The Way We Talk to Kids

Today I need to talk about something that has nothing to do with me right now… but someday it will.

I feel so, so passionately about the way we speak to children. I think that our words make an incredible impact on the way they see themselves. If I’m ever blessed with a daughter I know that feminine compliments include words like beautiful, adorable, and cute.  I’m ok with these (and if she looks anything like my hubby then she will definitely be a cutie), but I need a few more words in her vocabulary. I want her to see herself as smart and adventurous and brave and determined. I want my kids to see”unique” as a positive trait. If I ever have a son I want him to know that “emotional” and “kind” are WONDERFUL things to be.

I got an email last week from a baby clothing store and this was part of the ad:

Baby Clothes

Typically I just scroll past these clothes (since my favorite Baby Elliot is only in 9mn outfits), but I found myself stuck on this ad.

Why, why, why do the boys’ shirts say brave, explorer, extraordinary and the girls say NOTHING? Girls get to pick between flowers or lace. Whhhhhhhhy?!

I am a feminist, but this is not a feminist post. This is my future mom-self thinking how much I LOVE that yellow/tan shirt and how I’d buy it for a daughter, but I would never put her in that floral jumpsuit thing-y. It’s a cute romper, but I want my daughter to have a choice between t-shirt or blouse, skirt or cargo shorts… This ad doesn’t give her a choice.

(I know that this ad is directed at parents, not kids, but come on… Not ONE adventurous shirt for the ladies.)

Let it be known right now: If I am ever pregnant with a daughter feel free to buy her whatever outfits you’d like, but please don’t shy away from blues, greens, and boy-associated ensembles. (I mean, if it says “Daddy & Son” probably leave it on the rack, but I’m good with trucks and bugs.)

Ok… on to the next point.

I’ve mentioned it before (like during the holidays), but I have a part time job at a kids’ clothing store. (No, it’s not the same one that sent me the email.) I took a few months off-ish, but I really like working there so I’m back to floor sales now.

While I was working last week a mom and daughter- maybe 10 or 12 years old- came in to browse. The mother was very put together and stylish, but the daughter was a typical kid: messy rained-on hair, athletic shorts, and a colorful tank top. I noticed that the daughter’s hair was just past her shoulders and curled into little spirals at the bottom. Yes, it was a little frizzy from the Ohio humidity, but that’s the nature of curly hair.

I asked the little girl if her hair was naturally curly. She said yes and her mother rolled her eyes. I said I thought it was very pretty- she’s very lucky to have curly hair like that. Her mother, with a look of disgust, replied, “No, she’s not. It’s a pain.” The little girl thanked me and quietly followed her mom to another corner of the store. All I could do was stand there and glare at the back of the mother’s head.

Why, why, why would you tell your impressionable child that her hair is “not good”?? She will go her entire life looking at magazines and television commercials of skinny, beautiful models with smooth, straight, flowy hair. As one curly-headed girl to another, let her have my compliment! (It took me +15 years to figure out how to manage my frizzy hair… now I love it.)

I know that 90% of the time it’s unintentional, but kids soak it up at least 90 % of the time.

Am I just being touchy or does that ad rub you the wrong way, too? Are you intentional in what you say to kids?

-Louise

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8 thoughts on “The Way We Talk to Kids

  1. Not too touchy at all! Once I read this amazing article about words, and how we talk to children. We compliment young girls, our first words to them are about their clothes and how pretty they are — but we don’t do this with boys. We talk to them about their interests, and “Do you like baseball?” From the beginning we give girls this idea that these are the important things, these are the things that matter. We need to spend more time making purposeful conversation with our girls that tell them they are more than what they wear or how they look. They can be adventurers, they can be brave! They don’t have to wear the romper if they don’t want to! Love this post 🙂

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    1. Yesssss! When I made myself consciously think about what I was saying I discovered that I was guilty of these conversations! Shame on me! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for the comment, Shelby!

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  2. so much yes to this whole thing! what a ridiculous ad and i am SO with you about buying trucks and bugs and explorer and brave t-shirts for girls too. JUST LET US BE EXPLORERS! jeeez. i am so glad you brought this up and how sad for that little girl…i know curly hair is a pain in the ass but it’s our hair and we need to learn to rock it (it took me until 21 to figure that out)!

    ps. i *do* think this is a feminist post in the most positive way ever because you are talking about the social, (and then economical and political) equality of the sexes 🙂

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    1. I’m totally ok with this being a feminist post 🙂 I just also think that as a human being that wears clothing, it’s also a common sense post. Haha! (Then again, the concept of feminism and equality should be fairly common sense, too…..) As a teen I lusted over smooth, straight hair but I’m finally figuring out what to do with this lion mane! Haha!

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  3. What? I thought we were way past insulting curly hair! I have natural curls too–they run, and they run fiercely, in my family…and most of us think it would be pretty boring to have hair that looked the same every day. Several of my teenage sisters wear men’s cargo shorts. Personally I think that’s a pretty odd style choice and might be the kind that in another decade or two might add to the perception of the “awkward teen years”…but it’s always an option. I really liked that “Be Brave” shirt, I think it would be cute on any little girl! My 5 sisters and I have a tradition of always trying to own a “superman” shirt because we all feel so powerful in our “superman” shirts…plus our last name starts with an S. I like lace as much as anyone…but…silly advertisers.

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    1. (Whoa! 5 sisters?! You all probably have so much girl power! That’s awesome! Haha!) I think we all make questionable style choices (ESPECIALLY in our teen years…) but it’s pretty awesome that your sisters wear what they’re comfortable in! I love the Superman shirt tradition! Now I wish my last name started with an S!

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  4. Found you from Erin’s Book Challenge. 🙂

    I have been preaching this for YEARS! I’m so glad someone else gets it! My strongest memory of when I’ve fought the repressing girl powers was after a friend had a baby girl. We were at a family event and the grandmas and aunts were passing the baby around and she was super fussy, you could tell she was tired. But they were cooing over how pretty she was and how blue her eyes were and how cute her dress was… Eventually, she finally got put into her carrier and so she could fall asleep. At which point, I took my turn with her.

    I squatted beside the carrier and told her how smart she was and how many pages she was going to be able to read one day and how far she was going to be able to go because of how strong she is and how she will be able to do anything she wants because she wasn’t just a pretty face.

    All the women that were around had been chatting with each other stopped and started to listen to me. I was surprised, honestly. I let the baby hold my fingers and swing my hands. Finally, one of the grandma’s said, “That was such a nice thing to say.”

    I responded, “She’s always going to be told by someone how pretty or not pretty she is, but there might not be anyone there when she needs to be told how fast she is, how strong she is, and that it doesn’t matter what she looks likes.”

    Go us on fighting gender stereotyping!

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