If You Know a Little Girl, You Need to Read This! (especially if she’s cute)

This is a personal story about something that happened at our house this week.  If you are kin to a little girl, teach a little girl, know a little girl, or most especially if you have a daughter, please read our story.  I hope it gives you some food for thought, and I hope you’ll start thinking about what messages you are passing along to those CUTE little girls in your life.


This past week our whole family has been sick.  Coughing, fevers, coughing, runny noses, coughing, and…did I mention coughing???  One evening the four of us–DH, me, and our 2 little ones–ended up in our queen bed before dinner.  Lounging turned into silliness and silliness turned into all out horse-play.  After awhile, we agreed we needed to start dinner, and we all headed downstairs.  DH and I stood talking in the kitchen about what to make when we heard a loud crash.  I ran into the adjacent living room–separated from the kitchen by only a half-wall counter-height bar–at full speed.  Isn’t it interesting how you just *know* the difference between the harmless sounds and the ones where you know you need to move fast?!? 

Lilah, our 2 year old, was lying face down between the love seat and the train table.  I picked her up and the first thing I saw was two drops of blood on the rug.  I sat her in my lap, trying to get her not to hold onto me so I could actually get a look at her face.  There was blood, lots of it, coming out of her mouth.  DH got us a rag and I took her into the bathroom to further check her out, while he cleaned up the rug and couch in the living room.  Upon further examination, she had busted her top and bottom lips, and there was blood behind at least 4 of her front teeth, one of which was loose.  

When she was no longer having to spit pools of blood from her mouth, we asked her what happened.  We had only been downstairs a few minutes before we heard the crash.  She replied without hesitation, “I was jumping on the couch!”  I guess she was still in horse-play mode, and even though we were only feet away, we hadn’t seen her climb up to stand on the couch.  We got her to hold an ice pack on her lips for a long time that evening.

The next day, we took her to the dentist to have her teeth checked out.  They did a brief exam and took some x-rays.  They are going to see her again next week as well to follow-up, but for now, everything looks okay. 

While I am very concerned about her teeth (Did you know teeth can “die” anywhere from 6 months to 5 years after an accident???), and even more so with her lack of fear of potentially dangerous situations (she has busted a lip before jumping off the train table, and is just in general, our fearless one) I am most concerned with a parenting error I have been making that I didn’t really want to admit to myself.  

I’m sure most parents think their kids are cute, and I’m no different.  I think my little girl is, well…pretty.  Beautiful.  Gorgeous.  Cute.  Adorable.  And all those other words that describe good looks.  I think my little boy is adorable, and handsome, and beautiful, too.  But I do find that I *say* how I feel about my daughter’s looks to her much more than I say those things to my son.  And when I talk to my son, I’m much more likely to point out things like how compassionate he is, or how witty something he said was, instead of always praising his appearance.  I’ve always known deep down that I did it and I shouldn’t, but I just kept asking myself, “What’s the harm in telling her how nice she looks??”

The morning after her fall, my little girl wasn’t gorgeous…or pretty…or even cute.  Her top lip was swollen to several times it’s normal size.  The area under her nose and above her lips was beginning to turn black.  Her lips had dark scabs on them.  Add to all that the fact she still had a runny nose from her cold, and her blue eyes were missing their normal sparkle.  If I had passed her on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t even have recognized her.

Oh, I knew she’d get better from her fall.  Her lips would heal and the swelling would go down.  The bruises would fade and her cold would eventually go away.  Ideally her teeth would be fine, and she’d look just like she did before.  But I couldn’t help but think, “What if it had been worse?  What if the damage was permanent?  What if this was the way she was going to look from now on?  What if she went from hearing people–including ME!!–comment daily about her good looks to never hearing those things again?  How would that affect her body image?  Her self-confidence?  Her self-worth?”  

I personally wouldn’t feel any differently about her; she’s beautiful through and through to me because she has so much happy energy, and somehow she always seems to know just when I really need a hug, and because she bursts into song when she’s on the potty which always makes me smile.  She’s beautiful because she has such an amazing vocabulary for being so little, and because she tells us she loves us “to the moooooooooon and back!!!” at random times, and because when we’re memorizing a new dinnertime prayer she’s always the first to learn it, and because when we’re out, she slips her hand into mine and says softly, “I like holding your hand.”  No matter how my little girl looks on the outside, she will always, always be beautiful to me.

But I was reminded of this Huffington Post article I had read in the past — How to Talk to Little Girls.  It was a good read, but I didn’t take it to heart before.  “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.”  

I want my little girl to know I value her because she’s unique, she’s smart, she’s sweet, and she’s one of the most compassionate kids I’ve ever met.  I don’t want her to think her value lies merely in something as superficial as her appearance…especially knowing that one day it might change…perhaps not through an accident like it was temporarily in this case, but even just by growing older, or gaining weight, or just not fitting the world’s current view of beautiful.  Yet, what messages have I been sending her???  “Hey, cutie!  I love that outfit on you.  You look just darling today.”

I’m going to go back and read How To Talk to Little Girls again.  And this time I’m going to take it to heart.  Oh, I’ll still tell my little girl she’s beautiful–because she is to me no matter how she looks on the outside–but I’ll be sure to focus on her personality, and her accomplishments, and her skills a whole lot more so she knows there are so many great things about her.  Because being pretty is certainly not the most important thing, and if she ever becomes less than beautiful in the world’s eyes, I want her to know she has a lot more going for her than just her looks.  

Other articles worth reading on this topic:

Update: I so appreciate all the comments and feedback I’ve gotten on this article so far.  There is only so much one can write in a single blog post, though I do try to squeeze in as much as possible. 😉  I just want to add that I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with complimenting a girl on her looks; the point I’m trying to make is simply that by having a little boy and a little girl, I’ve really become aware of how often I do it and how much the outside world does, too, in comparison with how often the same types of things are said to and about boys.  Even a subtle shift from, “Look how cute you are!” to “Look!  You picked out that outfit and got dressed all by yourself!” puts the praise on something the child DID and not on something they can’t control.  I think it’s just easy to slip into a rut, especially with little girls, of ALWAYS saying how cute they are…because, well, they are!!  But if you start saying those kinds of things to them MORE than complimenting their brains, or their athleticism, or their helpfulness, or their kindness, or their effort, I do think it CAN send them the wrong message.  And then what lengths will they go to as they get older to still be called cute, or pretty???  And what if something happens so that one day they aren’t cute or pretty on the outside anymore?  Not to mention the message we’re sending to our little boys who are listening…but that’s a whole other post for another day. 😉  Thanks for letting me share with you, and thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

This post may contain affiliate links.

Genny Upton

A former teacher turned stay at home mom to two preschool aged children. Creator (and writer) at In Lieu of Preschool and Parent Teach Play. Currently publishing my first children's picture book!

  • That was a well written and thought provoking story. Thank you for the important reminder to talk to the cute girls in our lives about all of their amazing attributes, and to sometimes refrain from comments about their appearance.

    : 0 ) Theresa

  • Allison says:

    As a mom of boys I never thought of this in terms of gender, but it makes sense. How blessed your little girl is to have a mother who realizes this while she is still very young. 🙂

  • Opal Stevens says:

    Oh my goodness, I would have been so scared! 🙁 But yes, I completely agree with you, it’s so important to teach girls that looks aren’t everything. It’s heart breaking how many women and girls I know that have such low self esteem because the media and society is constantly making the feel that they’re inadequate because they don’t look like models.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard this before and agree 100% that we should give positive comments for every great personality trait.

  • Missele says:

    Enjoyed your article. When watching “the help” last night I was struck by how the one character always told the children “u are kind; u are smart; u are important”. On the downside though, and maybe I am sensitive being a working mom, I was a bit taken aback at your comment that by being a stay at home mom you knew the sound of the crash was different. Moms that work are able to tell the difference as well.

    • I just said that based on our particular situation and the fact that my DH, who works, is oblivious to the various meanings of different cries and crashes. I think I was halfway to Lilah before he even knew anything had happened! Absolutely no offense intended to anyone by my comment!! 😉

    • Mary Bonk says:

      Missele… I have raised 2 well rounded, great children, my daughter, the oldest and my son. Both have graduated from college, are young adults, and living amazing lives of their own. However, I not only had to work outside the home during those impressionable and vulnerable years, I had to go it on my own as a single parent. Never was it easy nor did I expect it to be. That being said, I found your sensitivity to “working mom’s” and “stay at home mom’s” a bit familiar, so I decided to re-read the story. Honey, if I as an experienced editor have missed something, please feel free to point it out to me, but I could not find any inference “In-Lieu” made being a “stay at home mom” and having a greater sense of parental wisdom when something is wrong. The article was insightful and a piece that needed to be shared. What we all need to believe in as “Moms” (all parents inclusive) that no matter what the family dynamic is, we DO NOT need to be DEFENSIVE, but rather be confident with our identities and our wisdom, while at the same time appreciate the wisdom that others take the time to share. This is how we all grow, no matter what our circumstances. I praise, respect and appreciate ALL parents that have accepted the responsibility to become an ever more knowledgeable, involved, more loving, creative and sharing parent on a road that can only be traveled one day at a time. It’s the most challenging and rewarding “job” we will ever have. Be proud that you are a Mom that knows working outside the home is the best contribution you have to give. Blessings to all.

    • Mary, thanks for taking the time to comment. There was a line in the article that originally read, “As a stay-at-home-parent, somehow you just *know* the difference between the harmless sounds and the ones where you know you need to move fast.” It was in direct reference to our situation because my DH, who works, is oblivious to the different sounds and cries, while I can immediately tell when it’s serious and when it’s not. It was just my way of explaining our story and why I was the first to get to Lilah after I heard the crash. It was not meant to step on anyone’s toes or hurt anyone’s feelings. While I read and reread my posts before publishing to make sure I’m not saying anything controversial–I *hate* drama–this one slipped; it is never my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone feel they need to defend their skills as a parent. Since it such an easy edit to make, and because the line had nothing to do with the overall point I was trying to make at all, I changed it to, “Isn’t it interesting how you just *know* the difference between the harmless sounds and the ones where you know you need to move fast?!?” It was easy to change and hopefully now it will help more people be able to read my article without getting hung up on an unrelated point, so that they get the real meaning behind my post without unnecessary distraction. 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    I would say most parents know the difference between the harmless crash and a serious nois. But that aside I agree this is an important issue and can be for boys as well. I have a boy and he gets td constantly by family and complete strangers how adorable and cute he is. It makes me wonder what the other kids around him feel when this is said. Or how this makes him see his own self.

    • I just said that based on our particular situation and the fact that my DH, who works, is oblivious to the various meanings of different cries and crashes. I think I was halfway to Lilah before he even knew anything had happened! Absolutely no offense intended to anyone by my comment!! 😉

      Good points about those kinds of comments for boys, too. 🙂

  • Mary Ryan says:

    I read that article in the Huffington Post too. I’d like to think I’ve done a pretty good job shifting my praise to other things other than looks. Ironically my 4 year old constantly now asks “but don’t I look pretty?”….and the answer is, yes. You are beautiful. From the inside and out. You always will be to me and to your dad and to anyone that knows you.

    Hope your little girl heals quickly. Never an easy thing to see your kid hurt. And I definitely hate seeing any bleeding from my little ones.

  • Susan Case says:

    Thanks for reminding us that beauty is from the inside out. I praise my daughter all the time though and don’t care what anyone thinks. She needs it and I grew up with low self-esteem and think hugs and telling someone they are loved, and look beautiful in their new dress, and things that they do are fantastic, is very important. The world can be cruel – so I’m here to tell her she’s the greatest. Great post! Hope your daughter heals soon.

    • Thanks for the comment and well-wishes, Susan! We praise our kids all the time, too, and give lots of hugs and kisses! Having a little boy and a little girl has let me see just how often I make comments about my little girl’s appearance though, and how often people in the outside world do, too, and how it isn’t nearly the same for little boys. I’m still going to praise them both…and their looks…but I’m going to try to make the shift more towards, “Oh, I love that you picked out your own clothes and got dressed all by yourself this morning!” instead of always saying, “Look how cute you are!” Seeing the outside beauty taken away from my little girl after her accident really opened my eyes to how she might have viewed herself if she were a little older, and I just want to make sure I’m building up the wonderful person who she is on the inside so that she’d be strong enough to handle such a thing if or when it happens. Plus, I don’t want to be sending my son the wrong messages either…but that’d be a whole other post! 😉

    • Susan Case says:

      Great points! Love your blog.

  • Such an important reminder. Pinning it and sending your little girl loads of get well wishes.

  • I read that same HuffPost article and thought long and hard about what I say to my daughter and her cousins and friends. I have worked hard to comment on appropriate character traits and to engage these girls on topics that are not solely based on looks. And I don’t base their worth solely on their looks. I, however, don’t believe in holding back with a compliment about a friend’s cute new haircut or adorable new purse. Why shouldn’t I make those comments to my daughter or other young girls too?

    And for that matter, I also compliment my husband on a good-looking tie. Now, I’m not saying that my compliments to either gender are looks-based, but I do think that a well-placed compliment is appropriate at any time.

    I would also go as far to say that with our daughters and nieces, it *should* be our version of beauty that they value and crave, not the version fed to them by the media.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Paula! I totally think compliments, including looks-based ones, are just fine! I certainly like a nice compliment now and then. 🙂 I think it’s just easy to slip into a rut, especially with little girls, of always saying how cute they are…because well, they are!!! But if you start saying those kinds of things to them more than complimenting their brains, or their athleticism, or their helpfulness, or their kindness, or their effort, I do think it can send them the wrong message…and then what lengths will they go to as they get older to still be called cute, or pretty??? It sounds like you have a very good balance and have put some real thought into it! 🙂

  • I have three girls and it is a worry. I have noticed other people only ever comment on my daughters appearance and I find it really annoying. She’s worth more than that.

    I also wonder what it’s like for kids when they go through the awkward teen years, suddenly they stop being told they’re cute. It must be a real shock.

  • Anonymous says:

    I also have a cute little girl who had an abnormally large vocabulary for her age (she still does actually) and has always been a bit precocious. For awhile, when someone paid her a looks-based compliment, she would respond with variations of “and I’m smart too!” She might have had a little bit of coaching that it was okay to tell people that 😉 but she already knew it and wanted to tell people. She just needed the go-ahead to say it. Some people were taken aback by it, but it helped her make her point with her grandparents and they’ve recognized that looks-based compliments don’t mean as much as personality-based compliments.

  • I really enjoyed reading this because as the mother of a young beautiful little girl I understood all your feelings as I feel them too. And my little adventure monkey actually did knock one of her teeth out so that’ll be a number of years before that’s back. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Love your blog and love this post. Thank you for reminding me what I already know but continue to do the opposite.

  • Deborah says:

    I must say though – your little girl is very cute:) In the classroom, I try to be very conscience of this as well. I think all of my students are adorable but of course, I want to foster the self-image of the whole child not just the cuteness of the child. This can be challenging when a little one walks up to you looking so sweet and cute that you just want to hug em and say – “ooooh, you are so cute!” So – sometimes, I just can’t help myself and I do say that but I balance all I say with other words that highlight their many, many other wonderful strengths. Now as far as my grandson goes – he is just too cute for words and this is a hopeless cause for me:)

  • Oma to 10 says:

    Love this post for its thoughtful ideas so well expressed!

  • I really appreciated this post! As a full time Nanny, the children spend 90% of their first three years of life with me. I just started caring for the new baby girl, who is 6 weeks old. I started thinking about how much already I say how “beautiful” she is. Thank you for sharing your experience and this was very thought provoking … 🙂

  • Tawnee says:

    Thanks for this post. I had a similar experience with my son hurting himself. It is ironic how I decided to comment on how he looked afterward so he didn’t get “worried” — who really was worried, him or me? Anyway, I try to compliment them both on their character qualities but i definitely tell my dd how pretty she is and my son how handsome or cute he is regularly. I think its human nature. As long as well-rounded compliments are coming I think its great to let them know they are beautiful to us in every way. Thanks for the post!

  • tricia says:

    Very thought provoking post! I wrote about that Huffington Post article awhile ago, too- there were a few out around that time that covered smiilar themes- and they all give us pause. I’m gald your little girl will be healing up soon- and I’m glad that there are other praises we can give our little girls than those that focus on fleeting looks..

  • Extremely insightful! I have two teen girls, and the culture makes appearance a huge issue. It’s definitely worth the effort to speak to their true worth and value when they are young. Thanks for posting your experience.

  • Meghan says:

    While I understand why you feel the way you do about what happened and I completely agree that little girls should be raised with a sense of self worth that is more than just how they look, I think the point is completely moot. Why would you stop calling your daughter beautiful, cute, adorable, etc, even if this incident had resulted in permanent damage?

  • Zina says:

    I remember reading this article when it came out. Thanks for the reminder! XO

  • Lovey says:

    This is giving me some food for thought. I don’t see any indication of your faith on your site, so I’m not sure if we’re coming from similar perspectives or not, though I doubt we are. One thing that is important to recognize is that beauty is at the very heart of the feminine soul, put there by our Creator. The ability to create beauty, as well as internal/external personal beauty are very feminine characteristics (not exclusively, of course, but predominantly).

    Each girl’s desire to be lovely, to be appreciated for her beauty, both internal and external, as well as beauty she creates, is hard-wired into her being, just as each boy’s expression of strength and ability to come through is hard-wired into his being. Those features are (of course) not limited exclusively to a gender, but they’re at the heart of what we are. To appreciate a girl’s beauty is not a negative thing, just as to appreciate a boy’s strength or ability isn’t a negative thing. Just don’t leave her thinking she’s NOT lovely because you suddenly stopped complimenting her on her looks.

    Good food for thought. Thanks for letting me peek at your insights. 🙂


  • Henry says:

    Hi, sorry I’m kind of late to this “party”. I read the article you mention when it first came out 5 months before my daughter was born (I now have a second daughter). My wife and I make an effort not to compliment my daughter’s appearance much – we try to compliment her actions. Still easy to fall into the trap as it’s so common, but we try.

    HOWEVER, others constantly do it. My older daughter is exotic and gorgeous. My younger daughter is sweet and cute, but not as conventionally “pretty”. So, in addition to not wanting my daughters to grow up with the idea that their appearance is the most important quality, I now worry that my younger daughter will feel unattractive (she’s only one so it’s not necessarily a permanent state).

    Any advice on how to get other family members and friends to also avoid making appearance their first comment? I’ve mentioned it to my family and they have all dismissed it as irrelevant and unimportant (I disagree).

  • >