Do you worry about protecting your young daughter from harmful gender stereotypes that could affect her self-esteem? Here are ways you can help your daughter navigate societal pressures and expectations to become a confident individual.
Raising your daughters to become powerful, confident, and happy people is not a walk in the park – especially when they are raised in a society that gives a lot of importance to gender tropes. But there is a secret sauce: respectful parenting efforts.
In this article, we try to break down why it is important for girls to be unapologetic versions of themselves and how parents can help them do that.
Why Should Parents Raise Confident Girls?
Unfortunately, we live in a world that expects women to behave in a certain way. When a woman wants to achieve something her way, society is not too far behind to tell her that she isn’t good enough. While circumstances are steadily improving, this change is snail-pacingly slow.
That’s why this PSA goes out to all parents of young girls: You need to raise your daughters to be confident and strong. Read on to know why.
To break the cycle of childhood conditioning: Psychologists have found that girls turn into self-conscious, insecure teenagers almost overnight, when they reach adolescence. This loss of self-esteem seems to be from a self-realisation that they are barely tolerated, as a result of which they begin to see the world through the lens of power dynamics (where women don’t possess control). As saddening as it may sound, this realisation process comes from childhood conditioning – which are insecure beliefs and behaviours subconsciously absorbed from their parents and the environment they grew up in.
If this cycle of childhood conditioning is not broken, they follow one into adulthood and even spill onto the following generations.
To tackle biases & harassment: Good girls don’t make noise. That’s what society says when there is injustice against the female sex.
There is very little conversation about body safety, consent, and speaking out. That’s probably why women are always burdened with shame and silence when they face gender-based harassment or violence. Only confidence and support from other women can motivate a girl to stand up for herself.
To make informed decisions: When a girl is confident about her abilities and aware of the challenges that she needs to overcome, she is free to dream and pursue a career of her choice.
With times a-changin’, many women are now seizing the moment and venturing into roles that were historically male-dominated. Once they are at their workplace, they need to be self-assured to advocate for their rights, raises, and promotions, and call out injustice against those who don’t have a voice.
A Practical Guide for Raising Girls
Treating your child with respect is the highway you need to take when you want them to grow into kind human beings. That’s respectful parenting in a nutshell: treat your child the same way you want them to treat you. Not just for daughters, this parenting method works for all children.
Find five parenting techniques to raise self-assured, strong, kind girls below:
1. Expose Her to Positive Role Models
In today’s day and age, there are female achievers and pathbreakers in every possible field imaginable, from the arts to sports and even STEM. Introduce your child (and yourself!) to these female trailblazers as early as possible. Being aware of them will show your little one that she can achieve anything once she puts her mind to it. One of the best, easiest, and most engrossing ways to do this is via books. Find our recommended list here.
Also, don’t underestimate the influence that you have on your little one. She’s watching you and learning from you even when you don’t realise it. So watch what you say and how you say it. For example, be careful with the words you choose to describe your body. Convey that you are comfortable with your imperfections, and that you appreciate everything your body does for you. Don’t talk down about other people’s bodies either. Build body positivity by explaining to your child how people come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colours.
2. Teach Her to Not Be Blindly Influenced by Media
Modern media is replete with images of impossible standards of beauty. Try to keep your kid away from exposure to these for as long as possible, so that she may have a chance to figure out her own ideas and identity.
When your little one does start consuming media, do try to keep control over what she views and how much time she spends engaging with it. Also, watch with her and share your thoughts and opinions on the things you see. Explain to her that when it comes to media, what you see is not always what you get, and that there are tools like Photoshop and the agendas of big corporations manipulating every image shown.
3. Help Her Understand Her Uniqueness
A lot of us fall into the trap of pushing our kids into whatever extracurriculars happen to be trending, like perhaps ballet or soccer. But it’s important to let your child, be it a boy or a girl, discover their own passions.
From an early age, give adequate exposure to your kid – allow her to watch or try out a range of artistic, musical, and sporty activities. Simple observation will tell you where her interests and talents lie. Then encourage her to participate in her chosen activity and give her space to explore, blossom, and excel. Praise her for her efforts and not just the wins, and encourage her to go beyond her comfort zone.
Indulging in such activities will boost your child’s confidence and help her build a strong sense of self. This will, in turn, equip her well for her turbulent, insecure teenage years and beyond.
4. Encourage Her to Be Active
For little girls, being active isn’t just about fitness, it’s also about taking pride in one’s physical competence and building body positivity. While a lot of children enjoy sports and benefit from participating in them, team sports and, in fact, sports per se aren’t for everyone. Some kids may do better at individual sports, like athletics or swimming. Others may not be interested in sports at all. But it’s still important to get the body moving.
Take your girl with you on your morning run or practice yoga together. Just by being active yourself, you are setting a good example for your little one and encouraging body positivity. If nothing else, have an impromptu, private dance party in your living room for the two of you, or play a game of tag together. This will get your little one moving and help her build a better relationship with her body.
5. Help Find Her Voice
Culturally, while we expect both boys and girls to achieve and excel, girls carry the additional burden of having to appear ‘nice’ and ‘polite’, if not ‘soft spoken’, all the time.
Teach your kid to voice her thoughts and opinions confidently and respectfully in all situations – be it within relationships or in class, and especially in a situation that feels wrong or makes her uncomfortable. But how exactly can you, as a parent, help her achieve this?
It all begins at home. When possible, give your kid choices, for example, in how she spends time or what she eats, views, or wears; and follow through with what she chooses (within reason). Allow arguments and encourage your child to respectfully express her point of view and reason things out. This will slowly help build her confidence in herself and her ideas and beliefs, and teach her to stand up for herself.
Preach & Practise Points for Parents
In addition to the above points, there are simple things parents can do to empower their daughters.
Don’t belittle other girls/women especially in your daughter’s presence. Statements like “all girls are mean” have the potential to make deep wounds in your daughter’s relationships.
While it is important to be positive about their body, try to direct your praise away from your child’s appearance. For instance, even when they are engaged in pretend play, you could say “Now that you’re in your princess costume, let’s go slay some dragons and save the kingdom,” instead of “You look so pretty in that princess costume.”
Avoid bringing fashion magazines for both men and women to your home.
Don’t treat your daughter as a fragile being. Instead teach her necessary life skills. Equip her to have a sense of control and trust her to make decisions in difficult situations.
Resist gendered tasks in childcare and housework among the parents.
Don’t give differential treatment to your daughter and son. Even when you assign house chores to your daughter, avoid “when you become a wife in the future…” statements. Assign the same responsibilities to your son as well.
Encourage coed friendships.
Make sure your daughter focuses on her academic learning. Whatever her career goal is, support her.
Cherish your daughter, and show her she is valued for the person she is. Teach her tools that will help her grow up to be a happy, content, and confident adult. Ultimately, her sense of self-worth will be defined by how she feels valued by the people closest to her in her life, and as her parent, you would definitely be one of her greatest influences and role models.