talking to children

I need to get more photos with the kids / I could create an entire photo series of Che reading…the sunset was pink, hence the rosy linen.

I received some clothes in the mail last week and I decided then and there to try a few pieces on. I slipped into a dress and started looking at myself in the mirror. I stood front-on and then turned to the side (and instinctively rose onto the balls of my feet to give myself a little height). I looked down to see Poet replicating my movements – the twirl from side-to-side, the glance up-and-down. She was revelling in the opportunity to play dress-ups with me and she made a point of commenting: “Lovely dresses, Mum. You look bootiful.” “Oh gosh,” I thought. “She really is watching my every move and listening to every single thing I say.”

Perhaps it was that one incident or perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m solo-parenting but I can’t stop thinking about the words I’m using with the children – how meaningful a single sentence is. This morning the lovely Emma (soon-to-be mama!) linked me to a fabulous post on A Cup of Jo. I first read it one night whilst breastfeeding Poet (she was only two-weeks old when it was published) and, at the time, I made a mental note of remembering its profound message. But you know what, I’m guilty of complimenting Poet on her clothes and her hair and her shoes; I do it a lot and hence she is forever asking to wear a “pretty dress”. Does her extreme love of fairy wings and flower crowns come from within or have I prompted it? Am I balancing out the emphasis on clothes and accessories by reading Milly Molly Mandy* to her?

Since Che returned to school I’ve made a point of never asking him: “What did you do at school today?” because I know all too well that I’ll receive “…not much” in return. Instead I ask him about his feelings. “What feelings did you have in class this morning?” “Well, I felt a little bit sad when I said goodbye to you but then we went into the classroom and I sat next to my new friend and I felt happy. And then I felt excited because we got to play some cool games.” His response often gives me a beautiful insight to his morning; his experiences and emotions.

There’s a lot to be said for mindful conversations with children. Tell me, do you find it all to easy to compliment girls on their looks and their clothes? What conversations do you have around the dinner table (we always talk about the best and worst parts of our day)?

*when I was young I borrowed (and renewed) a Milly Molly Mandy audio book from the library. I had a cassette player in my room and I listened to the tales of her days over and over and over again. I was so inspired by her passion for adventure and her mischievous ways.

Recent Posts
Showing 30 comments
  • Jesi

    Passepartout and I talk about nature a lot. When the weather is warm enough we open the windows and listen to the sounds of the world, and comment on them. We also talk about God a lot, we try to pray the rosary together every morning, so that determines a lot of our conversation. Or just about what we're doing. He will be three in a month and just now has become more vocal, he didn't say his first word (happy) until 4 months ago, so this is so new to us! 🙂 Around the table we normally talk about philosophy or theology (my husband studied philosophy in school), or just colours and textures, looking at books together. Wow, now that I'm reflecting on this our dinner guests must think we're strange! Ha!

  • Soph

    We also chat about the highlights and low-lights of our days around dinner. We also make up stories together which often end up with princesses in pretty dresses flying off to explore distant nebulas 🙂 I have been challenged recently as my 4 year old has become inspired by princesses and their pretty dresses, hair, shoes etc. I am not a fashion queen myself and so am finding this new passion challenging. I often return the question "Do I look beautiful in this?" with "Do you feel beautiful?" Hoping it will encourage to make her own judgment about what she chooses to wear and putting the emphasis on how she feels not how she looks.

  • Amanda

    Oh I used love Milly Molly Mandy,, my parents bought it for me and I would spend hours studying the map in the back of the book.

  • Emma Steendam

    Glad you re-discovered this via my link to you Jodi, please remind me to re-visit it if I birth a baby girl, again and again if necessary. It's a tricky business sometimes being a woman, let alone raising a woman (I imagine).
    Em x

  • Bron Maxabella

    This is something that I have always been conscious of because my own parents were conscious of it. I think there is a balance there – compliments about the way we look are nice and I think it's natural to like to hear them. I balance that with a compliment about the way they are and the things they can do. This is true for both boys and girls. x

  • Lucy W

    I'm the opposite, being a Mum to boys I do tell them they're beautiful as I feel girls so often hear it but not boys, I use the word beautiful rather than handsome and encourage them to see the beauty of those on the inside as well as outside. And guilty as charged with a Milly Molly Mandy obsession when younger as well!!

    • Jodi

      I have and always will call Che "my beautiful boy"…I often talk about his kind heart and mysterious mind. Have you heard Sarah Humphreys' song "Boy Wonder"? It's fabulous! x

  • Dear Lola

    Oh yes, yes! I can relate with my three year old daughter Lola. I feel lately I have been extra conscious of the language I use around her, how I compliment her, questions I ask her. I think I have to be 'extra conscious' as it is all to easy to use the word beautiful, to say her drawing is great & to forget that she is taking in every little thing I say, and action I perform. Your mirror instance with Poet is a timely example. And I love how you build your conversations with your Che. Thanks for sharing.

    At mealtime, Lola often starts by saying "Tell me about your day today. The who, the what, the why, and the way, the whole wild thing turned out okay" – taken from Mem Fox's "Tell me about your day today" – we go around the table talking about the days happenings, something that made us laugh, focusing a on a few feelings ranging from happy to lonely to scared & excited. But in the end the whole wild day does turn out okay, & I'm ever so thankful for these conversations, such a cherished time xx

  • mel @ loved handmade

    I've been thinking about this lately, I'm always telling Olive she's so beautiful and call the boys 'my handsome boys', though I've been more conscious of it since having olive. I do praise them for the things they do and who they are as well, it's tricky business isn't it..x

  • Nic

    Even with boys this can be challenging- everyone wants to be appreciated for who we are, and some people will always naturally be more concerned with their appearance than others, not just because they're a girl or a boy. Our Jonah is complimented so frequently by strangers on his looks that I wonder how to keep his self-view balanced: he is aware of how he looks, but can sometimes lack confidence in who he IS. Also, his brothers hear those compliments and maybe don't get the same attention, so how to consciously help them balance their self-view, especially when one of them is extremely self-conscious?
    Needless to say I think about this a LOT and don't have any answers. I HOPE they grow up liking who they are, looks and all…

  • Bec Frost

    It's so interesting. I have a 2 year old little girl with blonde, super curly hair and blue eyes. I would seriously be stopped multiple times a day by people who comment on her hair, how pretty she is, how cute she is etc. My 5 year old son noticed this and asked why people don't like his hair?! The most he will get from strangers is "Are you a good big brother to your little sister?".

    I also make a conscious effort with both my children to steer away from comments surrounding their looks to questions about their feelings, who they are etc. I also often ask my son whether he feels comfortable in what he is wearing when asks "Do I look cool Mum?". It is a tricky business but I love the conversations that can flow from meaningful questions. Thank you for sharing! It's reignited my thinking around this again 🙂

  • Melissa338

    I have never actually thought about this before! I have 2 small girlies so a really nice thing to think about, thank you 🙂

  • dear olive

    This is a hard one for me, with both Shane and I rather into clothes. And I don't think there's much wrong with expressing an opinion about liking a certain item – but with Olive we try not to let it go further into how an item makes Olive look. (ie "great outfit!" as opposed to "you look so pretty in that outfit!".) But other people will always comment on "how beautiful she looks in that dress" and so forth! It's ridiculous and it shits me. Olive asked me last year if I thought she was beautiful. I said do you know what makes people beautiful? Um, is it fairy dust? Came the questioning answer. Pretty cute. And of course I said the whole beauty comes from the inside speel … but the thing is, they ARE so cute and so physically perfect …. it's kind of hard not to tell them about it. But we need to give them self worth that goes far beyond the way they look. I'm off to read the article! Kellie xx

    • Jodi

      Daniel and I are the same – we love beautiful clothes and compliment each other on certain outfits…I suppose finding the balance when we remark on the kids and their clothing is key x

    • Jesi

      Love this and so true! I tell my son I love him and that he is beautiful, but I think that it's clear in our family that beautiful is something very deep. We just watched a neat video about Saint Francis so that is something that has really inspired us in terms of understanding the beauty of nature and of the soul.

  • laluuu

    My husband and I are super aware of not focussing on the way our girls look over their feelings, intelligence, drive etc. We also don't talk down about our bodies in this family. There is no "I'm so fat" etc and when I wear make up (which is rare) I tell the girls they don't ever have to wear it if they don't want to, but it's also ok to make the decision to use it.

    I get stopped in the street by strangers every time I take the girls out and rather shockingly, 100% of people want to comment on how pretty or cute they are. It's lovely that people are drawn to the girls, but somewhat disheartening that it's because of how they look.

    It's an interesting topic to say the least.

  • Mother Down Under

    Something that I read that stuck with me is praising children on their efforts rather than one the result…saying "I know you have worked so hard at learning how to spell your name," rather than "You are so clever."
    But I do need to watch what I say…which was made clear to me when I asked C to brush is teeth before bed and he said, "Just a minute mom, I am busy."

  • aluminiumgirl

    I came in to add, but I see Mother Down Under has already said it 🙂 We too praise the effort and the application, and talk about the end result. i.e "I really appreciate the time you put into creating this drawing. Can you tell me about the colours you chose?" etc.

    But, in terms of clothes – I have two gorgeous girls – people tell them they are beautiful all the time. I'm teaching them to say thank-you when complimented, and to understand that the things that make them beautiful come from within – from their smile, their kindness, their good-manners and gentle thoughtfulness, more than from what they put on to wear. I am also conscious of permitting my children the freedom to choose their own outfits (as wild and as mismatched as they often turn out) and I only intervene if they are weather-inappropriate. I don't want them to not wear clothes they adore and feel comfortable in, because I don't like it; and vise-versa. It can be complex-parenting sometimes. 🙂

  • abeeandabloom

    I'm super-conscious of it. I try to compliment her on how much fun she is, or how happy she seems, or how brave she has been etc. I do compliment her on her appearance as well, but I think it needs to be balanced. Otherwise we are just as guilty of objectifying our daughters as the mass media. I'm also keen to drop those affirmations in when other people remark on being pretty, just to make people think a bit… I hope! x

  • katiecrackernuts

    Milly Molly Mandy was a favourite of mine too.

  • Dre @ no frills mum

    I have actually been thinking about this a lot lately too and have had discussions with friends and family about it after reading articles in social media and recently reading Steve Biddulph's 'Raising Girls'.
    I think the world is generally very 'girl pink princess pretty' and 'boy blue tough cars trucks' focussed. Even lego is in on it, bringing out a range of pink lego featuring the disney princesses, for girls of course. It's all yellow, red, green, blue and white lego at our house. Our girls have a mix of so called girls, boys and gender nuetral toys, dress ups, movies and things.
    Ultimately I think it's all about balance and teaching and enforcing good morals, values and inner qualities in our children yet trying to boost their confidence and self esteem at the same time, somehow! 🙂
    I like to tell my girls not only are they beautiful but I also say things like "that was very kind of you", "you're so loving", "thank-you for putting that away and respecting your things"" or "see, you tried and tried and you did it", when appropriate to reinforce and teach things such as persistence, kindness, love, empathy, honesty, caring and manners among other inner qualities.
    We also have informal discussions about our day, the best things, how we felt at different times and talk through issues that arise. Sometimes it's in the car, during dinner, whilst tucking the kids in to bed or out in the garden. Definitely a great way to communicate with our kids and hopefully the start of what will continue through those often difficult teenage years!
    Sorry for the essay…a timely and thought provoking post Jodi 🙂

  • spark

    A lovely colleague gave me Lisa Bloom's Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World book when I had my daughter. The ideas were not new to me but the reasoning and everyday logic greatly appealed to me. We do compliment our girl on her appearance. It is hard not to. As dear olive commented, we are so filled with wonder at the miracle of her sweet little body, we can't help ourselves. I comfort myself that we are equally enthusiastic and verbal about her reading, her ability to keep trying and millions of other little personality quirks that we adore and make her uniquely her. It is hard sometimes when well-meaning people invariably always tell her how pretty she is or how nice her clothes are.

  • Yellow Finch

    it's amazing how much their little ears pick up. we also avoid the "how was school" but focus on "what was your favorite activity today" or something along those lines. as for complimenting the girls, i am guilty. i always try to be mindful, but with a house full of boys i sometimes get carried away and let the compliments slip. thank you for the reminder 😉

  • Sarah

    Mine is barely over a year, but I've caught myself several times only telling her she's pretty or how beautiful she is after I've dressed her and done up her hair. I realized it a few weeks ago that I really only say it then and it stung a little. She's only one, but a habit now, will be a habit later. I don't want her to only ever feel pretty or beautiful IF she's 'rightly' dressed. It's been an effort to remind myself to say it all the time, at random, without prompting. It makes you wonder how conditioned we are only to dole out compliments at specific prompts.

  • Sam Stone

    Our love our talks around the dinner table. Every night we talk about how our day was and what we did and also list down our highlights.

  • Bridie @ Miss And Misters

    Yes yes yes to mindful questions! I learned pretty early on that the stock standard "how was your day/what did you do today" questions were pointless with my son. They weren't conducive to reaffirming our relationship after hours being apart and with other people, and in a way I feel like they distanced us further. Also with the generic "you look good, great job" stuff – specifics are so much more meaningful and affirming. Your article reminds me of another that's been floating around recently: It's about mindful questions and is important for all our relationships (with partners, friends, kids). Definitely worth a read. Xx

  • Anonymous

    Oh, talking about being pretty and clothes with girls… hard question and so much follow-up questions regarding gender, sex and sexist behaviour which we unconsciously pass on to our children. I have no answer for you but thank you for the reminder of being mindful in how to talk to our children. My twin boys are only 6 months old but I already think a lot about how to imbue in them the very core of perceiving people not as male and female but as people.

    Concerning "girl talk" and the problems in our society, I can commend Peggy Orenstein's book "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture". Terrific read 🙂

    • Julie

      This was me, Julie, from I just can't get the hang with the logging in to comment AND displaying the name I want to display. :p Sorry for double commenting.

  • Crystal

    Being a mummy to two girls this is something I am currently battling with, I try really hard never to emphasise clothes or appearance but I am finding myself wanting 'style' our lives a bit more, I feel as if my interest in aesthetics is in direct conflict with my desire to give my daughter a childhood free of the pressures of appearance. Everything we do and say will turn into a large part of who they become and that is a very heavy weight to carry everyday Xx

  • Laura

    I remember reading that same Cup of Jo post and I have ever since been mindful of talking to girls about more than their clothes which is hard sometimes because some of the little girls clothes are truly beautiful. Now I have a daughter I am even more conscious of this as I don't want her to grow up to think her mind or adventurous spirit is any less important or interesting than her brothers.

Leave a Comment