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Help! What do I say when someone compliments my kid’s appearance?

BY Amy Lilly

Three adults standing in a driveway overlooking four kids playing with toys

Compliments like “Don’t you look so pretty!” and “Aren’t you a handsome boy?” directed at your kids from family members or friends are generally well-meaning, however they can affect young people more than we may realise. We get it, kids are damn cute. But there’s also so much more to them than what they look like!

The lowdown on compliments


A big part of helping young people build better body image is to avoid only commenting on or praising how they look. It’s important that your comments are not always about what they look like, because if we’re always talking about a young person’s appearance, it sends the message that their value is in how they look rather than who they are and what they can do. 

As much as you may try to make your own compliments towards your kids more meaningful, it can be difficult to know how to respond when someone else compliments them on their appearance. We’ve included a few suggestions below — you can choose the option you feel most comfortable with, depending on how well you know the other person and how confident you feel responding to their comments.

1. Acknowledge and move on


Acknowledge the compliment without giving it extra weight. You could say “Thanks, that’s nice of you to say” and leave the conversation at that, or inject a bit of humour by saying something like “Thanks, they take after me” or “Thanks, I made it myself!”

2. Redirect the conversation


Take the opportunity to shift the focus from appearance to something more meaningful. Focus on their qualities/personality traits or what they are excited by or interested in. For example, if someone makes a comment about your kid’s appearance, you could respond with “Thanks, she’s such a great kid. She makes us laugh so much!” or “Thanks! By the way, he’s been really into reading lately. Do you have any book recommendations?”

3. Set boundaries


If you feel comfortable, you can politely set boundaries with the person who made the comment. You can respond with “I prefer not to focus too much on appearance with my kids and would appreciate it if you could support me with this. Let’s talk about [another topic].” If that feels too jarring, you could say something like “Thank you, that’s very kind. However, we’re trying to reinforce the importance of inner qualities over physical appearance.”

It can feel uncomfortable to enter into conversations about your child’s appearance. Approaching conversations gently and with compassion will help you to meet the other person where they are at. You might need to have these conversations on several occasions before seeing changes, however every conversation helps — and your kids will thank you for it in the long run.

If you or a young person you know are struggling with body image, don’t hesitate to seek out the support and guidance of a professional. The Butterfly Foundation National Helpline (1800 334 673) is a great place to start.

Meet The Author,
Amy Lilly

Amy is the social media coordinator at The Embrace Collective, a health promotion charity on a mission to help young people build better body image. Amy has a background in dietetics with a focus on the non-diet approach, through which she supported clients to improve their relationships with food and their bodies.
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