A generational and cultural issue
The present buzz among parents includes the warning that when we compliment our children, we must be careful not to use words like pretty, handsome, beautiful or cute. Instead, comment on their strength, resilience, adaptability or an observed kind gesture. Stress around a natural verbal slip of, “How pretty you look in that sweater” is ruminated over. Will telling a child she/he is pretty set them up for a poor body image and make them a slave to expectations of our body shaming culture?
This brings us back to the word I use most when discussing parenting, balance. We need not worry if we occasionally comment on a surface quality that we note with sincerity. The key is, to make a thougtful comment. Children can sense insencerity. They also sense the stress between adults straining to always reach parenting perfection.
A child may have a particularly energized look on their face that lights it up and it strikes you to say, “your face appears lit up with happiness”. If it is not your nature to make a comment like that, a different description, even the word pretty may be heard. Will this damage the child? No.
Grandparents are particularly uncomfortable with this topic. What is the right thing to do, they may wonder. They can try their best to note a child’s concrete skills and talents to note and encourage. It used to be a pinched cheek that made parents cringe when their own parent visited a grandchild. Now they feel they need coaching in what to say and do.
Our relationships and connection to the children are the most important focus. Sincere interactions based on thoughtful comments strengthen the connection. Know if there is baggage brought along and discard it. That will be another topic for discussion. Maybe stress one more time, balance and sincerity are key.