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You Better Tell Your Son His Spider-Man Onesie Looks Fucking Great

Complimenting your kid’s outfits is a great way to boost his self-confidence

It didn’t take long before Serena, a 33-year-old in Pennsylvania, began noticing Alex, her typically independent and carefree son, fall prey to anxiety and low self-esteem upon entering kindergarten. Having experienced the same thing growing up, Serena knew she needed to quickly intervene if Alex was going to have any chance at avoiding confidence issues later in life.

Luckily, she found the perfect solution — complimenting the outfits he picked out for himself every morning. “We let him start dressing himself early, like age three. Being so driven and independent, it was maybe a year before he wanted to choose his own outfits,” Serena tells me. “He’d pick a top and bottom, and if the colors or designs clashed, I’d explain that to him, ‘Light grey top and light grey bottom don’t go together because they look too much the same.’”

One morning, Alex walked into Serena’s home office all dressed for the day and asked her how he looked. “I told him that he looked great! I told him the colors he chose complimented each other, and that he looked nice and well put together,” she says. “I told him he did a great job, and I gave him a big hug. His smile could have lit up the world.”

Every morning since, Serena has made it a point to compliment not only her son’s outfit, but his effort in putting it together as well. In turn, she’s watched her kindergartner’s self-confidence grow. “He’s definitely more confident in his appearance, something I never experienced until my early 30s,” she says. “He’ll even take the initiative with his own clothes shopping.”

As pointed out by redditor Toakie, a father of a 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, complimenting your son’s outfit might not come as naturally as doing the same for daughters, but “they need to hear it just as much as everyone else.”

“[My] daughter has incredibly cute dresses and outfits with frills, bright colors and a multitude of options where my son’s wardrobe is either pants or shorts and some kind of shirt (normally superhero-themed at the moment),” he writes on Reddit. “It took awhile for me to notice, but I started to catch on that he really paid attention when I commented on his sister’s outfits more than his.”

According to research, he’s right. Young boys don’t suffer a lack of self-esteem on the scale girls do, but they’re not immune from it either. In a review of 17 studies focused on self-esteem issues among adolescents, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that “although boys generally displayed less overall body concern than girls, many boys of all ages reported dissatisfaction with their bodies, often associated with reduced self‐esteem.”

As a man, I never received compliments like that until much later into adulthood and even still, my self-confidence was so low that I automatically assumed people weren’t being genuine,” Toakie continues. “It wasn’t until I gave him his first compliment on a Captain America shirt with brown shorts that I realized just how valuable that was for him to hear from his dad.”

• Read next: The Straight Male Thirst for Compliments

These days, Serena says Alex’s reactions to her compliments have changed from that initial “giant smile and a jumping up and down” to a more confident, self-assured response (“like, ‘Yeah, I know this looks good’”) that she hopes will stick. “Complimenting — and offering constructive criticism — to your kids when they dress themselves is a simple way to boost their self-confidence,” she concludes, “and it will likely carry through to their adulthood as well.”