girl dollhouse

She is tiny. A little girl learning her role in this world. Language is new and she is figuring out how her behavior affects those around her. How do the words you say to her start to shape her?

When she puts on a new dress, do you fawn over how pretty she looks? When she plays dress-up in mom’s heels, do exclaim she looks beautiful? As she starts figuring out her place in this big scary world, will she learn that her value lies in her beauty?

Or, is there a way to speak to a little girl that does not focus on her looks?

Locus of Control

In psychology, there is the concept of the locus of control. This can be an external or internal locus of control.

A person with an external locus of control believes that things happen to them. Circumstances are outside of your control. Conversely, someone with an internal locus of control believes that they have influence over their circumstances. For example, if someone with an external locus of control is fired, they will blame the economy and their terrible boss. Their lay-off happened to them. However, if someone with an internal locus of control is fired, they will assume it was due to their job performance. Their lay-off was within their control.

It is considered healthier to have an internal locus of control because when things need to be changed, you feel you have the power to initiate that change. When dealing with small children, it is good to empower them as change agents, not just someone who is at the mercy of “whatever life brings.”

If a child does well in school, say something like “you studied very hard for that test and your amazing score was because you worked so hard” rather than “great job with that A! You are so smart.” Being “smart” is something someone feels they are either born with or without. However, taking the time to study hard is something that someone feels they have control over.

little girls

A Young Girl’s Highest Values

“Being beautiful” is something beyond a child’s control, so complimenting a young girl for her appearance doesn’t help to nurture her internal strength. It also feeds into the already intense pressure that society places on girls to primp and crimp themselves into a certain ideal. Chasing the impossible standard to be thinner, taller, blonder, curvier or any other “-er” is a lesson that starts young. There is no need to further enforce this pressure on a girl from the earliest of ages.

What can she be complimented for instead?

– Kindness: When she was kind to her sibling or friend.
– Bravery: When she overcame her fear and tried something for the first time.
– Being a Hard Worker: When she studied hard in school and brought home a good grade.
– Creativity: When she spent time on a creative effort, creating art she was proud of.
– Helpfulness: When she was helpful, perhaps cleaning up her toys on her own initiative.
– Being a Team Player: When she passed the soccer ball on the field, embodying a team player.

It takes a village to raise the next generation up to their most confident and creative potential. It is certainly not easy. However, if we want to help free young girls from pressure related to their appearance, what can we do today to speak confidence into them so that are not trying to find their value in their appearance 10 or 20 years from now?

What was an encouraging word you heard when you were young that’s stayed with you?

Images via All That Is She



  1. Yeah, constantly telling girls from early ages that they are beautiful and pretty and all that is related to physical appearances instills in them them the notion that they are worth only what people see of them not the other genuine qualities and values they should grow with. I think this dilemma existed since long ago and parents should be clever when raising their daughters.

  2. I work in the beauty industry. A about a year ago a little girl came in with her mum and asked if we could put some lipgloss on her. We selected a very sheer pink and when her mum saw her she said, ‘you look just as beautiful as when you first wake up in the morning’. That’s stuck with me ever since.

  3. I think what you are saying is powerful and important, and for that I thank you!

    I am a mom to a very handsome little boy (not only my opinion, people literally stop us mid walk or errand to voice this) and the focus is always on his looks. So my point is, this needs to be whispered to boys too. Am all for feminism and building up women. In fact I was raised by a father who raised me to be empowered and strong, so i am lucky. But I think my responsibility to empower my son to be a strong and kind person is equally important.

  4. Thank you for this article! It encourages me to bring this knowledge into my profession as a ballet dancer and in teaching younger girls in the art form. I see true beauty coming from the joy that exudes out of them when they dance. Their beauty lies in the work they put in themselves to apply corrections and work hard in the studio, not in if they have ‘pretty feet’ or a long neck and hyper extended legs, the things that are prized body characteristics in the ballet world and are out of their control. But what is in their control is how they use their bodies, utilizing what they have been given, in order to work their hardest and grow in the process.

  5. I’m a little worried about constantly telling girls that they should be kind//are kind. I feel like it encourages the “good girl” entity, and honestly we need to nip that in the bud. I would rather tell them they are strong and powerful. But I could be reading too much into this.

    1. I think teaching girls to be kind is also a strength in and of itself. Telling a girl to be kind doesn’t have to mean that she tolerates everything and is easily trampled upon. Being kind can mean becoming a solid rock for friends to rely on and standing up for what she thinks is right. We can teach young girls the beauty of believing in themselves and the good that they can bring to others.

  6. There’s this particular family that I watch on Youtube that only comments on their girls being “beautiful” or “pretty”. It’s always bothered me that the parents, especially the Dad, never praises them for anything other than their looks. It’s so important to acknowledge the things listed in this post too!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

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