Your Words Matter: The Top 5 Things to Say to Your Daughter

Ever say something you wish you could take back?
Or, the opposite, say something you were so happy to say at the exact moment you said it?
I’ve had both, though with the volume of words I tend to speak my experience has been more of the former.

I don’t have children of my own. I had a cat (he’s been missing for 3 weeks), and I have a spirited husband, but I don’t have a child. But I work with almost 1,000 of them every day. If we go with national statistics we can count about 51% of them being girls. So even though I don’t put kids to bed every night or pack lunches every morning, I know enough to know that what we say to our children matters. We might think they’re young enough, they’ll bounce back. Or, we don’t want to coddle them, they need to toughen up. But let me tell you one thing for sure: those kids hear what we say, and they take it to heart.

Your words matter. More than you might think. If you say something often enough, it will be your voice your daughter hears when she looks in the mirror or is wondering if her boyfriend is good enough for her. It will be your voice that plays back when she wonders if she is loved, if she is lovable, if she’s smart enough to make it in whatever field she’s interested in. If you say it enough, it will be your voice, for better or worse.

I offer these as an educator and as a daughter.

The top 5 things to say to your daughter:
1. You are beautiful.
2. I love you.
3. You’re worth it.
4. That’s a good idea.
5. You’re beautiful.

My parents and grandparents (who were around as much as my mom and dad) told me these things all the time. My mom didn’t let me leave the house without her telling me I looked beautiful. If she wasn’t going to see me before she left for work she left notes, usually starting with, “Good morning, Beautiful!” My dad never skimped on telling me he loved me. If there was ever anything I felt my parents over-said (as a too-cool teenager), it was “I love you.”

As a result, I do not judge myself against the world’s beauty standard. I know I am loved and I know what I deserve. I have courage to try things like publishing a novel and living in Japan. And I feel beautiful when I look in the mirror most mornings (hey, I’m still a normal girl).

Elisa & her dad, 1987
Elisa & her dad, 1987
Elisa & her mom, 2007
Elisa & her mom, 2007

Our words matter. More than we think. If we say something often enough, it is our voices our children will hear. It is your voice your daughter will hear when she looks in the mirror or wonders if her boyfriend is good enough for her. It will be your voice that plays back when she wonders if she is loved, if she is lovable, if she’s smart enough to make it in whatever field she’s interested in. If we say it enough, it will be our voice, for better or worse. Make it better. Make it the good stuff. See how far it goes.

You tell me:

What is something your parents/grandparents/guardians/brothers/sisters told you while you were growing up that sticks with you today? What is the most important thing you were ever told?

12 comments

  1. I’ll never ever forget my grandfather and grandmother telling me they were proud of me for what I was, what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to be. Their voices are still in my ear when I think about what I want to accomplish and how scary it might be.

  2. Thanks for that post! A good reminder, and a true one, too. Perhaps the most important thing communicated to me was without words- my immigrant grandmother would spend hours with her grandchildren, making things, singing to us, taking us for walks because I could tell that to her, (we) children were important.

  3. What a tragedy. “You are beautiful,” is on there twice, yet “you are intelligent,” didn’t even make the cut. Teaching your daughter to define herself by beauty, in a culture swarming with images of impossibly beautiful (Photoshopped) women, only sets her up for a lifetime of obsessive consumerism to try to live up to- and hold on to- that beauty or risk losing herself. Also noticeably missing from this list are: “you are strong,” or “you are energetic,” or “you are spirited,” or “you are smart,” or “you are unique,” or ” etc etc etc. Why not emphasize her achievement equally alongside her physical self?

    It is disconcerting that this thoughtlessness came from a teacher of future women.

    • I’m sorry you feel that way. I understand where you’re coming from; I, too, have strong feelings about the perception of beauty in our culture. Perhaps I should have said, you are beautiful the way you are. As an educator, I see no shortage of girls in the gifted program. I see image issue after image issue. I see girls who don’t know they are beautiful, and that negative self perception roots itself deep down. “That’s a good idea” was meant to be the “you are smart”. This was not meant to be an exhaustive list, so thank you for adding your ideas. This list came from what I see in you g girls day after day. I hope you’ll come back to read more.

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