How to Raise Young Girls with Grit – Mentally, Emotionally Strong
After age 9, a girl's feelings of self-worth and confidence crash. Help your daughter realize her full potential, become her best – and mature with moxy – by building these six qualities.
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Confident girls develop an attitude of "I can do this," says Rachel Simmons, the author of several books, including The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As girls learn to rely on their own ability to make decisions, they grow more confident.
Parents can help build up this quality, explains Simmons, by offering them opportunities to show they're capable. For example, for a young daughter it might be tying her shoe; for a teen, perhaps it's making the call to order takeout. Simmons cautions that parents sometimes avoid letting kids do these tasks because it's easier, faster and maybe better when they do.
"A lot of girls feel enormous pressure to please others and be perfect in everything," says Simmons. "They become risk-averse because they worry that they'll make a mistake." By providing girls with the chance to show that they're capable and then following up with praising both her efforts and abilities, parents can raise capable daughters.
These aren't just physical muscles, but also emotional ones. "I don't think we do a very good job with teens teaching them how to communicate," says Simmons. "Just like you need to practice an instrument or a sport to get better, good communication is a skill."
You can help your daughter develop her communication muscles through building up her emotional vocabulary. When a girl is able to identify the emotions she's experiencing, she's better able to understand – and deal – with them.
Parents can model this by making an effort to name their own feelings. Are you feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation at work? Or maybe excited about a vacation? Let your daughter in on your emotions, so she'll begin to decipher her own.
Another lesson from Simmons: When your daughter says she's "fine" or "good," follow up with questions about what she means. That's not to say that you interrogate your daughter about her day. Make it a casual conversation that has the benefit of giving her a chance to express her thoughts. And through listening to what she has to say, you're instilling in her a sense that her feelings matter.
"From the time girls are little, we tend to focus as a culture on her looks," says Carole Lapidos, the mother of two daughters – one in college, the other in graduate school. "The comments are 'She's so cute' or 'She's so pretty.' It makes it so girls begin to define themselves according to what other people think, and that's usually based on their physical appearance."
Lapidos became concerned about her own daughters' emotional development when they were just in elementary school. Together with another local Ann Arbor mom, Sally Wisotzkey, they formed a grassroots effort to support young girls. The organization, Raising Strong and Confident Daughters, provided a support group for parents that evolved into training sessions Lapidos and Wisotzkey still offer throughout Michigan, usually in schools.
To foster resiliency in girls – a quality that's not about looks but character – Lapidos says parents need to resist some of their own parental urges. In particular, she notes that parents often want to rush in and help their daughters when they feel hurt. These hurt feelings can come from a variety of sources, from friendships that sour to a poor grade in school to any number of experiences.
"Our mama bear instinct is to protect our daughters from the hurt." But girls need to learn to deal with these hurts on their own. She gives the analogy of a bounce toy that, when it's knocked down, is able to spring back up.
Parents can instill this same ability to "bounce back" by prompting girls to come up with solutions on their own. For example, if your daughter is having a disagreement with a friend, instead of giving her advice about what do to, ask her, "What do you think you should do?" Simmons says girls will often say, "I don't know." Ask her to come up with two or three solutions to the problem. Talk her through the potential consequences with each scenario. Then let her decide – even if you don't agree with her solution.