Are You Harming Your Child By Praising Them?Wednesday 5th of June 2013 | Category: Baby News | Written by: Alice Edwards
I tend to praise my daughter for everything she does, and everything that she is. So along with praising her latest artistic offering, or a new skill such as putting her shoes on by herself, I'll occasionally tell her she is beautiful. This isn't because I think beauty is an important attribute, it's just because, like most parents, sometimes I can't stop myself saying it when I look at my daughter, and also because I believe she should know how wonderful she is. According to Jo Swinson, the women's minister, however, telling our children they are beautiful is harmful as it places too much emphasis on body image which can lead to body confidence issues later in life. Telling our children they look good in a new outfit or when trying out a new hairstyle risks teaching our children that looks are the most important thing in life to succeed, Swinson argued. Instead, we should praise our children for their ability to complete tasks or be inquisitive. I've never thought praising my daughter's looks could be harmful to her, rather the opposite; I constantly seek to bolster her confidence in every way, so I was surprised to hear the accolades I bestow on her could actually damage her confidence.
A Negative Reaction
It seems I'm not alone as the minister's comments have been met with a barrage of comments from mums defending their stance on telling their children how beautiful/good looking they are. Natalie Cox writing for the Guardian, takes a practical and realistic view of things: 'Rather than ignoring the fact that we all get judged on how we look, we should be encouraging our children to have a positive opinion of themselves and their appearance. Beauty is, after all, subjective.' Like it or not, we live in a society where looks are important and beauty is a coveted attribute, but it extends beyond this: looking smart and presentable is important in later life. Taking pride in your appearance undoubtedly a good thing when it comes to job interviews, for example as looking smart can be make or break. Cox adds that 'Feeling beautiful goes hand in hand with self-acceptance, which is something that any parent would want for their child'. Anna Maxted in The Telegraph imagines a world where parents never praise their child's looks: 'imagine a son or daughter, swaggering downstairs, having put on his smart new shorts or skirt, feeling so proud and pleased - to a reception of cold silence from his mother. What sickening shame'.
Is Swinson Completely Wrong?
There does seem to be a valid point however to be taken from Swinson's comments, which is that if beauty is all we emphasise to our kids, then they will grow up thinking that that is the most important attribute, or even worse, that their looks is the only thing about them worthy of praise. Used in this way, a child could become insecure about their looks, believing they are the key to success and popularity, and this can lead to obsession with their looks and low self-esteem. Beauty is only skin deep, as the saying goes, and it is important children know that personality is far more important than looks. However, when praise for how they look is used in moderation, and teamed with praising them for other things, such as their kindness, thoughtfulness, interest in things around them, new skills, their sparkling personality, and so forth, I don't see how the occasional remark about how lovely they look could do anything but boost their confidence. In a world in which we are all constantly bombarded with unattainable representations of beauty and what our body should or could look like, letting our children know how beautiful they are could go a long way to making children feel good about themselves. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has stated since that parents have right to "shower" their children with compliments about their appearance, and that he constantly tells his sons they are handsome.
Swinson does make the valid point that parents shouldn't obsess over their own bodies or face in front of their children, as children will pick up on negative body issues and imitate these feelings. By having a healthy view of our bodies and accepting how we look instead of obsessing over every wrinkle or bit of cellulite, we can help our children have positive views on their own image.
As parents we all want to infuse our children with as much confidence as possible, and to let them know they are wonderful in every way. Praising their children, which for many parents includes praising their appearance, is a way of building up a fortress of love and confidence in their child, so whatever life throws at them they will know how wonderful they are. I for one, will be continuing to tell my daughter how beautiful she is, inside and out, on a daily basis.