Carolyn Hax: Teaching the value of inner beauty

Carolyn Hax:

August 5, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: We adopted a little girl, and she is very beautiful.

I have taken to heart your admonition to center praise around effort and accomplishments, and not looks (although I sometimes slip; she really is cute).

My question is, what can I do about comments from people meeting her? (Noting her beauty) is usually one of the first things out of their mouths.

And she meets a LOT of people; she has a way of making friends with everyone in the store/restaurant/coffee shop just because she's so outgoing.

Is there a graceful way to demur without being rude, or do we just hope the family emphasis on character has more weight than the entire rest of the world's comments on her looks?

RAISING A BEAUTIFUL CHILD

This is really hard, because people can't (or won't) help themselves, and kids do internalize messages they hear daily.

You can send a polite message to people who say she's beautiful by saying, "Inside and out, thank you."

You can also be patient, since the comments directed to you as if she's not even there will slow down as she gets older.

And, you can hold onto the fact that your influence towers over that of the people she meets, at least until peers take over.

That's not to say every remark you make about her looks needs to be treated as a "slip"; you'd be overcompensating if you never said, "I think you're beautiful."

But if the bulk of the message is about things she controls, like her effort, her attitude, her manners, her determination, her compassion - then her chief messenger can lay a stable foundation (inner beauty trumps outer) beneath what the world keeps implying (outer beauty rules).

Check out the work of Carol Dweck or read "NurtureShock," by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, for more on constructive praise.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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