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6-Year-Olds and Pedicures? So Wrong.

By KJ Dell'Antonia |

I know it's cute. But it's just not right.

Last week, Sierra and Carolyn were discussing the places where kids just don’t belong. Bars. Comedy clubs. Nightclubs (I sense a theme here). I’ve got one more spot to add to the list, and it’s not even somewhere we go to drink: Spas. No one who isn’t old enough to pay for her pampering with her own hard-earned cash belongs in a spa, and no 6-year-old needs a pedicure. As for spas actually meant for tots, I’m appalled. Show me a kid having her sixth birthday party at the Simply Sassy Kids Spa, and I’ll show you tomorrow’s You’re Cut Off starlet.

It’s not that I object to toenail coloration for toddlers. My two four-year-olds are currently sporting attractive turquoise toes, courtesy of their 6-year-old sister and a carefully applied marker, and I’m looking the other way (at least until the day before we leave for vacation). It’s not the polish and paint. It’s not even that if I were to go to a spa myself, I’d prefer not to sit next to Veruca Salt.* My problem is something else entirely.

No 6-year-old needs a pedicure because no 6-year-old, including mine, needs to have an adult sit at her feet and call her pretty. She doesn’t need to see a strange grown-up (and more likely than not, a grown-up of a different race) kneeling before her and working over her toes. In fact, I can’t think of anything she needs less. I did take my daughter for a pedicure once, before she served as the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. She loved it, but I cringed the whole time.

I wanted to tell everyone else in the salon that Lily was no pampered princess tot, that we’d never done this before, that we would probably never do it again, and that they wouldn’t be seeing us on Toddlers and Tiaras any time soon. Part of me was uncomfortable with the idea of nail polish itself: Lily doesn’t need any adornments to be beautiful, and I’d hate for her to feel like she did.

But mostly, I didn’t want to be that mom: the one whose entitled kids sashay into some imaginary country club like they own the place. I worry a lot (maybe too much) about raising children who understand how privileged they are. In a country where 1 in five kids lives in poverty, they want for nothing; in a global context, I could spend more on that pedicure than the average worker in Zimbabwe makes in a week. I’m not opposed to pedicures and I enjoy plenty of luxuries. But there’s something about a small child getting her toes done that pushes my decadence buttons.  Sorry, Lily, but you don’t get treated like a princess until you’ve earned the princess treatment yourself.

I’ve worked hard on this kid, and on all my kids, to convince them that even the adults who occasionally wait on them, who stand behind counters and write their names on the brown paper covering of the restaurant table, aren’t there for their personal convenience. They should be thanked, helped out (no kid of mine will ever step away from a fast food table and leave her trash behind) and treated with respect. A pedicure, for a small child, goes too far over that border for my comfort. I have, I admit, some issues with paying someone to clean and paint my feet myself, but with a beach vacation in the offing, I’ll probably get over it, as I do every once in a while. But I work for my occasional indulgence, and I notice that most of the girls who work giving pedicures are sporting pretty nice pedicures themselves. We share the pleasure of being pampered.

But Lily, like most 6-year-olds I know, is pampered enough. Her food is prepared for her; her clothes washed, her bath run. But she’s pampered by her parents, and the trade-off for being taken care of is that she’s supposed to follow the rules, contribute to the family and treat us with respect and whatnot. She doesn’t necessarily do those things, but they are part of the deal, along with the fact that we’re supposed to be teaching her (and she’s supposed to be learning) how to do those things for herself, and for others. We “pamper” her to take care of her (and hey, we also cut her toenails). A spa will pamper her…if I pay for it.  I can’t see any way that a pedicure is going to make the process of turning Lily into a decent and contributing member of society any easier, and I think it sends the wrong message to little girls when we invite them into that kind of adult space and put them on, ahem, equal footing with paying customers. Isn’t there anything left that they have to grow up and earn for themselves?

I see a difference here between a pedicure and, say, a haircut. It’s not unreasonable to take your child’s hair to a professional, and it’s fairly easy to feel that you and your child are treating the professional with respect. But it’s hard to establish that kind of mutuality with someone if you’re sticking your feet in their face, and even harder if you don’t speak the same language to begin with. When I’m in a nail salon, I see complex issues of race and class and immigration being played out before my very eyes. I don’t think a six-year-old knows what to make of those questions (I barely know what to make of them myself), and I don’t want my daughter (or her younger, as-yet-unpedicured sister) to become accustomed to them before they’ve had time to notice and consider them. I think pedicures are luxuries, and I also think they’re the kind of luxuries that ought to make us all feel a little conflicted about the privileges we enjoy. An awareness of that conflict is a small piece of the price we pay for the experience.

So, although I could afford the treat, and I know Lily would enjoy it, she won’t be coming along with me for my pre-beach pedicure today. And if I’m lucky, the nail salon will be today’s child-free zone.

But do you think I could paint those little flowers on her toes myself?

*She’s the spoiled girl from Willy Wonka. Also, a fabulous nineties Chicago-area slacker band.

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About KJ Dell'Antonia


KJ Dell'Antonia

KJ Dell'Antonia is a regular contributor to Slate's DoubleX, a contributing editor for Kiwi Magazine and the co-author of Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos. She lives in New Hampshire with four kids, two dogs, one husband and a bad coffee habit and blogs about family bonds, balance, and blend at

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32 thoughts on “6-Year-Olds and Pedicures? So Wrong.

  1. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I’m familiar with spa parties for little girls, in a professional capacity, let’s just say. Facials, pedicures and massages for little girls… I’ve never liked the idea and I’ve always questioned the wisdom of the people that take their little girls to these places. Have a spa party at home and you can buy the little flower decals to apply to fingers and toes.
    God, I’m thrilled that I only have sons…

  2. JZ says:

    Ditto MS.
    But I have to say this kinda bugs me. I dont see the harm in splurging by taking your daughter to get a pedicure. Its a bonding thing for some ppl. I think the spa parties are a bit much but if youve got the money why not? I teach my kids (boys thank goodness) to have recpect for everyone no matter what /who they are so I’m not understanding why having someone do her toes on occation is an issue of respect. Its a good chance to teach recpect toward everyone no matter what level of service they are doing.
    hmmm…did that make any sense? LOL

  3. mokyinme says:

    Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only person troubled by this trend. Please give little girls time to just be little girls. They are not tiny adults and should not be treated as such. Two babies (8 months old!) in our playgroup have painted toes. Seriously, I can hardly keep my daughter still enough to cut her fingernails much less apply toxic substances to her nails!

  4. Manjari says:

    I don’t know if I feel as strongly about 6 year olds getting pedicures as you do, but it’s certainly not necessary (my kids are too young for this to have come up yet). There is another side of the argument, though, which is that you are sort of devaluing the work of the pedicurist by assuming that the customers are some kind of royalty sticking their toes in their subjects’ faces. It’s just a paid service like any other paid service.

    I agree that salons might best be kid-free, though. I went to one to get a seated chair massage – a very rare treat b/c my MIL was in town to watch the kids (and she paid for it!). I was frankly glad to have a break from my little angels and all the noise they make, only to have to listen to another customer’s 2 year old. The child was so well-behaved, but the staff was fawning over her. The woman giving me a massage was literally talking to the child the whole time. “See what I’m doing? That’s called massage. M-m-masaage. It’s starts with m!” It wasn’t relaxing.

  5. aaaaaa says:

    I might take my girls for a pedicure, just for something fun to do together…but usually we do our own “spa night” –bubble bath, cut and paint finger and toenails .. For my 6 year old’s birthday, I did that for all 9 of her little friends that came over…although, I don’t think I would pay to have that done at a spa for them!

  6. PlumbLucky says:

    As a regular thing? No. As a once in a while thing (like the flower girl thing you mentioned), sure. But on a regular basis? No. (Anyone see the new nail polish pens that seem to have appeared in drugstores? WHERE were those when I was a tweenager? I drove my mother nuts with the amount of Wet N’ Wild polish I could destroy by painting my fingers and toes in various patterns!)

  7. JEssica says:

    I personally never enjoyed pedicures so I never get them. I don’t think I would take my daughter to do this as a “fun” activity to do together. However, I am not troubled if other parents wish to do this with their kids. I would like to point out, if your daughter ever gets a laceration on her foot and requires stitches a doctor will be sewing up her foot. I would not feel this is below the doctor, but part of the doctor’s job. I don’t see the difference between the two jobs.

  8. K. says:

    The last thing I want is a child running amok when I have paid for a sitter and paid for a salon service meant to be relaxing. If I had an experience where a child were interrupting my paid-for relaxation time, such as Manjari’s massage, I would kindly ask for a refund and schedule a massage in a more professional establishment.

  9. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Yes, but some of the professional establishments want to get their hands on the cold hard cash that comes from giving massages and facials to 8 year olds too. Seriously, it’s depressing.

  10. Paula says:

    The place where I get massages does have procedures that are done with kids but they’re all done in private rooms so I don’t really care if there are kids there as long as they’re not screaming and yelling so as to be heard in the room I’m in. I find pedicures skeevy (they look nice but the pushing back of cuticles and all that makes my skin crawl) so Jess and I won’t be sharing that as a bonding experience. I do paint her nails at home when she asks. At the moment, we’re both sporting neon green toenails.

  11. Linda says:

    I think you have feet issues, KJ, and they are pretty much yours alone. It isn’t disrespectful to the person performing the pedicure that you chose to buy that service. I’m just finding the thinking here really, really weird. Are your children disrespecting you when you paint their toenailes for them, just by virtue of having feet?

  12. Linda says:

    Manjari, that would have been a M-m-masaage I refused to P-p-pay for. Good grief!

  13. anon says:

    Re “No 6-year-old needs a pedicure because no 6-year-old, including mine, needs to have an adult sit at her feet and call her pretty. She doesn’t need to see a strange grown-up (and more likely than not, a grown-up of a different race) kneeling before her and working over her toes. ” Well, this is exactly the problem with pedicures, period. Why would anybody except an old/disabled person want this service? Seriously. Most people can groom feet themselves. Also, doing it yourself, with your own little clippers and pumice stone and orange stick, is far safer, healthwise.

  14. Deb says:

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more!!

  15. Meghan says:


  16. Jen says:

    I just totally disagree. I enjoy getting a pedicure. I am friendly with the men and women who work at the salon I frequent, and when my daughter is a little older, I will definitely take her with me. I feel like the author is looking for something by which to be appalled. I spend all day every day trying to instill in my daughter respect for the world around her and the people who populate it. If a spa service, enjoyed together, is capable of undermining that, then I am doing something very wrong and it runs deeper than nail polish! And as far as the question of enjoying having a child at a nail salon…that is just very perplexing. Unless the child is having a tantrum or similar, I can’t imagine having an issue sharing the salon with some little boys and girls! And BTW…men get pedicures too!

  17. Callie says:

    Yeah, I don’t get the indignation. I have a son, but if I had a daughter I might occasionally treat her to something like a pedicure, just like I occasionally treat myself to one. Like others have said, it’s a paid service like any others. Is it disrespectful to provide them with the business that pays their salary? What about hiring housekeepers or landscapers or painters? These are all things that people are capable of doing themselves, but may choose to employ others to do. As long as you treat those people with respect, I don’t see the harm. I think where the issue arises is entitlement. When children aren’t taught to value these experiences and instead feel that they are owed to them, you’ve got a problem. But that can happen with any indulgence from a cookie to a trip to Disney World. It’s the parent’s responsibility to teach children that treats are earned, not owed.

  18. Megan says:

    “But Lily, like most 6-year-olds I know, is pampered enough. Her food is prepared for her; her clothes washed, her bath run. But she’s pampered by her parents, and the trade-off for being taken care of is that she’s supposed to follow the rules, contribute to the family and treat us with respect and whatnot.”

    I respect the intent behind what you are saying, but calling you child pampered because you do things for her that she cannot yet do herself is a little silly. Like any experience, it’s important to offer perspective to your child since they haven’t yet developed one of their own. If you wish for your child to have respect for people providing services for them, what better opportunity for them to learn than from an occasional trip to a spa? I personally think, like all things, moderation is key. One pedicure as a fun experience here and there is harmless. Flipping out over every little thing you think might “ruin” your child, however, is not.

  19. michelle says:

    Thank you, kjda, for posting this. You put into words the exact same discomfort I have, particularly with the class/race issues. I don’t think the other commenters on here understood your point. Yes, you can teach little kids to be polite to service workers, but what people don’t realize is that a sense of entitlement can still coexist with that. I think that is what you are trying to guard against. A pedicure is a luxury service that is in large part about power dynamics (if we’re being honest), so no matter how nice you teach your child to be to the pedicurist, she is still learning that she, a child, is in a superior position to the pedicurist. I am proud of you for trying to raise a child who is as responsible and socially aware as you seem to be.

  20. Kate T says:

    Oh get over yourself. Those (Asian, usually) grown-ups are earning money by providing a service that people want. You feel weird about it for your daughter but not yourself? You feel weird because it’s a luxury and not a necessary service? Ridiculous. I am all for teaching children to be appreciative and treat everyone with respect. However, you are deciding that you can feel morally superior by making a “sacrifice” that is no sacrifice to you. Stop exploiting non-white nannies, stop buying sweatshop made clothing. Basically, stop doing something that you would otherwise be doing (and justifying as “necessary”), otherwise you are just finding reasons to give yourself a big old pat on the back.

  21. Kimber says:

    When my daughter was 6 and I was hugely pregnant and could no longer reach my toes her and I went to a nail salon and I got a pedicure, she got her toes painted. It was one of the last things we did together before I had her little sister…and might I say that I brought Addie’s non-toxic nail polish with me for her toes to be painted with. As a once in a while thing it is definitely okay, but I agree that I do not want my child to feel that they are better than someone else, not only because of race but because of the job or social standing that they have.

  22. DKM says:

    I only have sons right now, but I think it is ridiculous to bring a little girl to the nail salon. I agree with the author that this is a luxury that should be afforded when they have earned it (with their own money). BUT I also think that we are teaching our daughters that the way they look in a natural state is not good enough – they need their nails painted to look good. That is just not something I want to teach a child before they are even old enough to care what others think.

  23. Michelle says:

    Many of you are taking yourselfes a little to seriously. On a special occasion like being in a wedding or a birthday or just a mom and daughter day there is nothing wrong with a pedi and a mani. Facials and massages well that is over the top! The most judgemental people are usually the biggest hypocrites.

  24. Kristin says:

    I have a 4 year-old daughter and have never seen her sit so still or be so peaceful as when she gets the occasional pedicure with me. ;) Is seeing her act so happy & peaceful worth the $10, absolutely yes! I think there’s also a difference between a full-service SPA and a nail salon – -I would never take my daughter to a full-service SPA (we live in Los Angeles, so there’s plenty of them), where I agree adults go there for peaceful, relaxing treatments, at pretty high prices to boot. At Spa’s you’re paying a premium (usually over $100) for this quiet, tranquil environment, so doubt kids could really behave perfectly quiet in that environment. Casual nail salons, however, are fine in my opinion to bring young girls to. In my neighborhood it’s almost like the old-school Barbershop with lots of women, and their kids, all chatting away and enjoying the weekend day together. And as far as having people of other backgrounds & speaking other languages do the pedicures, I see that as a great teaching moment to show my daughter how America is a melting pot where many different people move to in order to make a living they otherwise couldn’t have in their own country. It’s great for her to hear the other languages, see the different faces, but yet all still come together in one place. And btw, really there’s no difference if you think it’s OK for girls to get their hair cut but not their toe nails cut. But to each their own! ;)

  25. Marj says:

    I’ve worked at a salon & a spa. Most spas will not do massage on children. I do not think children need any of those treatments. However, a pedicure is fun and frivolous. It’s not an “adult” thing. It’s a fun, cute pampering thing that women sometimes do together as a bonding thing. We often had moms and daughters come in to get pedicures and manicures together. Little girls got their fingernails buffed instead of painted and had fun choosing animals or flowers to go on their toes. I think pedicures as as harmless as getting your face painted at the fairground. Facials are serious skincare though, and children don’t need them. Massages are inappropriate unless it is a parent giving it.

  26. JP says:

    obviously all of you people that see a problem with this are probably a bunch of broke old hags as a part of a younger married generation with a little girl I can’t wait to take her to get her first pedicure I think it’s a cute way to bond with my daughter and all you people that object to it soooo highly are friggen delusional your making it into a way bigger deal then it should be especially with all the shit your saying about the people who perform pedicure grow up and get a real issue!

  27. Jen says:


  28. [...] cuts myself.  Yes, I paint her fingernails and toenails from time to time - but I’ve never taken her for a professional pedicure.  (First of all, who has the money?  And secondly, I agree with KJ – it’s just [...]

  29. CEP23 says:

    As a medical professional and a person with bad feet – and a daughter with developing bad feet – pedicures can be medically helpful and preventative as well as relaxing. I have a four year old – and to keep her feet healthy I am seriously thinking of having her feet “treated” by a professional via pedicure – for preventative reasons. Perhaps broadening your perspective to considering this a positive rather than a negative experience.

  30. Angela says:

    my friend took her six year old today then posted the photos on Facebook. I don’t like to say what I think to her, but it is wrong. she is creating a spoilt rotten brat that will be high maintenance until she leaves home (if she ever leaves home). they obviously have more money than sense.

  31. Pumkin says:

    Well I took my Three year old cousin to get it and I’m glad I did because guess what she can never do it again she’s dead.I’m 13 and I started getting my feet done at like 4,honestly I see what you’re saying but It’s not your child and people in this world will do what they want with there kids.I’m not spoiled nor rotten neither was she she said thank you for everything.What if thats the case is what I’, trying to say what if that child’s wish was to get there feet done and they were about to die how could you say no? then when she’s gone you would be wishing that you would’ve done that.To me it’s okay for them to get pedi’s it’s not a bother.I know I’m young and thats why you think I’m saying that but no whats wrong with being pampered to feel beautiful about yourself?

  32. Christi says:

    I find this conversation fascinating. I am a mother who just took her 7 year old on a girls day to the nail salon and she sat beside me in her own spa pedi chair shaped like a bear. It is one of the ways we have time for the two of us. We chat with the ladies doing our feet and each tip them for their services. My Lily is learning how to interact with a person and get to know service providers. She actually saves her own money, that she earns by doing jobs at home for myself, grandparents or friends. If you are concerned about your kids feeling so pampered then let them work for their money. My children have dog-sat for neighbors, picked up sticks and helped others around their homes in our neighborhood to earn money. To date, our kids, who enjoy an occasional pedi or ice cream on me, have purchased their own American Girl dolls, two Nintendo DS’ and an antique battleship that my son even negotiated the pricing on. Paid for with their own money.
    Teaching children about saving, tithing and interacting with adults is an important part of growing up and valuing all types of people. To only emphasise the inferiority of children and the superiority of adults is to miss the balance. Children must learn to be respectful to adults, definitely a lost art in US culture, but they also need to learn to interact with them.

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