Hint: NOT "you're so pretty!"
Compliments given to girls often center on their looks and little, if anything, else. Hearing about looks more than other aspects can leave the nuances of women’s individuality unacknowledged and under-appreciated. Ironically, giving young girls and women praise only for their looks can wind up contributing to self-esteem issues.
It’s never too early to treat girls like complete people with personalities, interests, needs, and feelings.
Here are some empowering things we can say to young girls of all ages.
1. I love your artwork!
Many toddlers love to color and are encouraged to play with paints, crayons, and markers. If a young child shows you her drawings or wants to color with you, compliment their artwork and ask them to tell you about their creations.
2. Can I play with you?
Anyone who has spent an afternoon with a typical two or three-year-old will notice they like to engage in play. Asking if you can play with toddlers and engaging with them on their level recognizes their independence and brings you into their world.
3. Congratulations on your report card!
This affirmation will mean a lot to many young girls. Given the gender gap in the sciences and math, it can only help to encourage and compliment girls about those subjects starting right away when they enter school.
4. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.
Genuine remarks like this meant the world to me when I was in grade school. Hearing from adults that I was able to hold their attention in conversation made my heart swell and did wonders for my self-esteem. Demonstrating to girls that you value what they say, lets them know they deserve to be heard in a world that will try to silence them.
5. I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days.
We should let teen girls tell us what interests them instead of assuming they want to chat about their crushes. By showing an investment in girls’ interests outside of crushes, we can foster the idea that they are interesting and important regardless of their love lives.
6. You’re a really good friend.
Middle school is a very difficult time for a girl’s social life (speaking as a former lonely nerd). Letting a pre-teen girl know that you notice she cares about her friends and treats them well will emphasize the importance of healthy relationships and may provide an opportunity for her to open up if she is having trouble with friends.
7. I admire your leadership abilities.
Whether they lead in sports, music, academics, or even at home with their siblings, we should go out of our way to tell teenage girls that we notice their confidence and ability to lead others. This will be a great message for them to internalize as they enter college or the workforce.
8. I’m so proud of the way you overcome adversity.
Every single teenage girl will have struggles. It could be as big and serious as an eating disorder or depression, or as common as a fight with their closest friend. It is easy to forget how difficult it is to cope and work through trying times as a teenager.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but it should get us thinking about offering genuine and empowering support to girls.
This article was originally published at Ravishly. Reprinted with permission from the author.