I want my daughter to be happy, confident, loving, and respectful. But how can I encourage in my daughter a healthy body image, make room for her to cultivate her personality, learn good manners, and develop positive intentions during an average day?
Mine and my husband’s parenting style evolves based on our daughter’s development and needs. One method we’ve used to create healthy habits that coincide with our child-rearing approach is to use these repeated phrases and praises in our daily activities to affirm who she is (no matter what she does or doesn’t do) and to help her grow into the best version of herself.
1. We love you
This is the most important phrase we want our daughter to hear. We want her to know the power of love, that our love is unconditional, and that she is in a secure and safe environment. Of course we try our best to model what we say in our actions, too. For her part, our daughter’s response comes through in her expressions and actions toward us: kissing my husband’s face all over when he puts her to bed at night, hugs around our legs when we are standing in the kitchen, moments of looking into my eyes and saying, “Hi mom,” and her desire to be involved no matter what we are doing.
2. You should be so proud of yourself
Rather than using the phrase “I am so proud of you,” which (from my point of view) gives my daughter the impression that she needs to please me or that I am only satisfied if she has done something correctly, we turn it around. By telling her that she should be proud of herself, I am building my daughter’s confidence, acknowledging that she is capable of doing tasks or remembering important information without assistance. It helps her become proactive in learning for her own sake, independent of us.
An illustration may help: my daughter and I were recently on a walk and as we neared a road I said, “A road is coming up. What do we have to do?” She looked up and said, “Hold hands.” She then held my hand calmly as we crossed the street, rather than fighting me to let go. Her ability to recognize our need to hold hands boosted her confidence and made her more agreeable. I praised her thereafter saying, “Yay, you remembered! You should be so proud of yourself!”
3. You are beautiful
No matter what our daughter looks like, we tell her she is beautiful (though at 2 that’s pretty easy!). This phrase is not reserved only for when she wears a dress or her hair is combed. We tell her when she is not in our favorite outfits, or dressed in clothing that is less “pretty” and more ordinary; we tell her when her hair is a frizzy, curly mess on her head; we tell her when she fails and when she succeeds; we tell her when she is just being herself, oblivious to who is watching.
4. Thank you so much for your help
My daughter is two and she is becoming very independent but also very eager to help and be involved. We encourage this behavior whenever possible. As long as it is safe and we are nearby, we have no problem with her learning how to do tasks on her own. She enjoys unloading the dishwasher, folding her cloth diapers, and cleaning up her toys at nighttime (especially when I sing the “Clean Up” song). With a lot of patience from me and a lot of focus from her, we complete tasks together, always ending with a jubilant “Thank you!”
5. Doesn’t it feel nice to share?
Similar to number two, this phrase helps our daughter to recognize her good action and the positive feelings of that action. Whether sharing toys or food, saying this phrase after her action both reduces her tension about having to share (if she is being prompted to) and positively reinforces her own inclination to do so.
6. No, thank you
As our daughter grew more and more curious, we began saying “no” a lot. In turn, she would often say “no” back to our requests, with disgust. We didn’t intend to infuse such negativity into our expressions of guiding her away from, for example, what might harm her. So we began suggesting alternate activities to shift the focus from an immediate negative reaction on our part to a choice on her end.
Then we heard our sister-in-law saying “No, thank you” to her daughter and have since adopted the phrase in our own home. Although we are still saying “No” in some form, it is more courteous and less harsh. Our daughter now says it too, and in a much calmer tone: “No, thank you, mom” or “No, thank you, dad”.
Using these phrases and praises has created a calmer and more positive atmosphere in our home. It has given us all the opportunity to be loving and supportive to one another as we encourage and respect each other.