How to Handle 3-Year Old Potential "Diva"

Updated on June 10, 2009
H.D. asks from Dodgeville, WI
11 answers

I want to head this issue off before it gets out of hand. My 3 year old is told on an almost daily basis how cute she is, how petite she is or how beautiful her hair is. Not us at home - it usually comes from perfect strangers. Most of our friends know how we feel and don't make comments. Obviously every mom thinks her child is beautiful, but we focus on how smart she is, how kind and how fearless she is.

Lately she has made comments like "I don't like my swim teacher" When I ask why not, she said "I don't like her swimsuit". I realize this is 3-year old logic, but it isn't the first time she has made a comment about not liking someone because of how they look.

My husband is fantastic about talking about how strong girls are and how they can do anything - he does not focus on her appearance. We talk to her about liking people for who they are not how they look or what they wear, etc.

My daughter is sweet, funny, strong willed & smart - those are the qualities we want to nurture - not her appearance.

I guess my question is - how do we deal with comments that focus only on her looks? She knows to just say thank you when someone complements her, but what more can we do besides keep talking to her about it?

Just writing this makes me feel better about how we are communicating with her.


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So What Happened?

Thank you all for the fantastic responses! I needed to be reminded that my daughter also needs to hear that she is beautiful from us - not just those outside the family. Some of your comments really hit home with me - about having parents that never said you were pretty. The outcome of that can be to search elsewhere for that validation, something I certainly don't want to have happen to her later in life. Thank you again!

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answers from Minneapolis on

It's hard to find balance, but you need to try. People value beauty and if your child is what we consider beautiful in our culture then you can't stop people from complimenting her. You should let her know you think she is pretty and so much more! I grew up in a home where my parents wanted me to feel smart and they didn't compliment my looks even though I received a lot of attention from other people especially for my hair and eyes. I grew up knowing I was smart, but I have always been insecure about my looks. To this day I don't think my mother sees me as outwardly beautiful. When I was young I would ask her if I was pretty, and she would deflect it by saying how smart I was. I heard, "No. You are not pretty." I sought validation from the outside world and found it, but I still don't think I'm attractive. I've even had plastic surgery,(nose job), which in retrospect I probably should not have bothered with. I'm struggling with my daughter also because from the day she was born she's been a little star. I avoid bringing her to the store with me because people stop us to talk to her. She is only 4, but she understands what prejudice is. I am teaching her that people comment on what they can see, but if they got to know her then they would understand that she is more than cute and clever. She is good and that is real beauty. All people have beauty, talent, personalty etc. that stands out when we first see or meet them, but we can't find out about their goodness unless we really get to know them. Judging someone on outward appearance without getting to know them to distinguish if they are good or not is prejudice. You are fighting the superficial culture in which we live, so it will be hard, but I think if you teach your daughter to look for goodness in others she will not focus on "ugly bathing suits" as she matures.

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answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter use to get alot of attention for her looks when she was small too. She still does, but lately her baby sister has been stealing the spotlight. My daughter wins photo contests you name it. It's just not my biased opinion either.

What I started to have her do sometime around preschool age or kindegarten was if a cashier at a store or stranger said something nice to her or gave her a compliment she had to give one back. It taught her to be kind and not take it all to her head. I remember at Cub one day the cashier said something to her and she replied thank you, I really like your earrings and the cashier was in shock that my daughter was able to pay a compliment back and be so outgoing about it. My daughter still has a bit of a Diva in her at age7 but she knows to be kind and all the compliment haven't completely gone to head. I have her volunteer with me and give back to the community and teach her to care and have compassion for the less fortunate.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Just one little thing popped into my head, and I guess you're the one who can translate it into 3-year-old language. I guess when people on the street who don't know you very well want to say something friendly, they usually go for something superficial like clothes, shoes, haircut, etc. because it's the easiest. Maybe you could explain to her that if it was someone who knew her better, they would give compliments about things that are unique to her and not just her looks because, after all, those are the "real" compliments and the things that matter more. Also, you may want to explain to her that there are lots of "pretty" people out there who aren't so "pretty" on the inside, if that seems relevant to your situation. :)



answers from Minneapolis on

Outward beauty is not a bad thing. After all, God made us in his image. He also made the sunsets, mountains, oceans, flowers, and many more beautiful images for us because beauty is important. I love that my husband says good morning beautiful to me, and I love how he also says to my 3 year old "how'd you get to be so pretty?" Little girls need to hear this from their daddy. It is more important to be beautiful on the inside, but sometimes if they are struggling with the question of "am I beautiful?" then they are not confident, they hide their true heart. I think it is wonderful that others are letting her know she is pretty, but you and your husband need to tell her too.



answers from Appleton on

I grew up in a household where I was never told I was cute, pretty, etc. Other people told me I was pretty but never my parents, I grew up feeling as though I had to be butt ugly. I have dealt with women from all age groups and all income levels though the years and have found that all women need to feel attractive. So while yes you want to teach your daughter to be kind and talented, she also has to feel pretty. I have 2 daughters of my own both are very pretty women. My older daughter doesn't feel attractive and is about 150 lbs overweight and doesn't work on her appearance. A lot of that had to do with her father and his family who also never reinforced the idea that feeling pretty is important to little girls and women. My younger daughter was raised by me as a single parent and I always told her how beautiful she is but I didn't stop there. I also told her she was smart and talented. As a result she was able to do college level algebra in 4th grade and took gold medels in our state Tae Kwon Do tournaments and was even North Americian champion one year. She has a lot of confidence in who she is and that she can do whatever she puts her mind to.
My point is that even though we don't wnat our children to grow up with an exaggerated perception of themselves as a diva, or even for boys to think that they are a chick magnet and can therefore trample feelings, they need to be able to feel confident about their appearance and who they are. You might not like the idea but your children could do modeling jobs as children and save the money to pay for college. My daughters friend did just that her Mom got her modeling as a child and even though she is now in college she still does modeling jobs and goes to school and is able to afford college, an apartment, car, and nice vacations. Balance is the key. Ron Howard, film director, child TV and movie star, went home at the end of his day and did chores like all the other kids in his neighborhood. He grew up in a modest home and was a kid at home.
It's okay for kids to be and to feel beautiful but they also have to be smart, nice and take out the trash and do dishes.



answers from Appleton on

Hi H.
Sounds like you are very blessed. What I would do is tell her to thank the Lord for her blessing. I have the same thing with my children. My sons are (from societys standards) are very handsome, and my daughter is cute and sweet too! I wish I could take credit for it, but it would be foolish! Children are a blessing from the Lord! I give credit where credit is due, to Him! Another thing is beauty can change in an instant.
It really sounds like you are great parents and on the right track. God gives each one of us special talents, beauty, gifts etc. That way no one can take credit for it. We are just the carriers!
Hope that helps!


Mother of 4



answers from Minneapolis on

when you are out and about, maybe you can make a few observations here and there about people's actions: "I like the way that lady thinkgs.....she is really positive" and "Whoever put this garden in is clever....the colors they planted are just amazing"

this way you are making positive comments about people's abilities...not just at home...and maybe that will reinforce to your daughter what you QUALITIES you value and admire...

most importantly mom....don't forget to praise yourself out loud at home...even if it is just an act....when you think of something fun to do say, "boy, your mama has such good ideas!" or, "i'm proud of myself that i helped our neighbor today"

sounds like you and your husband are aware of how much 'what you focus on' matters....i'm trying to do the same thing here with my 2.5 year old...and trying to be positive about my qualities i like and not focus on body image things....

one more thing...when someone compliments her in public, you can say thank you....and then when you keep on rolling the cart down the isle, you can quietly lean into your daughter and remind her that YOU love the way that she is being kind to her brother today....a sort of one for come back with every compliment with something YOU want reinforced...

but i bet you're already doing that! good luck mama, raising a confident girl who knows what is important is such a learning experience for us moms isn't it!?



answers from Rapid City on

Most 3 year old girls have a bit of diva in them. You have great advice on how to deal with it to make her a well rounded person. I just had to tell a story on my niece when around the same age as your daughter would look at herself in the mirror and sing "you are so beautiful" to herself. She grew up with a lot of self confidence and was a straight A student all through school. She was the class president all through her high school years and while she was young she thought she would be president some day... even told her dad if he didn't behave, he would cost her the campaign... she was like in 3rd grade at the time. While she didn't keep the ambition to be president, she is a very lovely lady at 22, married and loving life. Don't discourage her feeling beautiful but do concentrate on the inside too.

The remark on the swimsuit reminded me of my daughter who would say things like that. She put a lot into fashion (her own, not so much the countries) and is now a hairstylist who is very popular. Your daughter just might be the next big fashion designer.



answers from Minneapolis on

Sounds like you do a great job talking with her. continue praising her for specific actions / behaviors she exhibits ("you did a great job helping clean the table" etc). model specific praise for actions in front of her(compliment your husband about something he did). The more specific you are, the better digested it will be by a 3 year old.

when others make the comments about her appearance, that's a bit tougher b/c it's outside of your control. I'd probably agree with the person making the comment and just casually add something about her other attributes as well into the mix. My in laws would often say stuff about my DD's appearance like "you're so pretty" and then I would just chime in "and smart too!"



answers from Minneapolis on

Praise, like anything else, needs to be balanced and well rounded. Your intent to nurture qualities other than her physical appearance is admirable, but may have unforeseen consequences. Everyone needs to feel that they are beautiful to someone, both externally and internally. Whether we like it or not, we exist in a very image-centric culture. If you don't shape the praise she gets for her appearance, she may look to external outlets in order to obtain that validation. Conversely, are you unintentionally sending a message to her that strong, smart, funny women can't or shouldn't be physically attractive? Again, I just think fostering well rounded girls requires praise towards all aspects of their identity, including their appearance.


answers from Davenport on

I like what Beth H said about having her return the compliments! This is also a great time to teach her to think things out. When she makes comments about not liking people because of what they wear or how they look, ask her if the swim teacher isn't nice, then ask her if the swimsuit makes her mean (not nice), make her think about her comments. If she says yes, ask her why a swimsuit would make a person this way....make her think through what she is saying and the logic behind it. Eventually she will catch on that what people wear or how they look has nothing to do with who and what they are. My daughter was a diva too, she's 14 now and she'll be the first to tell you that sometimes, it does go to her head and she has to struggle to keep it all in perspective, but she knows that it is good for her to do so because if she doesn't pop her own bubble, someone else will! lol You can't stop people from paying her compliments, but you can teach her how to accept them and deal with them properly :)

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