From Our Blog: Giving Kids Gender Neutral Compliments

dad giving daughter a gender-neutral compliment and a hug

Children (and adults!) love receiving compliments—a meaningful comment from someone can make you feel seen, special, and appreciated. Giving a child a compliment is one of the many ways caregivers build a solid relationship foundation and boost self-esteem. However, making comments or paying compliments on a child’s physical appearance or assumed gender identity can pin extra value on how they look, rather than on qualities they can control, such as their decisions or initiative. 

While it is natural for young children to categorize and define themselves by physical characteristics, try to focus your comments on your child’s feelings, effort, or actions. Give a compliment about a characteristic you want to foster in children, such as perseverance, kindness, or personal expression. Examples include:

  • “You really thought about how to climb that play structure and you kept trying until you did it.”
  • “Riley was sad. You helped fix the block tower. Thank you.”
  • “I noticed that you asked your friends to join you when they felt left out. That was very kind.”

Other Language That De-Emphasizes Gender

  • Instead of: “Big boys don’t cry!”
  • Say: “I can see you’re upset. It’s OK to feel sad. Can you tell me about it?”
  • Instead of: “You’re such a good boy/girl!”
  • Say: “I’m so impressed with how you picked up all your crayons! Thank you.”

Another scenario where caregivers often offer appearance-based comments is when a child dresses for the day in something that does not conform to gender norms. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that kids’ understanding of gender (like all areas of early development) grows through play and experimentation! Check in with your feelings of discomfort and remember that this is a wonderful opportunity to allow your child to feel loved and respected. A supportive reaction from you will help your child develop a sense of self-worth and confidence that is independent from their appearance and assigned sex.

If you feel the need to address a child’s appearance, congratulate them on their creativity or engage their imagination instead of commenting on how they look.

  • Instead of: “That dress makes you look like a beautiful princess!”
  • Say: “That dress makes you look powerful. What adventure will you have while wearing it?”
  • Instead of: “You look so handsome/pretty today!”
  • Say: “The color/pattern of your dress/pants/shoes, etc. are so great! How did you decide that you were going to wear that today?”
Delivering praise by choosing your words carefully, using a warm nurturing tone, and getting down on your child’s level are all ways you can increase connection and show your child you are really interested in how they feel and who they are. This takes practice and time, but delivering these kinds of compliments will help increase the connection and attachment between you and your child in a way that shows love and support, independent of gender or physical appearance.

More on Supporting Children


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About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
dad giving daughter a gender-neutral compliment and a hug