Girls have a head start on boys in the academic stakes but life these days is not all smooth sailing for girls. They are often harder on themselves than boys, more likely to be perfectionists; and have more fears. Girls, like boys, benefit enormously from having parents who are attentive to their needs.
Here are seven BIG tips for raising great girls:
1. Help girls face up to their fears. Research shows that girls have more fears than boys. These include both developmental fears (e.g. fear of separation from parents as a toddler) and learned fears (e.g. fear of dogs). Some experts believe that this increase in fearfulness is related to overprotective parenting. Help girls confront their fears, rather than avoid them.
2. Get girls outside from a young age. Girls really benefit from spending time in natural environments including through organised groups such as Guiding; camping in the bush with the family or just free play in the backyard. It increases their confidence levels and their sense of autonomy.
3. Praise girls for what they do, NOT how they look. Direct your praise to effort and improvement rather than focusing on how they look. Girl’s body image issues are still a problem. It helps if you can link their self-worth to what they do, rather than how they look. This can be tough for some girls, so persistence is important. (See point 6 for an exception to this)
4. Help girls work out what’s worth worrying about and what’s not. Girls take criticism and rejection personally and can take too much attention to what people say. Help them work through what’s worth worrying about and what’s not.
5. Assist girls to navigate ‘girl world’ safely. Girls, although more skilled with relationships, can also be very hard on each other in late primary school and through the secondary school years. My colleague Catherine Gerhardt says that mums should talk with girls about the differences between a clique and a friendship, and help them work out how good friends act.
6. Get dad involved from a young age. The presence of an attentive male helps girls feel secure, and a father’s approval helps girls feel comfortable in their own skins. Teenage girls can benefit from positive comments from their dads about how they dress and carry themselves in public. “That dress looks perfect on you. I love it!” can be just the tonic a girl needs when she is feeling self-conscious and fragile about how she looks.
7. Expose teenage girls to the wisdom of older women. Mothers, aunts and family friends need to step forward in adolescence to mentor girls in navigating relationships; how they conduct themselves around others. Teenage girls spend a lot of time in each other’s company, and can benefit from the nurturance and nourishments that older women can provide.