Smart > Pretty

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My 3-year-old niece from England recently came to visit Las Vegas with her family. In her brilliant British accent she asked me if I wanted to see her perform a dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” tune. Heck yeah I wanted to see it! Willow proceeded to do her choreographed dance step by step. As a former dancer myself, I watched carefully to see just how well she knew the steps. Her performance was gracefully calculated, she knew every move and could have done the dance in her sleep. 

What happened next is something I’ll never forget. Willow said to me:

“How did I look? Did I look pretty?” 

My heart sank. This talented, three-year-old little girl was worried about how she looked. How can this be? Her parents don’t encourage this behavior, yet it has naturally become our reality given the world we live in. 

I said back to Willow, “Pretty?!” and gave her a confused look. Then I went on to explain how smart she was for remembering every single step and how her practice had paid off. I could see her processing this information and it appeared to make sense to her. I asked Willow if she would teach me the dance since she knew it so well and she did:

For the rest of the day there was an obvious shift in Willow’s confidence. We drew pictures, completed puzzles and sang as much TayTay as we could. With each activity she was recognizing her intelligence and hard work.

Shifting the importance our society places on appearance is a tall, unattractive order, and I, like you, am guilty of doing things subconsciously that only fuel the fire. What I know though is we have to start young. Everyone must meaningfully participate in the shift and it’s crucial that we’re more mindful about our actions and words. If we aren’t, together we enable society to continue down this slippery slope.

March 9, 2015 — follow-up to post above: I received a note from someone who read this post. They shared this article with me: How not to talk to your kids. To sum, the research in this particular article shows that praising effort is good, but praising intelligence is not. I am not a parent and I definitely don’t intend to advise others on how to talk to kids. This situation proves there is a strong need for understanding the impact words and actions have on children. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and learnings!