The other night I was laying down with my son for bedtime. As the conversation wandered, I started telling him about all the things I liked about his body. I know that may sound weird, but I want my son to appreciate his body and know that he is more than just strong. It seems like girls are often complimented for being pretty, and boys are complimented for being strong. It can be very limiting when a child hears the same compliment over and over again. These compliments reflect the societal norm to judge girls by their appearance, and boys by their strength. I want my son to know that while it is great to be strong, it is equally important to be gentle. It is good to be fast, but it is also important to slow down and observe.
So I branched out. I told my son I loved his eyelashes because they are so long and dark. He smiled and in the dim light I saw him touch his eyelashes. I told him how much I loved his smile and how white his teeth are because he brushes every day. He grinned and touched his teeth. I told him how much I loved his arms because they give me the best hugs. He gave himself a tight squeeze. I talked about how I loved that his knees helped him when he played on the floor (often he squats when he plays and holds the position for so long.) He bent his knees and kicked his legs.
I wasn’t sure how much this conversation affected my son until the next day he complimented me on my eyelashes. Kids pick up so quick on compliments. They notice nuances in conversations that you may not see. My son occasionally tells me my hair is pretty or I look beautiful. I love these compliments, and I know one reason he says them is because he has heard others say them to me as well.
Some of these things I may not have picked up on before I read “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue.” For a full review of the book, you can see our article here. But for purposes of this conversation, I learned that children as young as two years old pick up on gender roles as they listen to other’s conversations. They see that boys and girls are referred to separately, and note that there must be something important in that difference. They may be told that girls wear skirts or boys wear ties. The point is that both boys and girls are capable of many things, and shouldn’t always have to be defined by their gender.
So next time you compliment a young boy, try to say something else or in addition to, “You’re so strong!”
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