Home / You are Harming Your Child with Your Words

You are Harming Your Child with Your Words

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

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, of course, 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?

Powered by

About Piper Hoffman

  • Why is this hurtful, exactly? Gender roles are natural in all living creatures, why should man (humans, that is) be any different?

    Just because we call our children different things (and I personally know parents that call their boys “sweetheart” and “sweetie”, for that matter) that doesn’t mean they’re not equal, or will start out with more or less advantages than the next person.

  • Maybe my kids were deprived. I’ve never referred to either of them by those monikers. My son had a Cabbage Patch doll, and my daughter had a kiddy race car.

    Come to think of it, I don’t think my own parents referred to us in those terms, and I’m an old lady.

  • Piper, what would you recommend? Should we call girls champ, chief, buddy, pal, kiddo; and call boys sweetheart, sweetie pie, sugar, honey, dolly, prince? (I see generations of Village People.) Or do you think we ought to discard all such gender-specific endearments and develop a whole new set of gender-neutral terms? (I see political correctness running riot in our nation’s nurseries.) This BC feature is called “There, I Said it!” In this case, however, I don’t think you’ve actually said anything, beyond stating the obvious.

  • I see what you are saying, Piper, but what is the harm that you see?

    True, we do control with, words and colors priming each child for their gender role at an early age.

    False, placing pink on a baby boy will not make him gay, as #3 suggests…:) hi, Alan.

    Good there you said it!

  • Thanks Jeannie! I tried to convey what I think the harm is in the original post, second to last paragraph: gender-segregated endearments influence a child’s beliefs about her- or himself.

    Alan, as far as my recommendation, I would like to see people using all the terms for both girls and boys. I do think it would make a difference for girls to be called “champ” in casual conversation because it conveys confidence in their ability to succeed. It would also be nice for boys to feel more approval for being nice. I think that words matter, and Alan, it looks like you do too, since you think the words sweetie pie, sugar, etc. would make boys gay and/or dress up in costumes. If they would have that much power over boys, what are they doing to girls?

  • Hi Piper,

    I want to share this with you. This is the right thread for my poem. Please take good care of it.
    A poem

    : )fair pay!

  • Ironically…I have to go do dishes right now…I’ll be back later!

    : )

  • What a powerful poem, Jeannie. Thank you! It reminds me of Dar Williams’ song “When I Was A Boy,” which you should get immediately if you haven’t already heard it.

  • Thank you, Piper,

    I’ll plug this song in my Pandora and give it a listen.

    I’m glad you liked, The Division, that is a pic of my brother and me. : )