Phrases to boost girls’ self-esteem—other than ‘you’re so pretty’

This isn’t about *never* saying girls are beautiful. It’s just about reminding us all what else matters. ?

Phrases to boost girls’ self-esteem—other than ‘you’re so pretty’

When all babies are born, people naturally love to comment on how beautiful they are. As those babies grow into children, however, it seems comments on boys’ looks become less frequent—while complimentary phrases for girls remain dominated by some variation of how pretty they are.

We can’t always change what other people are saying to our kids. But we can make sure they know that they’re more than just pretty. And with one recent study finding girls as young as nine wanted to be “small” and conform to beauty ideals, helping them recognize their worth beyond their looks is incredibly important.

“Socio-culturally, there’s a lot of emphasis on the value of attractiveness and the value of thinness,” says the study’s author, Professor Heidi Fuller of the Sport Movement Science Department at Salem State University. “It surrounds girls,”

Here’s what she suggests doing instead:

According to Fuller, the first thing parents should do is examine his or her own behavior to see if there are any non-verbal messages around body image.

She tells Motherly, “Some of my early research showed some very interesting anecdotal things where girls [would] say, ‘My mom never sat down to dinner, she fed us but she didn’t sit down with us.’”

Tell her she’s strong

We can control what is modeled at home. But, outside of it—and through technology—our kids may be exposed to a world with an unhealthy obsession with women's looks.

“The best antidote to it is to monitor the things that you say and compliment your daughter, especially on being strong,” says Fuller.

Complimenting a little girl’s strength instills a sense of confidence at an early age. We’re saying, “wow, you’re so strong!” but we’re also saying “you are capable.”

Tell her she’s fast

According to Fuller, participation in sports helps emphasize the strength, capability and social skills parents should complement their girls on. “When girls are in a team environment, they’re very nurturing to each other, they’re very collaborative, they develop strength and self-esteem and confidence.”

As a parent on the sidelines, instead of saying, “You looked great out there,” try to specifically emphasize the positive aspects of your girl’s performance on the field, rink or court. “Say, ‘You really handled the ball great,’ or, ‘You were so fast,’” says Fuller.

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Tell her she’s makes you proud

Of course, not all kids will excel in sports. Even if yours isn’t the fastest on the team, she will still bring something to the game. Hone in on that to build her confidence. For example, Fuller suggests telling your child when and how she was a good teammate. “Say, ‘You comforted [your teammate], you gave her a hug when she missed the shot, that was great.’”

Ask her about her interests

Sports may not be your daughter’s forte, but something else could be. Whether it’s guitar lessons, Legos or school musicals, support her in seeking out interests that make use of her skills. Then, the best thing to say, according to Fuller, is “show me.”

“When parents become students, that is a huge boost in a child’s self-esteem,” she says. “The idea that a kid—at any age—can show their parent something makes them feel even better about themselves.”

Tell her she’s beautiful—when appropriate

Fuller says there are certainly times when it’s appropriate to talk about your child’s looks, particularly if she is feeling down about herself due to bullying or media consumption. And Fuller says that is totally understandable.

Here’s the key: You should also take the opportunity to offer a gentle counter perspective to the outside messages she’s receiving and remind her that she’s strong, too.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But, a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4 year old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year...

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keeping an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Following children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.


Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.


Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.


Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.


BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


In Montessori schools, parents are periodically invited to observe their children at work in the classroom. I have heard many parents express shock to see their 3- or 4-year-old putting away their own work when they finish—without even being asked!

"You should see his room at home!" or, "I ask him to put his toys away every day, and it's a battle every single time" were frequent comments.

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