Hurtful words: What not to say to your daughters

Is there anything that matters more to a little girl than what her mother thinks of her?

Quite possibly, what her mother says to her.

To some, a mother is a little girl’s whole world, so when she says something negative, her daughter takes it to heart (and often keeps it in her psyche for years to come). In teens, whose feelings are magnified times a thousand, one demoralizing comment can make her see herself in a terrible light, which can lead to low self-esteem.

Even as adults, we don’t want to hear our mothers questioning our judgments in a condescending way. Yes, we do want their advice, but not their harsh criticism.

Luckily, it seems like many of us have surpassed the old-fashioned way of raising girls, even though that is exactly how many of us were raised. Yet, there are many moms who still let some things slip without even realizing the damage they are doing.

With that in mind, here are some things a mother should never say to her daughter:

Be girlier: A mom might be a feminine flower, but if her little girl is a tomboy, let her embrace who she is. If a mother is obsessed with frilly dresses and shoes, she should wear them, and not force them on her unwilling daughter.

Don’t be rude: Sometimes life calls for being rude. So many times, it calls for standing up for oneself. The old-fashioned (and disgusting) notion that girls need to be nice all the time creates people-pleasers — who please everyone else except themselves.

You can’t do that: Whether it’s become a scientist, win a contest, take that calculus course, or become the next president, any time you tell a girl she can’t do something, it creates a negative thought pattern in her brain. Pretty soon she may internalize that she really can’t do many things, and then of course, once she believes that, she will stop trying.

You are running out of time to have kids: Words hurt even when you’re an adult. Remember the part in the movie “The Help,” when Emma Stone’s character’s mother, Charlotte Phelan, told her daughter, “Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?” If you do, then you probably also remember how terrible she made her very smart daughter feel just because she didn’t have a man in her life. The pressure to have kids when you want them and can’t have them is nothing short of huge. Any kind of negative comment from a mother is damaging. And let’s not even go there about how plain horrifying it is to make a woman’s life all about landing a man.

Don’t get dirty: Girls should experience everything that boys can. One of my absolute favorite memories as a child was playing with the mud in my yard. Give me a spoon, and I could dig for hours. You deny a girl a lot when you expect her to stay clean all the time. Kids — boys and girls — were meant to explore, have adventures, and sometimes, get dirty!

What will the family, neighbors, or other girls think? So a girl doesn’t want to go to a sleepover, join Girl Scouts, or dress the way her friends do. Mothers should never have a girl question any decision by asking what her family or friends would think. Not unless they want the girl to make every decision based on what others think rather than what she thinks.

Put on some lipstick before you go: Which snidely means that how you look sans makeup is not good enough. More moms need to encourage girls that they don’t need to hide their faces under a mountain of cosmetics.

Just smile: Or “Don’t look so angry, sad, or bored.” Every time you tell a girl to mask her own feelings for the sake of looking good for the neighbors, friends, or family, you are telling a girl to hide how she really feels, which will only make her feel much, much worse. If a girl is angry, for God’s sake, let her be angry!

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Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, is a writer and editor living in New York City.