Parents can help to prepare their daughters to live happy, fulfilled lives. They can raise them to be empowered and confident, ready to tackle all adventures and speak their minds. Here are some dos and don’ts on how to raise an empowered daughter who is ready for the world.
Girls are bombarded by labels coming from all directions: The media they consume, as well as the messages they get from peers and adults. Remember to talk about what they are seeing, hearing and witnessing. Acknowledge that messages about girls and women are out there and find out what your daughter thinks. For example, ask her if she has ever heard or said, “He throws like a girl!” What does this say about girls’ abilities? Be sure to reframe negative messages. A determined, empowered girl is not a bossy girl, and a girl who persists to reach her goals is not manipulative.
Your daughter will be exposed to difficult situations, so be sure to have conversations early and often to support her as she learns how to respond appropriately.
Establish a habit of communication between you and your daughter, so she is ready to handle problematic influences and feel secure in talking with you about the various situations she will encounter. Don’t be afraid to role play situations and discuss, “What would you say if this happened?” scenarios. This will help to build a mutual trust with your daughter that will withstand her adolescent relational challenges.
Teach your daughter that it is okay to be a princess, but she also must learn to fight the dragon and not wait for the boy knight to come along. Princesses can be brave and also feel afraid, but they can learn how to be powerful. Remind her how Princess Elsa learned how to “let it go”!
Examine your own feelings first. Do you want to look nice or do you have to look perfect all of the time? Girls who focus all of their time and energy on looking perfect are likely trying more to fit in than to embrace their true selves. It can be especially important for moms to remember that if you are critical of yourself, your daughter will learn that it is normal and expected for her to be critical of herself.
Be very careful not to focus on what her body looks like, but to focus on being healthy, being good to her body and taking great care to treat it well. She will learn this lesson from the female role models in her life and from the way her dad talks about, looks at and expresses his thoughts and feelings about women’s bodies.
Do not try to solve every challenge in her life, especially in peer relationships. Your solution may not work in her school situation. By allowing her to handle tough decisions, you encourage trust in herself. She needs to feel empowered to come up with the solution on her own terms. Discuss her possibilities with her so that she can choose a solution and feel more in control of her life, which is a basic part of empowerment. If you have established a good communication bridge, she will trust that she can ask you to intervene if necessary.
Do not allow your own bad experiences to be the only lens you use when you advise your daughter. Your experiences may have given you wisdom, but no two situations are identical. You don’t want to impede her ability to learn resilience by dealing with adverse situations, such as the possibility of her choosing different friends or different activities that she will enjoy. She will learn relational self-defense techniques that will serve to empower her to change situations that are making her unhappy.
Sometimes, parents who are trying to empower their girls will push them into engaging in activities traditionally thought of as male interests. This often backfires. Discover and acknowledge her unique interests and strengths. This is much more empowering than forced activities that you believe are empowering for girls. If she is interested in traditionally male activities, support her and work together to combat stereotypes and allow her the freedom to make her own choices. Whatever she chooses, it will be a more empowered decision because she has learned that she is in the driver’s seat of her life.
Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice and many other works on female development, provides helpful insight about raising daughters, particularly about the importance of connection and interdependence. She reminds us all about how girls’ relationships are fundamental in understanding who they are and who they want to be.
Girls see themselves reflected back by those they are in a relationship with, so it is critical that we pay attention to who they are involved with, including friends, family and other influential people in their lives.
Staying connected with people who reflect back the best in your daughter is a good start. Being conscious of the veracity with which girls will defend important relationships is also an important consideration. When she is in a relationship that you are concerned about, open up the lines of communication and remember that she is not likely to listen if you try to shut down the connection.
Talking with her about the qualities of a good friend is a good start to having her decide which relationships to maintain and which to end. Empowering her with information and thoughtful discussion prepares her with critical skills for her life experiences.
That adorable toddler who thinks she can do anything and be anything will grow up and live in a complex world. She will be bombarded with messages from media, peers and other adults that will work against that natural confidence. She will hear that what matters is not her achievements and character, but how she looks and how nice she is.
Parents play a key role in mitigating the negative influence of such messages by raising an empowered daughter, who has learned that she can control her life and make good decisions for herself because she has been taught the necessary relational and life skills. Girls who are raised to be empowered have confidence in themselves, which will help them face challenges and solve problems.
Empowerment breeds confidence--and confidence is a key component to successful living. Girls often face unique challenges as they grow up that can prevent them from learning how to successfully navigate relationships, pursue passions, experience opportunities and trust in themselves to solve problems. Parents can ensure that their daughters achieve their potential by creating an environment that empowers them to grow up believing in themselves and their abilities.
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