We all want our daughters to be the real-life super girl they were meant to be – confident, believing they can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. For a time, when they are really young this seems to be easy, almost effortless. So much so, that sometimes we secretly wish they weren’t quite so eager to take the world by storm. Have you ever met a toddler that wasn’t self-possessed?
As they grow, though, ensuring our daughter feels empowered takes serious, conscious effort – particularly in a culture where she is bombarded at ever younger ages with the script that what really matters are not her achievements and character, but rather what size skinny jeans she wears. Media messages that most often relegate females to a role of passivity – awaiting rescue – rather than taking action to determine her destiny.
So what do we do? How do parents that are over-the-top crazy about their daughters ensure that they hold onto and develop that natural super-girl within? Over the last few years, Liz McHutcheon and I have interviewed countless tweens and teens to get a window into girlhood. And these young women have a lot to teach us about how to raise our daughters. Based on those conversations, research, and my personal experience as a mama to two, here are just a few power habits to get you started:
- Focus on intellect and work ethic. Lisa Bloom, Author of Think, has a magical way of interacting with girls that she meets for the first time. Rather than making a comment about how pretty her dress is, she asks her new friend what she is reading. It’s a good thing, of course, to tell your daughter (or son) that they are beautiful. Just be sure to spend 10x more effort noticing how hard she is working at conquering that math problem.
- Regularly solicit her opinion. Create a girl that is confident about her opinion by asking what she thinks on topics from her favorite color to global warming, feminism and world affairs. Respect her opinion, but don’t be afraid to disagree with her so learns to defend her stance. Be sure to ask your daughter why she believes what she does. Try not to correct her on the “tone” that she uses to deliver unsolicited opinions. Girls are given a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle messages that she should be smart, just not TOO opinionated or direct. So it’s important that she knows stating what she believes is a good thing.
- Expose her to as many strong female role models as possible. There are countless women who are doing work that they are passionate about and making an impact in the world. Expose your daughter to those you know in real life and those that you can find through film, television, and online. Point these amazing role models out whenever you come across them in your life. This site, www.sheheroes.org is a great place to start!
- Develop a media critic. Never underestimate the influence of negative media messages on a girl’s self-esteem. Reducing what your daughter is exposed to definitely helps. Since you can’t completely avoid the damaging messages though, teach her early on to be a critical observer, questioning the motives of an advertiser or television show. “Huh, I wonder why this movie has the girl waiting to be saved. She must be really bored! They clearly don’t understand what girls like to do.”
- Set aside a few minutes daily to consider the bigger stuff of life. It may sound silly to have your elementary school daughter pondering the meaning of life, but it is never too early to start making this life-changing ritual part of your day. It makes setting time aside to be conscious about her life an early habit and also gives the powerful underlying message that she is in charge of her future.
- Start with just 5 minutes each day or a week even (if five minutes is too long, then go with 1 or 2 minutes). Unless your daughter is an early riser, evenings before bed may be best if she is in school all day. She can use a special journal or notebook set for only this special time. Younger children may simply use the notebook to draw something magical. As your daughter gets a bit older, you can ask her open ended questions like, “What did you love about today?” And preteen and teen girls are ready for questions about imagining their biggest, boldest dreams. (For a daily guide for this practice, check out Take 5 for Your Dreams.
- Teach her to be brave by trying new things. Most of us develop confidence by experiencing mastery of a new skill that we were initially afraid to do or were simply unfamiliar with whether it be rock climbing, a challenging scientific theory, or meeting new friends. Encourage your daughter to step out of her comfort zone sometimes. When she is struggling with a new skill, remind her of the other times she’s learned something new.
Remember your daughter is her own one-of-a-kind super girl. Create an environment where she is reminded of that consistently and she will be compelled to reach for the stars.
For more practical habits to empower your daughter, like us on Facebook. You can also find us at www.whatsyourbrave.com or follow us on Twitter.
The book Take 5 for Your Dreams was created especially for preteen and teen girls and provides more than 90 five-minute daily exercises designed to inspire girls to think about their future, their goals, and how they can get there. Packed with beautiful photos, quotes, mini-essays, and resources, it’s a simple and elegant solution meant to break the idea of dreaming big into easy, doable daily steps. What’s Your Brave, co-founded by Paula Grieco and Liz McHutcheon, is a writing and media project dedicated to supporting teen girls in being brave, dreaming big, and taking bold action.