on swimming & talking to children

A while back, I read an article called "How to Talk to Little Girls". It's haunted me ever since. Mainly, because I realized I don't really talk to little kids: I just compliment them (and, as the article points out, my compliments were landing heavy & square in the physical appearance & fashion category). Since, then, I've worked on having actual conversations. It's been going well. Sometimes I forget.

Except something changed this summer. I teach swim lessons. For the past fifteen summers, I've coaxed small children into swimming with nothing but enthusiastically yelled compliments and Starburst bribes.  People think of swim lessons as fun and necessary, but I witness—daily—children overcoming absolute terror (and stubbornness) and using their bodies to do amazing (and fun!) things.

I find myself yelling all day long things like, "That float was beautiful." Or, "Those were awesome arms!" There's nothing wrong with this feedback. But, for some reason, this summer, I started saying, That looked so pretty!—referring to floats or swimming. I just like the word pretty right now. And, all year I've been using it to describe things that don't have anything to do with our traditional concept of prettiness.

Except, the article was haunting me, and I realized that maybe I could come up with a better word. So I started saying, "Good! that float was so strong!" Or, "Those were such strong arms! great work!" And, then, when kids did things even though they were terrified, I started complimenting their bravery.

Because they are so brave! 
In real life. 

It feels good to yell brave and strong across the pool to any kid—girl or boy.

I'm always thinking about words—about the gigantic differences a small word change can make. But, I've never seen a word switch (pretty to brave) create so much energy, and maybe happiness? Because, the kids smiles are different when I yell, "THAT WAS SO BRAVE!"

Did you read the article? How has it changed your life? and/or how you talk to kids?

Cup of Jo had a great response here.


  1. And now I have personally witnessed how powerful you are for these littles! Easton loves you and it's because you believe in him but you push him. A great combination! (With good words of course)

  2. Love this. I liked the article too. I used to be very vigilant never to talk about looks to my children, and I enforced this position strongly in my home. But in the last few years I've backed down a little from that position--I think because I still like it when David tells me I'm pretty, and it seems sad to never let a girl hear those words. I'm experimenting with more balanced compliments. I'm telling you, praise is the most dangerous and treacherous part of parenting, and I'm not kidding.

  3. What fabulous thoughts. As Sally has noted this has been an occasional topic in our home. Beyond the meaning of the words I love the creativity and thoughtfulness required to go beyond the superficial. Also, I have many brave and strong girls, and boys.


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