Don't focus on how kids look

Don't focus on how kids look
Quantity surveyor Sae Cheng, with her children (from left) Thea, Jacob, six, and Jerome.

When strangers coo compliments over the permed hairdos and pedicures of five-year-old Angeline and seven-yearold Christine, the sisters smile shyly and say "thank you".

Their mother, insurance agent Dorothy Teo, has taught the girls to accept compliments regarding their looks.

"They should acknowledge the compliment and be gracious," says Ms Teo, 39.

The girls had asked for the soft waves - reminiscent of the curly coiffures of Korean actresses - and she agreed, buying kid-friendly perming solution for her hairdresser to use.

"I have no qualms about it because there is nothing wrong with them perming their hair. A child can appreciate beauty," she explains.

Unlike her, other parents may be caught in a quandary when their children are praised for their good looks.

They say that while basking in the attention may encourage a child's vanity, downplaying the admiring comments could dampen a child's self-esteem.

Oil trader Edwin Tay, 39, for example, believes that praise builds up his daughter Vera's confidence.

He tells eight-year-old Vera daily that she is a princess and is very pretty and cute.

He says: "Compliments contribute to how children view themselves, which builds up their self-esteem."

It is also an early eye-opener to a "fact of life" that looks are important in the real world, he adds.

He also praises his two sons, aged four and six, on their appearance - with compliments such as "the shirt looks good on you". The encouraging words acknowledge the boys' effort to make themselves presentable, he explains.

Experts agree with him on this last point, saying that appearance-oriented praise should focus on a child's effort, rather than solely on how the child looks.

For example, praise a child on the effort he took to put on a nice shirt and look tidy, suggests Ms Fiona Walker, principal of schools at Julia Gabriel Education.

Compliments such as "what a handsome boy" or "what a pretty girl" also usually flatter the parents more than the child, she adds.

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