Nurturing Children With a Few Simple Words


“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Is this old children’s rhyme really true? As adults, we all know that words have incredible power. While we try to empower children with kindness and compliments, sometimes our words can have an unintended effect.

At Trevose Day School and Neshaminy Montessori, we work tirelessly to create nurturing classroom communities that emphasize positivity. Focusing on behavior, creativity and performance, our staff members seek out opportunities to praise students and have them celebrate the best they see in each other.

Here’s a glimpse into our classroom culture:

  • Once a week in Ms. Berman’s Kindergarten class, a student is chosen to receive compliments from two other students about his or her classroom contributions. The words of appreciation, including one from Ms. Berman, are written down and sent home with the child to enjoy and share with parents. 
  • J.J., a student in Mrs. Hines’ Montessori class, recently pulled our Head of School aside to boast about his friend Antonio’s work. “Ms. Gwynne, you have to see this great work that Antonio did! Didn’t he do such a nice job?” J.J. then turned to Antonio to say “Great work, buddy!”
  • This week in Ms. Williams’ 4th and 5th grade class, Mark observed that “Christiane is helpful and nice. She always helps out and plays with everyone.” Mayzie shared that “Alex is really funny and likes to help his friends.” Christiane returned the goodwill by noting that “Mayzie is really nice and Mark is helpful because he is always cleaning up around the classroom.”

It’s important to note that in our classrooms, we don’t emphasize compliments about appearance. Many reasons why we take this approach are echoed in this wonderful new article from The Washington Post titled, “The Best Way To Compliment Little Girls.” 

In this piece, writer and mom Sarah Powers explores how the compliments that adults pay children can sometimes do more harm than good. Though her work focuses specifically on the vulnerability of young girls (who are subject to unfair scrutiny and pressure in our beauty-obsessed culture), there is a general healthy logic to her approach that applies to all burgeoning souls.



Below are some highlights from Powers’ article:

“I steer my compliments in the direction of creativity and activity, two traits I want my daughters to own with pride. “I love all the colors you have going on today! What’s your favorite?” sends the message that her creative choices matter. “You look so pretty in pink!” reduces the outfit to a single color and her to that loaded adjective.”

“When it comes to complimenting little girls on their natural beauty — darling dimples, gorgeous curls or flawless skin — I think we have to tread carefully...straight hair turns curly, porcelain skin meets puberty, and someday my daughter may choose to fixate on her well-endowed brows over her luscious lashes.”

“[Here’s] what I want my daughters to know. Your outfit doesn’t define you, nor does your size, or the coincidental proximity of your God-given beauty to a man-made aesthetic. On the other hand, your outfit is fabulous because it reflects your creativity, and your lashes are gorgeous because they are a part of you, and your long legs can take you to the top of a mountain or the front of a stage, if that’s where you want to go. You look great, and you are great. You are beautiful because of who you are, not who you are because you are beautiful.”

What a powerful message!

In the coming days, we will be distributing a copy of this article to all parents in each student’s Communication Folder. Please be sure to keep an eye out -- it’s a very compelling read.

And as always, we encourage you to share your thoughts and observations on this topic in the comments below!