I believe that we can all agree that STRONG GIRLS = A STRONG WORLD and that we can benefit from more confident young girls whose self worth is not wrapped up in their appearance. Here are my 5 tips for raising strong, confident girls. (Disclaimer: I am just a girl mom, not a parenting expert and this is what is working for me.)
5. Compliment them on other qualities besides their appearance as much as possible.
This is an important one that gives you a clear way to balance out everything they will hear from anyone else in their life. Girls are told they “look so pretty,” their dresses or outfits are “so pretty,” their hair “looks so pretty today,” by almost every person in their life and most strangers. The problem with this is that it causes little girls to unintentionally pay way more attention to their appearance than they need to. We like to get compliments so they will automatically try and repeat the behavior that got them one. Don’t get me wrong, if one of my girls comes up to me in her “Star-Pretty dress” and asks me point blank if she looks pretty, I won’t disappoint her but I make a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to say “You are SO smart,” “You are being SO sweet today,” “You have big, strong muscles, Look how strong you are!” MORE than I make any comments on her appearance. I want her to repeat that type of behavior to get those kind of compliments more than she focuses on her clothes and hair.
4. Encourage them to SPEAK UP.
The majority of girls are, by their nature, somewhat more quiet than boys their same age. They also tend to be plagued by shyness more often than boys. I believe that if we want confident young women, it starts by being able to USE THEIR VOICE. This can be as simple as encouraging them to speak louder when they are mumbling or instructing them to tell their friends at school directly if they want to borrow a toy or if that friend hurt their feelings in some way. Taking ownership of their own feelings and what is needed to get them the reaction they want is really important to ALL kids but especially to girls who may need to use that louder voice more often later in life. If they don’t learn anything else, I want my girls to know how to use their own voice, value it and be able to ask for what they want in life.
3. Be aware of and try not to reinforce gender stereotypes.
Learning about and having an interest in sports, science, insects, etc. is not a “boy thing.” Learning about and having an interest in cooking, dancing, arts & crafts, etc. is not a “girl” thing. Do your best to resist anything that puts a limit on your girls and what they can learn about or participate in. Let them drive the conversation as much as possible and you will be surprised at what types of things they will want to learn about. When I was growing up, even in the South, I was one of the only girls who understood football. I’m grateful that my family didn’t try to discourage me from that but instead embraced my interest and taught me all I needed to know. Take your girls to the reptile room at the Zoo. Buy them fake bugs and basketball goals if they want them. Encourage them to participate in dance classes AND science clubs or camps. It’s all about balance. As damaging as limiting girls to activities that are traditionally thought of as “girl things,” it’s equally as damaging to try and shield them from tiaras and dress up clothes. We put it ALL out there and let them explore without any gender stereotype barriers. We want them to see their possibilities without the filter of, “Should I not do this or like this because I’m a girl?”
2. Introduce them to ALL the things not just “girl” things.
Related to #3 is the crazy world of gender specific toys. Why do our basketballs have to be pink? Why are bright, fun primary colors reserved for the boys section of stores? Why are other parents and well meaning family members still teasing little girls who have dump trucks and dinosaurs or little boys who have dolls and play kitchens? Why are we shaming young women who don’t want everything to be pink and sparkly and making them feel different? We choose NO GENDER SPECIFIC LIMITS for our girls and I encourage you to do the same. From the very beginning, we have made an effort to surround them with as much variety as possible. There are many who may think that girls only playing with “girl things” is really not a huge deal but every single experience that we expose our girls to shapes the way they see themselves in the world. If they only see dolls, dress up clothes and the color pink, they will start to see those other things as “not for them because they aren’t boys.” This reinforcement of gender stereotypes will be in the back of their mind when it’s time to try out for sports or get involved with academic clubs. Let’s stop limiting our girls before they even have a chance to form their own opinions.
1. Encourage variety in their clothing choices and use them as an easy way to reinforce positive messages.
In this day and age, why do we still allow adults to insinuate that girls are “prettier” when they’re smiling in dresses with bows in their hair by only giving compliments when they look like that? Walk into any girls clothing section and try and count the items that are NOT pink or purple, with ruffles or sparkles, or have hearts and flowers on them. There is a place for all of those things (believe me, we have PLENTY of pink in our house) but when that is the vast majority of clothing choices, it ends up being the only things our girls wear. I believe that hearts, flowers & unicorns vs trucks, space & dinosaurs on clothing sends a extremely limiting message and reinforces the types of things that girls and boys should be interested in. Beyond the lack of variety that is important in all choices we give our kids, I also believe that their clothes are a HUGE opportunity to send a message. Let them wear what they want as much as possible. Let little girls be just as comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt as they are in a dress. It’s also an opportunity every single day to help them gain confidence in who they are and what they like. Let’s give them a shirt with an inspiring and empowering message that helps them feel unstoppable. Let’s use their clothes as another way to tell them how special and strong they are. Let’s make their shirt more than just a shirt. Every day we choose little experiences for our kids that make them who they are. I want to use every choice to encourage my girls to love who they are, to feel confident enough to speak their mind and go after what they want and to not feel limited by ANYTHING in this world.
If you believe in this message and you want more clothing choices for all our girls, please support the Kickstarter campaign for my clothing line, ALL GIRLS CAN, clothes with messages designed to empower and inspire girls. We believe that there is a place in the world for this type of business and we would appreciate your help in pre-ordering a shirt or onesie though the Kickstarter campaign before JUNE 12. We will also be donating 50¢ from every sale to organizations who are dedicated to making a difference in girls’ lives around the country. Go to allgirlscan.org for the Kickstarter campaign to learn more and help us be able to launch this business with an important message!