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?