Why you should tell your kids they're beautiful

There's nothing wrong with complimenting your children's looks, Kerri Sackville says

Practical Parenting / July 18 2018

Everyone thinks their child is beautiful, but my daughter really is. When she was a baby, people would stop to stare at her in the street. When she was toddler, strangers would come and talk to her and tell her how gorgeous she was. People still comment on her appearance all the time. They comment on my son’s intelligence, and my youngest daughter’s hilarity, but they always mention my elder daughter’s beauty. (Of course, my other two children are divine-looking too, but not in the same, striking way.)

There’s a school of thought that it’s wrong to tell your children that they’re attractive. That if you tell a girl that she is pretty, you’re conditioning her to believe that this is her most valuable asset. That we should focus on the internal and not the external, to teach our girls that their minds, and not their faces, count.

Well, I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

Inside and out

The reality is that good looks are pleasant to look at – after all, that’s why they’re called ‘good’. And I feel proud and lucky that my daughter is so beautiful. What’s more, I have no problem with her knowing that she is physically attractive. Her looks are as much a part of her as her talent for drawing, or her tendency to hiccup when she is giggling.

On the other hand, my daughter’s appearance is far from her most significant quality. It’s a twist of fate, the luck of the draw, a random combination of genes. It doesn’t make her a good or lovable person. What is far more important is what is inside my child – her mind, her heart, and her soul.

So in terms of praising my child’s appearance, I feel there’s a delicate balance. It’s okay to acknowledge she’s beautiful on occasion. I will comment on a particularly great photo, or when she wears a new outfit. But for the most part, I focus on the really important things. Her kindness. Her intelligence. Her compassion. Her humour. Her ability to bake a cake. Her generosity in sharing that cake with me.

“Physical confidence is helpful”

I tell all my kids what wonderful people they are. I tell them daily, in detail, focusing on specifics. I want them to have the right priorities in life and to recognise and appreciate what makes a person special, beyond the superficialities of appearance.

I also allow them to know that they are nice looking, because I believe that physical confidence is helpful to self-esteem. I tell my daughters they are pretty and I tell my son that he is handsome. They all are, but then again, all kids are. Everyone is attractive in some way. And it’s okay to know it. It’s okay to comment. But it’s simply one measure of a human being, and not even close to being the most important.

Kerri Sackville is a columnist, social commentator and author. Her latest book, Out There - A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife, is available now.