| June 3, 2013

Don’t tell your daughter that she’s pretty.

That’s the advice one U.K. minister had for parents last week.

“Of course all children do look beautiful,” Jo Swinson said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “But if the message they get is that is what’s important and that is what gets praise, then that’s not necessarily the most positive message you want them to hear.”

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Her comments sparked both controversy and debate. Is telling your daughter that she’s attractive that bad of an idea?

“It really comes down to the degree in which you focus on a child's external beauty,” says therapist Gary Neuman. “There's no doubt that if the primary and majority of messages to a child is about solely external beauty,  that will have a direct correlation on the child believing that external beauty is their primary asset, a most unfortunate message.

“However, there is nothing wrong and everything right with helping our children believe that they are beautiful inside and out.”

Parents should want their daughters to think she’s beautiful no matter what, says child psychologist Bonny Forrest, who adds that much of the (unfortunate) emphasis on women’s looks stems from broader cultural norms.

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“Women who are younger, especially, tend to have self-esteem issues and they tend to value their self-esteem based on looks,” Forrest explains. “We are a culture that likes people to look good.”

The key, says psychologist Wendy James, is in finding a healthy balance.

“Psychologically, the healthiest women are those that have a purpose; work, charity, artistic talent combined with looking good, eating right and realizing they can pursue their dreams and be feminine at that same time.”

While building up a young girl’s self-esteem is important, it's important to make sure it's not done solely through praise on her looks, says Forrest, who adds that one of the best ways to do that is to allow kids to fail.

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“What gives kids self-esteem is learning to pull themselves up when things don’t go their way,” she explains.

“Someone always wins and you learn and grow from winning and from losing,” James adds. “It gives the child the ability to find their talent and know when they win it is great.  Yet, if she loses, she will learn to deal with failure.”

While there’s nothing wrong with complimenting a young girl’s appearance, praising children for the actions and abilities and supporting them whether they are successful or struggling, is the most important message parents can impart, says Neuman.

“As parents, we want our children to understand that their internal strength and beauty is what is most important to their life existence,” he says.