My four-year-old daughter has a very positive self-image. She loves her little crooked smile, her big brown eyes, her prominent Roman nose, and her short, thin hair. When I ask her to pick out a pretty doll at the store, she's just as quick to pick out a dark-skinned, curvy doll as a thin blondie. I'm proud to say that my daughter isn't over-influenced by beauty standards and feels confident about her own appearance. But, with the media constantly bombarding my daughter with an unrealistic image, it's hard to raise a girl who knows she is beautiful.
Here are some tips for raising a daughter with a positive self-image.
1. Tell her she's pretty-- but not too much.I'll call my daughter "cutie pie" and pinch her pretty ilttle cheeks. But it stops there. I think that constantly telling our daughters that they are beautiful is a sure-fire way to give them poor self esteem later in life. Constant compliments on appearance teach girls that they are valued for what they look like, not who they are, so I try to keep these standards to a minimum.
2. Be careful with what you say about yourself. Unless your daughter is adopted, she probably looks quite a bit like you-- so what message does it send her when she hears you talk negatively about your appearance? I remember my daughter-- who inherited my Mediterranean skin tone--once looking in the mirror and parroting me with, "Eeesh, olive skin looks so yellowy and gross in the winter." From that point on, I tried to avoid criticizing my own appearance whenever in my daughter's presence, knowing that it would lead her to criticize her own.
3. Don't make negative remarks about your daughter's appearance.How many of us don't remember a time in our childhoods when our parents remarked that we were chubby, shaped oddly, lanky, or otherwise endowed with unattractive features? Even a passing remark like "You've got a lot of flab on your hips" can cut deeply into a girl's self-image, especially if she hears it during puberty. Keep these thoughts and comments to yourself, just as you would a friend.
4. Respect your child's personality. My daughter likes wearing mismatched clothes, boys' shirts, and short, cropped hair. She hardly looks like she just stepped off of Toddlers and Tiaras, but my little artsy tomboy's own sense of style is important to me-- and to her. To children, a preference for a specific style is as much a part of their identity as their innate appearance. Respect your daughter's choices in how she dresses herself. A twelve-year-old girl with a terrible self-image is far worse than a twelve-year-old girl who likes goth make-up.
5. Get help in special cases. If your child has a medical condition that significantly alters her appearance, talk to her pediatrician about whether she might benefit from counseling. Children with burn scars or congenital abnormalities, for example, can participate in group sessions to improve self-image. If your child seems to struggle tremendously with her self-image-- a pattern of behaviors associated with body dysmporphic disorder-- bring it up to her primary health care provider to see if she might benefit from counseling or another form of supportive therapy. With your unconditional love, support, and willingness to seek help when necessary, you can raise a daughter with an excellent self-image-- regardless of what ideals the media and pop culture may try to feed her.
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