Life Advice

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Health & Spirit

Helping a child understand her own sense of self

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

We have a bunch of little girls in our neighborhood who play with ours. One of them sometimes comes up to me, and asks, "Don't I look pretty?" What do you think is the best thing to say? I usually say something like, "What a fancy dress," but it feels fake.

-- I Want My Kids to Be Nerds

Funny, I was just talking about this last night with someone.

A few points:

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(1) A world where you can't tell kids they look pretty every once in a while sounds like a real pain in the butt to live in.

(2) It's naive, however, to ignore the collective effect of comments about looks. So, you're right to think about your answer before you get asked. It's also right to notice it's one girl who tends to ask you this. Any thoughts on why?

(3) Nerds are great, but so are jocks, and so are artists, and so are people who put together just the right things to wear and look stunning as a result. So are people who sample from all these categories. So are people who defy categories. Don't take a stand against pigeonholing by cramming people into the pigeonhole you like better.

(4) When someone asks, "Am I pretty?" and you respond with, "What a fancy dress," the message some people hear is, "You're so ugly the only nice thing I can do is compliment what you're wearing." So provide alternate answers with caution.

...continued

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