Sometimes I just can’t help telling my daughters they look pretty. It’s so hard not to blurt out how stinking cute they look in their ballet gear, dress-up clothes, or the mismatched outfit they chose for the school day. It takes a conscious effort for me to ensure my balance of compliments leans more towards truths about who they are, rather than how they look.
I realize this challenge comes, in part, because I’m a parent in transition. I’m in the midst of moving from toddlerhood to kid-hood. I think when our babies are little, we are just getting to know their personalities. As they grow, we might begin to understand whether they’re adventurous, talkative, observant, or outgoing. We might know what makes them cranky or the face they make when they need a diaper change, but we’re only beginning to discover who they are as people. So, it’s understandable we can’t stop talking about their cuteness. Plus, it’s science, humans are drawn to adorable babies (and puppies too).
Surface compliments are easier because they’re right in front of us. Think of how many times you’ve complimented a stranger at Starbucks on their outfit or asked where they found their cute handbag? We don’t know these people, so unless we observe them doing something extra kind, we can’t really give them a more meaningful compliment. But as our own children grow and we observe what makes them special, we can go deeper.
Here are some non-appearance based compliments to get started. Take any of these a step further with specific observations you noticed.
1. You give the best hugs.
2. I love spending time with you.
3. You have such a good heart.
4. You are a kind friend.
5. You helped my day start happy.
Experts have said it helps to praise the process, not only the outcome for our kids. Here are some examples:
6. You’ve really been practicing tying your shoes/zipping your coat/loading up your backpack, I notice you’ve improved.
7. Your teacher is going to be impressed by the work you’ve put into .
8. Excellent job getting ready.
9. You are such a good helper when you brush your teeth/get dressed/grab your backpack all by yourself.
10. Great job putting that outfit together.
11. I’m proud of how hard you worked on .
On What Makes Them Unique
12. You come up with interesting ideas.
13. I love your curiosity.
14. I love how passionate/excited you are about .
15. I enjoy listening to your stories.
16. You’re so creative, tell me what made you think of this.
17. I’m proud you want to try this yourself.
18. I’m going to think about (funny or heartwarming thing your child did) if I need to feel happy today.
19. I feel happy I get to wake up with you in my family.
20. I’m grateful for you.
21. You are such a helpful big brother/sister.
22. I always look forward to seeing you at the end of the day.
And it goes without saying: hearing “I love you” is a great way to begin any day.
This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated for timeliness.