When I first see a baby or a toddler I often find myself mentioning something about the child’s physical appearance or clothing.
It’s interesting isn’t it…
If you find yourself doing the same thing, you are not alone. I think the majority of us will whole-heartedly admit that this is a common topic of conversation when speaking to a young child. I was (and still am) so guilty of this! Upon meeting a child, I would say something like, “Oh, I really like your shoes!” or “Awesome shirt!” or the good ‘ole-fashioned standby “He’s so adorable.”
Then I read this article by Kasey Edwards of Reel Girl when my son was 5 months old, and it changed everything about the way I spoke to my own son and to other children. My eyes became wide open as to the emphasis we place on appearance in our culture. The article focuses on girls, but I believe it applies to both boys and girls.
Let me digress. After reading that article, I learned we stress the importance of looking good, and we start painfully young. When we converse with children, we often defer to chatting about appearance, rather than talking to the child about who they are as a person.
In doing this, am I teaching that appearance holds the highest value?
Am I sending the message that material items such as the best shoes and clothes define the value of individual people?
While I think that many of our comments are incredibly well-intended, I believe making a shift could really help children learn to value good character over clothing and chiseled good looks.
1. Pretend you are talking to an adult.
One of the things that helped me the most when engaging in conversation with kids is to ask myself, “Would I say this to an adult?” It’s a great way to filter what I am about to say, and often times, it’s enough spark an easy conversation starter. Sometimes I simply say, “How are you?” “What are some things you like to do?” or “What are you up to today?”
After breaking the ice, I sometimes ask, “Tell me about your favorite games to play?” “What are your favorite foods?” or “How old are you?”
2. Use words focusing on aesthetics in moderation.
While I do tell my son he is handsome, I really do try to restrain myself. I want him to know that I see him as beautiful and handsome on the inside and outside without overdoing it. I want him to be confident in that; however, I don’t want it to be our focus.
The same holds true when I am around other kids. Minimizing conversation about appearance or aesthetics or material stuff is positive. Sometimes kids will ask you if they look good or to admire their appearance in some way. I’m realizing it’s okay to acknowledge what the child is saying and then change the subject to something else. Yes, I want to affirm the child, but at the same time, I don’t want to encourage the conversation in that direction. Instead, I try to re-direct the conversation to something else, like what he or she did that day.
3. Ignore the appearance.
Truly. I try not to think about it. I ignore the light up shoes, the expensive scooter, the dress, and the pants. Instead, I focus the conversation on everything else that is going on…the weather, activities, being happy, enjoying time with others or anything else you can think of.
4. Divert the conversation.
I briefly talked about diverting the conversation when a child makes appearance the focusing topic, but I also like to divert the conversation when other adults mention my son’s appearance. It’s incredibly common for other adults to make conversation about his appearance when we are out and about running errands.
This is not because he is any more adorable than any other child out there, I simply believe that it is because this is the focus of our conversation with young children. It is the standard default…”Oh, he is so adorable.” It was only after I read that article that I became so hyper aware of how incredibly often this was happening in our daily life.
When this happens, I try to divert the conversation to other topics. If it is a close friend or family member, I may even go so far as to say something like, “He’s just a person like everybody else. He’s more than just an adorable face.” While I appreciate the kind words and complements, it’s important to think about the overall message instilled over time. Choosing to divert the conversation, rather than encourage it, is an easy and effective technique to help us start making the shift.
5. Emphasize the value of good character and behavior.
One thing that could benefit children and parents is to recognize, acknowledge and complement children on good character and behavior. Rather than complementing a child’s appearance, I could compliment good manners, patience, obedience, honesty, and courage. The list is endless.
If you can’t part with the compliments, I totally understand. I personally struggle with it as well. Swapping it out for a different compliment that focuses on character and behavior rather than appearance is the great step.
While I do not think that it is wrong to comment or converse about a child’s appearance or clothing, I do think making a shift could be a really cool thing. Conversing with little ones, while avoiding superficial talk about appearance can make a huge impact in teaching our children that character is more valuable than clothing or chiseled looks. Let’s make a positive shift!
What do you think about kids and appearance? Do you think the emphasis is too much or too little or fine right where it is? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments so we all can learn from each other!