A Guide to Raising Strong Girls
By Babysits, 6 min read
International Women’s Day is coming up, and to celebrate, we want to discuss what it means to raise strong girls, and how you can help your girl(s) feel confident and comfortable in themselves.
Raising strong girls is about raising girls who believe in themselves, who understand their value and who think critically about the world around them. But how can we instil these values in our daughters and help them make positive choices for themselves and for others? To help you answer these questions, we’ve compiled a list of tips for raising strong girls who can grow up to lead healthy, positive lives.
Encourage her to make independent decisions about her life
Making decisions is a big (and often daunting) part of life. If you allow your daughter to make independent decisions about her life (such as which extra-curricular activities to partake in, or which high school to attend), you can help her feel more confident and comfortable in her decision-making skills as she grows into adulthood. What might start as small independent decisions will inevitably lead to bigger decisions such as which university to attend or what career path to take.
Help discover her passions
We’re all passionate about different things, but exploring those passions in our youth can be powerful. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, explains that “Full engagement with an activity she loves will give her the opportunity to master challenges, which will boost her self-esteem and resilience and affirm intrinsic values rather than appearance.”
It’s okay to fail
If we want to encourage our girls to be adventurers and risk-takers, it’s important that they know they’re allowed to fail and make mistakes. Teaching girls that there is intrinsic value in their mistakes (e.g. the ability to learn and grow) can help them feel comfortable in taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zone. By being compassionate with ourselves when we make mistakes as parents, we can encourage our children to adopt an attitude of self-acceptance and perseverance in the face of adversity.
You don’t always need to jump to the rescue
When parents take over, it takes away the opportunity for girls to develop the necessary coping skills needed to handle difficult situations in life. By giving your daughter the space and autonomy to deal with certain situations on her own, you will teach her valuable skills in perseverance and responsibility.
Exercising during adolescence has been linked to better long-term mental health during adulthood. And unfortunately, girls tend to stop exercising when they hit puberty, whilst boys often do the opposite. Dr. Zhu, an associate professor of human movement science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., found that even if children exercised only one to three days a week, there was a strong correlation with lower rates of anxiety and depression. So, encouraging your daughter to get active and participate in a sport is a fantastic way to combat mental illness and encourage an active lifestyle which she’ll hopefully maintain throughout her life. And there’s no need to have her stick with one thing! Maybe she wants to try out tap dancing and then see what rock climbing is all about next.
Compliment her for who she is, rather than how she looks
We don’t want to encourage our girls to feed into the narrative of valuing their appearance over their personality, abilities or character. Luckily, challenging this narrative can start at home. So, rather than complimenting your daughter for her beauty, try complimenting her for her strengths such as her empathy, humour or intelligence, instead. Of course, there is also no harm in reminding your daughter of her beauty, but this shouldn’t be the base of your praise!
A 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology entitled “Body Dissatisfaction and Its Correlates in 5- to 7-Year-Old Girls: A Social Learning Experiment,” revealed that girls will mimic the relationship their mother has with her own body. So, if you want your daughter to have a positive association with her body and appearance (particularly as she reaches adolescence and beyond) the best thing you can do is lead by example. If she sees you moisturising and nourishing your body, she’ll likely do the same. And, unfortunately, if she hears you criticising your appearance, she’ll likely follow suit by criticising her own.
Ditch the “nice girl” trope
Girls are often taught to be “nice” and while on the surface this may not appear problematic, when we dig a little deeper, we can see why the “nice girl” trope can cause issues further down the track. Being a “nice girl” often entails being quiet, pleasant and accommodating. Certainly, the “nice girl” wouldn’t talk back to her elders and will keep outspoken opinions to herself. The issue here is that this behaviour can continue into adulthood, and if she hasn’t ever had the opportunity to voice her opinions whilst young, she might struggle to do so as an adult.
To tackle this, we can teach our daughters the value of their voice. So, when she expresses an idea or makes a suggestion, listen to her and take her seriously. Not only will this empower her, it will also ensure that she knows she can talk to you about important issues as she grows older.
It’s also important that she knows she can disagree with her parent(s) and that it’s okay to be angry. Although this might sound counterintuitive, the ability to recognise difference in opinion can teach girls to be critical thinkers as well as value their own input.
Limit her exposure to media
Placing limits on the amount of time your daughter spends online can help control the negative effects of digital media usage. Diane Levin, Ph.D., explains that, “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.” Talking openly with your daughter about negative media messages online (such as advertisements, etc.) can help her process and understand the content she’s seeing, and hopefully encourage her to think critically and independently about what it means.
Love her endlessly
Lastly, the most important thing you can do to raise a strong girl is to love her endlessly. So, if you’re doing that, then we can bet you’re on the right track.