Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You are smart, you are beautiful

One of my favorite things about working with the public is listening to the interesting conversations people have. Today I overheard two women discussing their children and during the course of their conversation one woman mentioned that she doesn't think it's appropriate or necessary to tell her son that he is "smart". Her reasoning was that she doesn't want to him to grow up thinking that he's smarter than others or that he's somehow better than other children because he's intelligent. The other mother agreed and said that she absolutely refuses to use words like "pretty" or "beautiful" to describe her daughters for similar reasons. She doesn't want them to be vain.

I quietly listened to these women as their conversation drifted to things like holiday shopping and what dish they were planning to bring to the upcoming church pot-luck, all the while keeping my eyes on my work, hoping they didn't realize I was eavesdropping. After they left I tried to forget what they said. Stop thinking about it, I told myself. You had no business even listening to them. But for some reason I was really bothered by what I heard.

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Morgan and I have a nightly ritual that started several months ago. After she has brushed her teeth and we've said prayers, she lays down in the crib and I kneel on the floor next to her. I put one of my hands through the bars of the crib and while tickling her arm, I repeat this affirmation:

You are smart.
You are beautiful.
You are important.
You are kind.

I don't know why I initally chose those words in particular. I'm willing to bet that one night she was crying and in an attempt to calm her down, I just started talking. However it came to be, it has definitely stuck. We often talk about other things during the few minutes that I kneel by her crib but at some point before I leave the room I always, always say it:

You are smart.
You are beautiful.
You are important.
You are kind.
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I understand that I only heard a few minutes of their conversation today, so I don't know the whole story behind why these women feel the way they do, but I do know that the way they said those words -- "smart" and "pretty" -- was if they were filthy, curse words.

I'm sure that in these women's opinion I'm ruining Morgan by telling her these things on a daily basis. How dare I tell her that she's beautiful! Don't I know there are more important things than beauty? And that fact that I tell her she's smart is surely going to make her treat other children as if they're stupid. I suppose I can just blame myself when she grows up to be a self-centered brat, what with all that "you're important" nonsense I fill her with. Right?

I just don't buy it. I don't believe that this kind of thing is damaging (if it's done with good intent and not taken to extremes). I personally think that it's perfectly acceptable to say these things to our kids, in fact, I think it's necessary. We are their parents and if they don't learn these things from us, where and when will they learn them? I personally know people who don't believe that they are pretty, or important, or intelligent, or worthy of love simply because no one has ever told them that they are. 

Children are so impressionable, I believe that now is the best time to to instill these beliefs in Morgan. It is my hope that constantly reinforcing positive thoughts and feelings can give her the confidence she'll need later in her life.

I hope that she will one day be faced with a problem and think, I can figure this out. I am smart.

If she's ever feeling unattractive because she didn't get asked to the school dance or she's tempted to go on a crazy crash diet with her friends I hope she'll think, I'm already beautiful just the way I am. 

I hope that continuously telling her that she is important can help her avoid feelings of worthlessness.

It is my dream that someday when she sees someone in need of a friend, she'll be the one to break away from the crowd and put her arm around them because she knows the importance of being kind.

You are smart.
Your are beautiful.
You are important.
You are kind.

I'm not trying to ruin her by telling her these things. On the contrary, I'm trying to help her realize who she can become and all the great things she'll experience in life if she believes in herself. I want to be sure she knows from an early age something that took me a lot of years to believe about myself: that she will always be loved - nothing she can do will ever change that - and she will always, always be "good enough".

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What are your thoughts? Do you mind sharing them with me?
I really, really want to know what other people think about this subject.

15 comments:

  1. I think it's totally wonderful what you are telling Morgan. It is a wonderful thing to tell kids those things. It's not bad. I agree with everything you say.

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  2. I completely agree with you on this matter! Jason and I tell Jasper how smart he is on a daily basis. I initially started saying it to him, to encourage him when he would learn new things. And every time he learns something new I say to him "you are so smart!" And every time, he gets the biggest grin on his face and it makes me feel like I just made him so happy by letting him know that he just did something good!

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  3. I totally believe that kids need to hear this on a daily basis. Especially considering what they begin hearing once they enter school, so they know that they are actually very smart even though other kids are telling them otherwise. I also believe in the power of teaching your kids to be kind. I was a very proud mama last year when Brayden left his friends to play with the little girl who didn't have any. All I could think was, "we taught him that!" I read somewhere that a little boy is the only thing God can use to make a man, for some reason it has really stuck with me, and I just want my boys to be the best men they can be. And if that means I have to tell them they are smart or kind, then so be it.

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  4. Jenny - it is very possible that they were not talking about not praising and loving their kids, but that they were referencing this:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

    It's a pretty eye-opening article, and it's definitely changed the way I will praise my children... though it won't stop me from praising them. :)

    Also, have you read The Help? Your list of affirmations sounds very much like the ones Aibilene uses with Mae Mobley. :)

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  5. 3 cheers for you Jenny!!! I think you are "spot on" for telling Morgan these important things! Self confidence means a great deal in life and this is what you are helping her to attain. Don't know where these 2 women would have gotten their ideas about child rearing but I'm betting their children are starved for affection and will grow up not feeling needed.

    "GA"

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  6. I totally agree with your analysis. Praise given to children (in a healthy way not the "Toddlers and Tiaras" parenting model)gives them the confidence to move through life. Parents have a responsibility to encourage, motivate, nurture, protect, etc., and I believe praise and compliments are a part of that. If we believe that calling a child stupid, ugly, bratty, or any other negative title belittles them and makes them see themselves as unworthy or less-than, then the opposite must be true as well. The world will send enough negative messages to our kids--we need to be the ones helping to remind them who they truly are.

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  7. Cindy - thanks so much for sharing that article. I think it makes some great points. Very interesting!

    From their conversation it was pretty clear that they were talking about their own children (names were even mentioned). What surprised me even more than what they said was the way they said it with such disgust like, "I would NEVER say such a thing to my child!" I'm absolutely certain that they aren't cold, unloving mothers and I know for a fact that they are very caring, good women (though I only know them through my job, I have been acquainted with them for a few years). I know there has to be more to the story, but I was still irked by it. It would be interesting to talk with them and see WHY they were saying the things they were (though that would never happen, realistically). I suppose I'll always have to wonder...

    And no, I haven't read The Help, but I did see the movie and loved it! I'd really like to read the book now. :)

    Sherri - I absolutely LOVE the "Toddlers and Tiaras" description!

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  8. I can understand where these women are coming from (although I think they are wrong!) I think the key is to help them feel beautiful,smart, etc while still teaching them that they are not better than other people because of it. Of course, some people are more physically beautiful than others, or smarter than others, but hopefully we can teach our kids to have confidence in who and what they are and in their talents and gifts without basing in on comparisons to others.

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  9. Teresa - I think what you said about comparisons (or rather, NOT making comparisons) is a vital part! I think that praise and validation needs to be given in a healthy way, but I certianly believe it MUST be given!

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  10. I think what you are doing with Morgan is great! That's what us mothers are suppose to do instill these things and confidence in our children. I have heard of others doing what these women were talking about, not building kids up to think they are "pretty" or "smart" as to not make self centered children. I think it is ridiculous really, because every human being is smart at something, whether it be book smarts, hands on smarts, or commonsense smarts. As we are all beautiful or pretty in our own way. I think nurturing these as we see them in our children is not only a good thing to do but our responsibility. Keep being a wonderful Mommy :)

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  11. I totally agree with you. As parents we have to have their back. When they are down we have to bring them up. I tell Oaklee every morning when we get done getting her hair ready, staring in the mirror "Pretty girl". She now finds it fun to say "Pretty mommy". It melt my heart and I will never stop telling her how perfect she is because in my eyes she is.

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  12. Jennie,
    I have to agree with you on this one. There are so many negative influences in the world today, everywhere you turn, things are put out there to make you feel unpretty, insufficient, unimportant, and many other things. If we don't teach our children their self-worth and what it feels like to have positive affirmations- who will??

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  13. I think it's good for kids to hear those things, and to hear them often. Never stop. She's lucky to have such a sweet and tender Mom, who is telling her positive things about WHO SHE IS. Hopefully it will help her in the dreaded teenage years.

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  14. I think the goal with good praise is to be balanced. If you only told Morgan she was pretty, that could be a problem. But your affirmation is well rounded and includes being kind. Especially in the toddler years, when we say a lot of "no" and "don't" and "that is a bad choice" positive reinforcement is necessary. I don't do enough. Also as someone who was raised with not a lot of you're pretties and you're smart, I have a horrible time believing that I'm worth it and try very hard to prove myself useful and worthy to other people. My neighbor and I were just discussing this and she said about her 12 year old son, "I'd rather have to humble him everyone in awhile than try to spend all my time making him think himself worth it, because that is so much harder." I don't think I could have said it any different. Those things you tell Morgan are what Heavenly Father believes of all of us anyway. Why not say them. I need to tell my boys more good things. At least I tell them I love them often.

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  15. My girls are 19-years-old and 22-years old now. I am sure when they were toddlers there were plenty of times when I told them they looked beautiful in their dress-up clothes, or told them they were smart as they learned to write their names or what-have-you, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. But as they entered school my husband and I saw it became more important to praise them for being hard-workers (smart won't get you anywhere if you don't work hard), for being brave and trying new things, and for being kind to their friends. And we always encouraged them to do things they really enjoyed (soccer, dance,music, art) even if they never got that first prize ribbon, or won the tournament.

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