By Donna de Levante Raphael
Pride Parenting Columnist
Raising our daughters to be powerful, confident and compassionate opens the door to our girls to grow up feeling secure in themselves. They learn how and when to take action, making positive choices about their own lives and doing positive things for others. They learn how to think critically about the world around them. They acknowledge their feelings; express their feelings and thoughts of others in caring ways. Our daughters feel good about themselves and grow up with a positive outlook on life and a “can-do” attitude. Of course, strong girls may (like all of us) have times of self-doubt and insecurity, however, these feelings are no longer paralyzing. Why? Because our girls have learned to work through their issues and problems they come in contact with. Powerful girls will grow up to lead full, valuable lives if we guide them.
Long gone are the days of ‘girls should be seen and not heard.’
Here are some of our experts’ ideas to help you raise powerful and compassionate daughters:
Actively listen, more than you talk. When we talk to our girls, they often experience it as us talking at them instead of with them, and they not only stop listening, they stop thinking and reflecting. But when we listen to them, they have to think about what they are saying, and they tend to reflect more. As parents, we need to keep an open dialogue — we can’t dismiss their rantings about ups and downs of friendship as trivial, and then expect them to talk to us about the important stuff.
Know the values important to your family. Consider the ways you convey these values, especially the leading by example part. What are the moments in your daily life when you can model the values you want your daughter to learn? Remember, our kids are always learning. Think about what traits and strengths you would like your daughter to develop as she grows? Take time to identify if these qualities are reflected in how you parent.
Encourage her to solve issues on her own rather than fixing them for her. As parents we want to protect our daughters and we end up taking over, and then our girls don’t develop the coping skills they need to handle situations on their own. Ask your daughter to consider three simple strategies she might use to deal with a situation, and then ask her about what she envisions about the possible outcomes. Let her decide what she wants to do (within reason). Even if you disagree with her choice, your trusting her to handle the situation means you give your daughter a sense of control over her life and you’re showing her that she is responsible for her decisions.
Encourage your daughter to pursue a passion. Pursuing her passion is key. Not your passion. Allow her to experience full engagement with an activity she loves. This will give her the opportunity to master challenges, which will boost her self-esteem and resilience and affirm intrinsic values rather than simple appearance. Having a passion lets her go shoot baskets or play an instrument, challenge her cooking skills for example, instead of being swept up in online drama.
Address girl bullying and fighting when you see it. Talk with girls about relational violence (such as gossip, rumor-spreading and exclusion) as well as physical violence (hitting or fighting). Don’t assume that all girls are mean, and definitely avoid saying ‘girls will be girls’ when you witness girls engaging in exclusive cliques and clubs. Instead, affirm girls’ relational strengths and sense of fairness, help them identify and hold on to their strong feelings, like anger, and encourage them to practice more direct, positive ways to effect change in their relationships.
Let your daughter know you love her because of who she is, not because of what she weighs or how she looks. Always encourage your girl to eat in healthy ways, but don’t over-obsess over what she eats. Listen to her opinions (about food, and other things) and show appreciation for her uniqueness, to help her develop herself into the person she wants to be. Comment rather than attack on the way she carries herself into a room or the ideas she is expressing before commenting on her looks. She needs you to know her insides and validate the developing person within, as well as noticing her emerging young womanhood. Remember, she is new to this person she is becoming.
Let her have a voice in making decisions that involve her. Whenever possible, let her make constructive choices about her life. Let her choose her own clothes, within appropriate limits of course. Give her a voice in what after-school activities she participates in and how many she wants to do (as long as it works for the rest of the family, too). Remember that knowing what she cares about most will come from trying some things and finding she doesn’t like them, as well as from finding things she loves to do. Your daughter might need to make a commitment for a short time for an activity (one soccer season) but when that’s over, it’s okay to try something different!
Help her process the messages in the media. Help her avoid the narrow focus on appearance and consumerism that often dominates the media. By helping your daughter process the messages she sees on the screen and develop her own ideas about them, you can prepare her to better resist the media’s pervasive stereotypes. Help her see the bigger picture — for example, how looking like her latest teen idol can be fun but also connects her with a lot of other stuff she might not have noticed or thought about. Speak out aloud about more general patterns you see, like how all those little purses hanging from everything might make it seem that all girls, even three-year-olds, are into shopping. Listen to her opinions about your comment. You might just learn something.
Encourage her to take physical risks. Girls who avoid risks tend have poorer self-esteem than girls who can and do face challenges. Encourage your daughter to go beyond her comfort zone — for example, encourage a girl who’s afraid to ride her bike downhill to find just a small hill to conquer first. It’s important to guide even non-athletic girls to develop some physical competence and confidence when they’re young. Whether it’s through team or individual sports, girls need to form a physical relationship with their body that builds confidence.
Talk with her about the differences between sex in the movies and loving relationships in real life. Let’s face it parents, our children will grow up. It’s important to talk with your daughter about sex and sexuality in ways appropriate to her age and your values while you have her ear. As she gets older it becomes increasingly important to help your daughter understand the difference between sexualized images in the media and healthy sexuality. Through give-and-take discussion, you can help her begin to understand the difference between the media’s presentation of sex and sexiness. You can talk about how sex is frequently portrayed without love, intimacy or emotion, or as part of caring relationships. When your daughter is old enough, you can begin to discuss what a mature, healthy, loving relationship — in which sex is a part — is all about. And she won’t be blind-sided by the barrage of incorrect information from her friends.
Get girls working together. Girls who work cooperatively in school or who problem-solve together do much better in taking large risks or facing challenges. These girls tend to experience an incredible sense of accomplishment and feeling of competence, both of which give a huge boost to their self-esteem. Encourage her to participate in team-building activities or join organizations that focus on teamwork.
Limit your daughter’s exposure to the media and popular culture when she is young. Doing this will allow her more time to develop her own ideas, creativity, and imagination from her direct first-hand experience. As she grows, media messages will start to get in, so having rules and routines from the start can help your daughter control her own experiences as she gets older. She will have formed her own opinions and not allow the media to tell her otherwise.
Allow her to disagree with you and get angry. Raising a powerful girl means living with one. She must be able to stand up to you and be heard, so she can learn to do the same with classmates, teachers, a boyfriend, or future bosses. Girls need guidance about how to stay clear in their disagreements, and they need support for not giving up their convictions to maintain a false harmony. Allowing her to express her anger is healthy. Help your daughter to make choices about how to express her feelings, and to whom. Not all girls will want to express themselves, especially shy girls, but you can help them develop the skills.
Make regular time to listen to your girl. Actively listen. By creating consistent, predictable times when she knows that you are receptive and available to listen — like riding in a car, taking a walk, or just sitting reading — you will eventually be let into her inner world. Let her use you as a sounding board to sort out what she is going through, without solving problems for her. When you quietly listen, it allows her to build her trust in you. The answers that come from within her are the ones she will eventually live by. Sometimes you will have to be their sounding board by just listening.
Acknowledge her struggles but keep a sense of perspective. We must acknowledge the pain our girls are experiencing, so they know that they are heard and accepted and empathized with. But we also need to put it into perspective, by staying calm and listening to what they are experiencing without projecting our own experiences onto theirs, and without judging them. Your daughter is having a different experience than you did, even if there are surface similarities. After all, she has something you didn’t have: you.
Enjoy her! Having a powerful and compassionate girl can be exciting and energizing. Find activities you both enjoy and do them together regularly. Maybe you both like cooking or having breakfast together, hiking or reading books. Try to keep this special and intimate connection as she gets older — when times ever get tough, you’ll both appreciate this special bond you share together!
Former writer and publisher of the parenting magazine I-Parent and women’s magazine Cayman Woman. Currently working on editing a new parenting media site and releasing a parenting book. To contact Donna de Levante Raphael: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more parenting information visit -’Village Parent’ Facebook page. “Like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/VillageParent.