You know the saying about ‘getting in the pool’ to learn how to swim?
The one we wheel out when we want to press the point that actions and practice are required to make changes? It goes to the heart of the idea that how we ACT gives us way more insight into our values and beliefs than what we THINK.
If, say, I speak about wanting my kids to be body confident and have good self esteem, and tell the world I believe in equality and human rights and that we should hounor people for how they contribute, not their gender or colour or beauty – I need to be vigilant about how I act accordingly.
It took me an embarrassing number of YEARS to realise that even though I THOUGHT I wanted to treat people outside of the realm of ‘looks’, I still acted in ways that centered looks above other things. I still told people they looked amazing and fit and healthy and beautiful – with way more regularity than anything else.
I’m sure you get how it goes.
Hey – so lovely to see you. You’re looking AH-mazing.
Can you see how my THOUGHTS about what I valued and what my ACTIONS were doing were at odds? With stones falling in my heart I realised I needed to shift my actions to be consistent with my values and so I did the excruciatingly awkward practice of learning to compliment without using ‘looks’.
I say excruciatingly awkward because it was. I wasn’t, indeed, prepared for how deeply ingrained those neural pathways were that had me reaching for ‘you look great’ compliments that slipped so effortlessly off my tongue. It seemed so easy in theory.
Like learning to breathe on both sides while swimming freestyle when you’ve always only breathed on the left might seem easy in theory, if you’ve ever taken on the task, it’s ridiculously hard and requires a LOT of practice before it feels comfortable. It’s just the same with compliments.
All of which is to say, when you take on the following dos and don’ts of complimenting kids, do so with the notion that it will take practice and it might not feel easy. But it will show you value what’s ‘inside’ them more than what they look like.
Let’s start with the don’ts.
- Don’t say you’re gorgeous or beautiful or pretty more than 10% of the time (if you think your child is being told those things by other people, be the one that compliments in other ways)
- Don’t ever compliment a change in their body. Weight loss, more healthy, stronger. It sends the message that this is what you value about them.
- Don’t compare them to others. You’reso smart compared to other kids. You’re the smartest kid I know. It sets them up to feel like they need to monitor who they’re up against.
- Don’t feel like you need to over complicate it. Saying, it’s so lovely to see you can often be enough.
- Don’t fret if you ‘slip’ and compliment their looks. Just notice it and commit to doing better next time.
And the dos.
- Do compliment how they make you feel. It’s so lovely to see you, it brightens up my day.
- Do compliment their abilities. You’re so good at reading, wow.
- Do compliment their compassion and thoughtfulness. Wow, that was a lovely thing to do, I’m so proud of you.
- Do compliment their beauty from time to time (I not a big fan of stringent binary rules). You might say you’re the most beautiful person inside and out (when you really do think this)
- Do compliment their choices and creativity – I love how you’ve put those colours together (clothes or toys or whatever) or you have such a flare for fashion etc.
And did I ever tell you – I love that you want the children of this world to grow up in a culture that values their hearts and minds more than the container those hearts and minds come in. I think that’s to be celebrated. Yay for you.
The Body Confidence Coach
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