting task of policing what strangers may or may not say to my child...people say the darndest things is an understatement. What I can control is the way my child handles a complement. I teach her to gracefully except the complement, regardless if it is directed at her intellect or appearance, because she is deserving of those words. We must teach our children they are worthy of any and all compliments. I don't think when strangers comment on my child’s looks they mean anything other than trying to make my child feel special, because she is..”Because my Mommy told me so”. I think the same applies in adults. Whether my husband tells me I'm beautiful or tells me I'm smart, both make significant impact on making my heart smile! I feel the same goes for kids, girls or boys, they all just want to feel special. It is our job to make sure of that! -Laila

Holly Tumpkin said...

When I read the Bloom article, I too heard myself saying the same things to little girls soon after, and bit my tongue and purposefully stretched myself to ask what books are you reading, can you count for me, etc. I have three teenage girls, and I understand wanting them to be known for their minds and character, yet we all refer to appearance so easily, by habit. I appreciate your challenge to steer conversations politely, instead of standing idly uncomfortably by. Thank you.

Laura said...

It is astonishing how much we praise the looks of our girls. And we blame all the trouble girls have with appearances on the media! I loved Bloom's article and will join you in trying to steer others to more meaningful conversations.

This Daddy said...

This is a nice brain challenge for me. I often tell my only daughter and so do other how pretty she is. I also tell her about how smart and how she does other things well. But I like how you point out to change the conversation to make it more of a learing lesson and to focus away from just the looks. Thanks for this. Us dads need all the help we can get.

Corinne Ritz said...

My daughter is 11, but when she was about 6 months old I saw a story about this on a News Magazine show. One of the points it made was that in the past boys have excelled more in math and science because they were told how smart they were, but girls were generally told how pretty they are and how this affected them in the long run academically. It was fascinating to me. I am SO glad that I saw this when she was just a baby.
This post was very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You inspire me as a mother and friend.

Olusola said...

Julia, this is the best thing I've read in a long time. A very good way to work in the girls' other talents without things getting awkward. Thank you for this post

Julia said...

Thank you for sharing your insights, experiences and commentary on this post, both here and on facebook! Great conversation!

I'm humbled and honored that so many of you deemed it worth and thought provoking enough to share with others.

Even Ms. Lisa Bloom herself tweeted me about it, which makes me blush to even type.

Just. Thank you.