She is tiny. A little girl learning her role in this world. Language is new and she is figuring out how her behavior affects those around her. How do the words you say to her start to shape her?
When she puts on a new dress, do you fawn over how pretty she looks? When she plays dress-up in mom’s heels, do exclaim she looks beautiful? As she starts figuring out her place in this big scary world, will she learn that her value lies in her beauty?
Or, is there a way to speak to a little girl that does not focus on her looks?
Locus of Control
In psychology, there is the concept of the locus of control. This can be an external or internal locus of control.
A person with an external locus of control believes that things happen to them. Circumstances are outside of your control. Conversely, someone with an internal locus of control believes that they have influence over their circumstances. For example, if someone with an external locus of control is fired, they will blame the economy and their terrible boss. Their lay-off happened to them. However, if someone with an internal locus of control is fired, they will assume it was due to their job performance. Their lay-off was within their control.
It is considered healthier to have an internal locus of control because when things need to be changed, you feel you have the power to initiate that change. When dealing with small children, it is good to empower them as change agents, not just someone who is at the mercy of “whatever life brings.”
If a child does well in school, say something like “you studied very hard for that test and your amazing score was because you worked so hard” rather than “great job with that A! You are so smart.” Being “smart” is something someone feels they are either born with or without. However, taking the time to study hard is something that someone feels they have control over.
A Young Girl’s Highest Values
“Being beautiful” is something beyond a child’s control, so complimenting a young girl for her appearance doesn’t help to nurture her internal strength. It also feeds into the already intense pressure that society places on girls to primp and crimp themselves into a certain ideal. Chasing the impossible standard to be thinner, taller, blonder, curvier or any other “-er” is a lesson that starts young. There is no need to further enforce this pressure on a girl from the earliest of ages.
What can she be complimented for instead?
– Kindness: When she was kind to her sibling or friend.
– Bravery: When she overcame her fear and tried something for the first time.
– Being a Hard Worker: When she studied hard in school and brought home a good grade.
– Creativity: When she spent time on a creative effort, creating art she was proud of.
– Helpfulness: When she was helpful, perhaps cleaning up her toys on her own initiative.
– Being a Team Player: When she passed the soccer ball on the field, embodying a team player.
It takes a village to raise the next generation up to their most confident and creative potential. It is certainly not easy. However, if we want to help free young girls from pressure related to their appearance, what can we do today to speak confidence into them so that are not trying to find their value in their appearance 10 or 20 years from now?
What was an encouraging word you heard when you were young that’s stayed with you?
Images via All That Is She