I Won’t Say your Kid is Cute

Your baby is adorable. As my sister would say, “She’s just so stinkin’ cute!” The delicate fingers, the tiny toes, and the big, beaming eyes. Those wisps of hair. The “If You Think I’m Cute, You Should See My Aunt onesie. It’s enough to make any man’s heart melt and any woman drop an egg.

You just won’t hear me acknowledge it.

Babies are cute because evolution has designed them that way[1]. But I think it’s dangerous if that’s the only thing we perceive or note about them. And that’s especially true as the child grows out of the baby phase and becomes more perceptive about the words they hear. As children begin to develop a sense of self, it can be exceptionally damaging if the predominate message they’ve heard is “your best—or only attribute worth noting—is your appearance.”

It all starts with the parents. You’ve just met your friend’s new baby and as you prepare to leave, there’s a pregnant pause as the new Mom waits for you to comment about her baby’s beauty. Why do we default to focusing on attractiveness? Baby is a person, not a teddy bear. So in that situation, my response would be “I’m so happy I got to meet her.”

I recognize that with a newborn, it’s harder to come up with something to praise because there’s not a lot they do. But rather than staring down at her and telling her how precious she is, I simply start to name things. “Oh, I see that you’re smiling,” I say and I smile back. “You’re grabbing my finger,” as she wraps her whole fist around my pinky. For babies, hearing spoken words is worth its syllables in platinum—especially when done in an over-articulated, sing-songy voice that helps to clarify different sounds. It’s impossible for baby to hear too much of that. However, if we focus on the physical, we’re just practicing bad habits for ourselves moving forward.

Because very soon, baby will become a toddler and a human sponge. If the cute-factor is all she has to process, she’ll quickly learn to use that to garner attention. Messy eating, randomly undressing, or mispronouncing words may have been amusing at some point, but now we’re trying to get stuff done. While I’m all for silliness and imaginative play, there is a fine but distinct line between that and destructive attention-seeking behavior.

And the toddler age is the best time to begin your practice of praising children for their efforts. Consistent affirmation that you like how they try—and keep trying even when it’s difficult—is the best way to instill a growth mindset[2]. Children who learn to solve problems and the value of persistence will be better prepared to face obstacles than their peers who soaked up attention through immature conduct.

As the child grows and starts school, a focus on attractiveness is, at best, a distraction. I wouldn’t want my hypothetical daughter comparing her appearance to her classmates’ when she could be thinking about her science project or her volleyball technique. While the focus on “cuteness” isn’t something we can completely control and body issues run rampant in our society, as adults we can try to shift the focal point toward healthy living, valuable life skills, and self-awareness.

 

[1] Fitzgerald, Tom. “Probing Question: Why Are Babies Cute?” Penn State News. N.p., 21 Nov. 2005. Web. 16 July 2014.

[2] Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.

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