You are Harming Your Child with Your Words

Article first published as You are Harming Your Child with Your Words on Blogcritics.

Listen to the endearments parents and other adults use for children. There are two kinds: the ones they use for girls and the ones they use for boys.

Girls are sweetheart, sweetie pie, sugar, honey, dolly, princess.

Boys are champ, chief, buddy, pal, kiddo.

These differences follow the children as they grow up. Sales clerks and doormen (and doormen are nearly all men) call women “sweetheart” or “honey.” Men are “buddy,” “pal,” or “chief.” (The exceptions are ma’am and sir.)

These differences matter. As children, girls learn to be sweet and ingratiating because they have learned that cuteness and niceness make them lovable; boys learn that they can be leaders, in charge of and superior to others — even on an equal footing with adults (“buddy” and “pal”).

Perhaps even more interesting than the effects of these endearments on children is adults’ reflexive use of different endearments for girls and for boys. Whether or not you believe that the names parents and other authority figures use for their children affect those children, it is undeniable that adults instinctively think of their girls and boys differently. Do they not think their sons are sweet? Do they not think their girls are champs? Do they expect different behavior from girls than from boys? And where does the reflex to use different endearments come from?

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2 thoughts on “You are Harming Your Child with Your Words

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mary Ivette Barroso, Piper Hoffman. Piper Hoffman said: You are Harming Your Child with Your Words: […]

  2. I dunno – as a boy (and man) I was called: “pumpkin” and “sweetheart”. And was almost named “Courteney” at birth!

    On the other hand, I was told that when I grew up I should become a doctor, a lawyer, or an “Indian Chief”, so I guess that gave me some leadership traits. 😉

    But I agree – to me, words are like magic spells, and they have effects we often don’t realize (or which we flat-out refuse to acknowledge). And personally, while I can see the intended positive effect of calling someone “champ”, as a small boy I always felt demeaned when a few of our relatives used that word on me. Something about it just seemed weird to me, even when I was six.

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