Our sons and daughters begin internalizing messages at a surprisingly young age. Messages about gender are especially impactful — and potentially harmful — starting in adolescence and throughout the pre-teen years.
There are many comments that are based on stereotypes about how your son or daughter should or shouldn’t behave. Sometimes, these comments can be confusing or even hurtful for children and can lead to longterm mental health and other negative effects. Don’t beat yourself up if you end up saying one of them at some point — they’re common sayings for a reason. But maybe consider new ways of sharing feedback with your daughters that is less gendered and potentially harmful.
10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Daughter
With that said, there are some phrases and comments that we recommend staying away from when you’re chatting with your daughter.
“I’m on a Diet”
It’s important, especially with girls, to communicate healthy eating habits and confidence with your body. If you are constantly on a diet, talking “good” and “bad” foods or things you’d like to change about your body, it can send the message that she needs to change what she’s doing to look better. Instead, focus on teaching her healthy habits, including eating a variety of foods and incorporating exercise into your routine.
“That’s Not Very Ladylike“
Everyone is different which means some girls love to play with makeup and dress up while others love to play in the dirt and build with blocks. Whatever they’re favorite activities are, as long as they’re safe and happy, let them learn and explore through play — even if it’s not a traditionally “ladylike” activity.
“Girls Don’t Do That“
Gender is a construct and like the comment above, it’s important not to lock your daughter (or son) into these stereotypes from a young age. Children learn through play and exploration so it’s important to give them to the space to do that, even if it’s something you may not enjoy or see as a “girlie” activity.
“Change Your Outfit“
Unless your child’s outfit is truly inappropriate for some reason, let them express themselves through their clothing. What you wear is an extension of your personality so give them the opportunity to figure out who they are with their clothes.
“Go Give Grandma a Hug and Kiss“
It can be instinctual to tell your children to give family members or friends hugs and kisses, but try to curb that instinct. Give your children ownership over their bodies from a young age and give them the choice to give hugs and kisses if and when they’re ready. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t give a polite goodbye when someone leaves, but don’t force them to give hugs and kisses if they don’t want to. This one goes for boys, too.
“Get Over It“
Kids of all ages get upset and it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and let them process them a bit. Be there for them to discuss how they’re feeling and why so that they can move past them. Don’t tell them to just “get over it.” That sends the message that they shouldn’t be feeling them in the first place and doesn’t give them the space to work through them. Think of it this way: As a grown adult do you like being told to “get over it”? So imagine how your daughter hearing that feels.
“You’re So Selfish“
Kids are inherently selfish at many points in their development, but you don’t have to call them out on it. Instead, try to get to the heart of what they’re looking for — do they need a bit more attention, are they feeling bad that a friend got something they’ve been wanting or did they expect something and are disappointed they didn’t get it? There are more constructive ways to discuss your daughter’s behavior than this phrase, which will just make her feel bad.
“You’re So Pretty“
While this is a lovely thing to say, it shouldn’t be the only thing you focus on, especially with your daughters. Instead, focus on all of the wonderful things your daughter is and does so that it’s not just about her appearance. Because you don’t want her to grow up thinking all that matters is her outward appearance.
“Wow, That’s A Lot of Food!“
From a young age, children can pick up on social cues like “you shouldn’t eat that” or “you eat too much” from a comment like this one. It’s best to steer clear of commenting on what kids are eating, especially at a young age. They’re exploring different food and flavors and you don’t want them to become focused on “good” and “bad” food when you say these kinds of things. In extreme cases, comments like that can lead to eating disorders and/or other mental health conditions.
“You Look Great – Did You Lose Weight?“
It’s wonderful to compliment your children, but focusing on their weight sends the message that they only look great when they weigh less. Instead, compliment them on the hard work they’ve put into losing weight if that was their goal. “I know you’ve been working hard to lose some weight. I love you no matter what you weigh, but I’m so proud of the commitment you’ve shown to eating healthy and working out.” Your daughter will likely face pressure outside the home — at school, activities, among friends, dating, etc. — that will make her feel bad about her body, so don’t make it worse.
“Practice Makes Perfect“
This is a common saying, but it tells your child that if only they’d practiced more, they could have done something perfectly, which sometimes isn’t even the ultimate goal. Instead, focus on the hard work your child has put into something and how well they managed a task as a result of their commitment to getting the job done. It’s about the process, not the results. Your daughters need to know that. (And your sons, too.)
You may end up saying the wrong thing to your daughter from time to time — you’re only human! If you keep the above in mind, though, and celebrate her as she is, you’ll be on the right track to build a strong relationship with your daughter.
When I’m not hanging out with my three-year-old and husband in Brooklyn, I’m busy writing stories for Mamas Uncut and managing PR + Marketing for Magnolia Bakery, based in New York City. On weekends, you can usually find me at a local park or playground pushing my daughter on the swings, “researching” the best almond croissants in Park Slope or launching into impromptu family dance parties at home, the sidewalk or, every once in awhile, a restaurant bathroom. I’m still trying to master the whole parenting thing, but I have learned that copious amounts of coffee, humor and humility are involved on a daily basis.