There are a number of factors that we need to consider when we are raising and educating girls.
It is part nature and part nurture.
From biological differences, such as brain development and hormones, to societal differences such as gender stereotypes and expectations, raising girls presents different challenges, and equally as many different rewards.
Parents who do best raising girls respond to the specific needs of their gender, rather than use a one size fits all approach.
Here are 21 parenting strategies guaranteed to meet the diverse needs of the girls in your life:
Boosting self-esteem & better communication
In a culture that’s so image-based, it can be difficult for girls to develop the self-confidence needed to become strong, independent risk-takers who learn from their mistakes and who think of others.
1. Develop positive self-talk
Our girls can be experts at talking themselves down. It takes practice to change the patterns of negative self-talk. Mothers, in particular, need to be aware of their self-talk when your daughters are around. Teach her about the language of affirmation and be kind to yourself when your daughters are around.
2. Teach them to think beyond themselves
Some of the most confident girls and young women we know at Parenting Ideas are those who invest time in others, whether that be volunteering, raising funds for those in need, or helping siblings when they need a hand. Not only do girls take more learning risks when they assist others, they develop a range of high-level traits such as tolerance, patience and acceptance.
3. Foster journaling
Journaling is a great way for a girl to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe way, helping her navigate the changing landscape of her life. Some girls journal on social media, but lack of privacy of the digital world leaves many girls exposed.
4. Encourage girls to use I-statements
Girls can struggle to stand up for themselves, particularly girls who are brought up to be ‘good girls.’ Learning to use I-statements empowers girls to take responsibility for communicating how they feel. I-statements are strong statements which help your daughter express her feelings appropriately.
The script for I-statements is:
“When you… (went to the movies with those girls) I feel/felt …(angry) because… (I was left out of the group) . I would like…(you to let me know next time, rather than keep it a secret).
5. Help her find her voice at home
Through many experiences, many girls learn to suppress their thoughts and feelings because that’s what good girls do. ‘Be seen and not heard’ applies more to girls than boys. Help your daughter express her thoughts and needs at home, by starting with small problems. She doesn’t always have to compromise to keep the peace. Encourage your daughter to speak up at home and be vigilant about stamping disrespectful put-downs that may come from siblings when she does speak up.
Making and keeping friends
Girls are more relational by nature than boys. Friendships are the greatest sense of pleasure as well as their most intense source of pain for most girls.
6. Give girls social scripts
Help your daughters develop social scripts she’ll need for all sorts of situations from a four-year-old meeting new friends at pre-school to an eighteen-year-old negotiating No when in a compromising personal situation. Give girls the language they need to be social and safe in a variety of situations along their path to womanhood.
7. Encourage perspective taking
Many girls, particularly eldest girls in families, can be inflexible in their thinking and have difficulty understanding viewpoints that are different to their own. Debating two sides of a topic or argument with your daughter is a great way to develop more flexible, empathetic thinking that’s so helpful when keeping friendships.
8. Play the game
Team sports help girls develop many valuable friendship skills including teamwork, cooperation, encouragement, resolving conflict and leadership. Encourage your daughter’s involvement in at least one group activity or sport.
9. Differentiate between friendships and a clique
Start a conversation about friendships with your daughter before she moves into puberty. In particular, talk about how a good friend acts and discuss the difference between a friendship group and a clique. The former is a supportive, healthy group whereas the latter is restrictive and unhealthy.
10. Teach the skills of optimism
Girls can be really hard on themselves when they fail. They are more likely to blame themselves when they fail than boys. This is a strength (taking responsibility) and a weakness (leading to perfectionism). Teach your daughters the skills of optimism so that they think of their failures and successes in ways that foster confidence, mastery and flourishing mental health.
Girls and technology
The ever-changing landscape of the Internet provides many challenges for parents of girls.
11. Safety comes first
It’s a parent’s job to keep her daughter safe in both the real world and the digital world – this is made more difficult with geotagging, flaming and cyber-bullying. Develop a digital safety plan with your daughter that includes social media, entertainment and learning.
12. Take some time out
Girls with Internet connected devices are never alone. Mental health experts are now linking this hyper connectivity to anxiety and depression. Insist your daughter takes some time out from online activities on a daily basis. Small, regular breaks prevent the need for digital detoxes that many internet-addicted girls (and guys) need for them to maintain a semblance of balance.
Promoting healthy body image
Body image has been placed in the top three concerns for teenage girls every year in the last eight years. But body image is also a primary school issue with 80% of ten year olds citing that they are afraid of being fat.
13. Encourage involvement in pursuits that don’t involve image
We need to encourage girls to value their bodies for what they can do, not just how they look. Encourage your daughter to become involved in pursuits that aren’t image-based such as team sports, rock climbing, water sports and also activities that help them explore their skill such as writing, singing and music.
14. Call the media out on its portrayal of the perfect body
You’ve got to talk to your daughters about how the media portrays the perfect female form through film, television and advertising. Discuss the notion of digital alteration in the media including how and why this happens.
15. Model healthy eating and self-care
You can’t be what you can’t see. As a mother, monitor your self-talk about your own body shape, complexion and weight. Provide your daughter with a soundtrack that’s forgiving of imperfection and caring for your own well-being.
Girl-friendly tips for mothers
The bond between mother and daughter is truly unique. The mother-daughter relationship is one that has far reaching effects on the development and socialisation of girls throughout their lifetime. Increasing the emotional connection between mothers and daughters can foster mutual support.
16. Fracture the good girl image
Allow your daughters to make mistakes and to be okay with saying No. Don’t expect your daughter to always subjugate her own needs to accommodate the needs of others. Replace Good Girl with Strong/Caring/Loving Girl.
17. Help her find her passion
Cast a wide net and encourage your daughter to discover her passions. Some girls take longer than others but once they find their passion (also known as ‘spark’) they will literally use that as the springboard to develop a range of skills and interests that will stay for life.
18. Express yourself
Show your daughter it’s okay to express a full range of emotions rather than bottle them up. Anger, sadness and fear are just as legitimate to express as happiness, pride and joy.
Girl-friendly tips for fathers
Fathers affect the lives of their daughters in intriguing ways. A well-fathered daughter is most likely to have relationships with men that are emotionally intimate and fulfilling, and have better emotional and mental health.
19. Make a connection
One of the most natural ways a father can make a connection with his daughter is through purposeful physical affection. Fathers are also naturally more inclined to engage their daughters physically. Daughters need more than just everyday gestures given in passing, they need opportunities to be involved on physical play. It helps to stress-proof them and creates a zest for life.
20. Listen without fixing
Fathers tend to communicate with a clear purpose and problem solving focus. Girls are feelings focused and want to create a shared understanding. Listening is essential for every father, even though it sometimes goes against his instincts.
21. Be a positive male role model
As a girl tries to figure out what men are like, the first one she watches is her father. As her father, you play a large role in showing her what a proper, respectful male response sounds like and feels like. Show her at home that she is accepted and appreciated, and this empowers her to make competent decisions. With such a positive reference point, she’ll learn what to expect from the men she meets.
These are just a sample of the hundreds of practical girl-friendly parenting strategies in our popular Parenting Girls course.