I know making small talk with a two year old is hard. Toddlers can be shy, are easily distracted, and might even burst into tears if you say the wrong thing. It’s not easy to break the ice. But please: if you meet a little girl on the street, in a store, on the playground, try to think of something, anything to say rather than commenting on her hair, dress, shoes, eyes etc.
My two year old just started preschool, and by the time I’ve kissed her good bye and left in her in the classroom, she’s gotten about 10 compliments on her appearance. Of course, she’s adorable. All little kids are. But remember, their little brains are getting wired up. Kids love attention, to be smiled at, and to connect– these are exactly the kinds of interactions that make their brains grow. When they learn, this young, that so many responses are based on how they look, it affects them for life.
For alternative ice breakers try “Hi, you seem happy today! What’s going on? (or sad or angry)” or “Is that your kitty? (or bunny, dog) What’s her name?” Talk about the weather, seriously. Ask if they come here often. If you must say something to a little girl about how she looks, balance it out with other topics that have nothing to do with her appearance (meaning don’t talk about how she looks unless this is going to be a long interaction.)
When people tell your daughter how pretty she is, don’t repeat the compliment to her (as in “She loves this dress. It’s her favorite.”) Don’t make her say thank you. Gently deflect the topic. No matter what other people say, you’re the parent whose opinion matters most to her at this age. Do tell your daughters they are beautiful “on the inside and the outside.” It’s something that should be said by you and that she feels confident about. It’s the proportion of looks based comments, the constant repetition of them, and how they form the basis for social interaction that’s damaging.
Another fab-u-luss post Miss Margot. I was actually having a similar conversation with a co-worker the other day. Why after every birth – do “celebrity moms” have their new post-baby bikini bod pictures plastered across (insert fashion/health magazine name here)? Why is it their worth is defined by how good they look naked after having a child and not say on their parent skills? The sad thing is though – we women are the one’s buying it. The only way to stop this type of messaging – is if we as women stop buying into it.
This reminds me of my interactions with my daughters. I love them to pieces (as any father would). When I compliment them, I like to let them know that I love that they share with others, or that they’re so caring about other kids, I let them know that I am proud of how they take responsibility.
I had read about complimenting girls on their appearance, and the affect this can have. Daddy doesn’t love you because you’re pretty, you don’t need to be “pretty” for your parent’s affection, positive beahviour, not appearance or “accomplishments” (I honestly would rather my daughters love animals and care for them than worry about where they place in “x” event or competition).
This is an incredible entry, and certainly one worth sharing.
I agree too. I get the impression we’re seeing multiple generations of the feminist movement fighting each other; it wasn’t so long ago that the complaint was that girls were being excluded and put in the background, with boys enjoying greater opportunity to circulate, be part of things, etc. and so a social protocol arose that girls wearing nice new clothes had to be audibly noticed. Seems we’ve over-corrected.
I was shopping one time, and after I’d paid my tab and was gathering the groceries, from out of nowhere a little girl dressed as a princess toddled over to the checkout register and yelled “yaaaaaa!” just as loud as she could. Cashier stopped what he was doing, with a big smile on his face walked over to his daughter, knelt over and gave her a great big hug. Well, hey, a little latitude — it was cute, in its own way, kinda. And maybe you’re not hip to this particular complaint Margot, but the damage is visible and definable: One sex, the boys, if it makes any noise at all it needs to be given that lecture about using the “library voice.” The other sex, girls, never seems to be in need of this. They’re constantly adorable no matter what. And you’re right. Their brains are being wired, for life, at this stage, and the adults forget that.
I love this Margot. Our preschool actually educates the parents periodically about this topic and the teachers have all been trained to comment on things other than how the girls look etc. It’s a hard habit to break, but such an important one to make an effort to change. Thank you for writing about this!
That’s so great about your preschool. It’s a difficult habit to break and training parents is an excellent step.