Growing up, many of your bedtime stories probably featured gorgeous, yet helpless, princesses waited for their knights in shining armor to save the day. However, considering that women are still fighting for equal pay, equal access to education and reproductive rights, it’s obvious that today’s girls aren’t living in a fairytale. What’s a parent to do? Raise brave girls, of course!
To find out how you can inspire your little princess to be her own knight in shining armor, ENTITY chatted with Dr. Barbara Greenburg, family psychologist and author or “Teenage as a Second Language,” Dr. Lucie Hemmen, clinical psychologist and author of “The Teen Girl’s Survival Guide,” and Dr. Tim Jordan, the pediatrician behind the parenting course “Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar.”
Ready to turn your daughter into the strong, brave woman you know she can be? Here are five expert tips that every parent with a daughter should know!
Why limit your daughter’s vision of bravery to a knight in shining armor? Instead, teach her that the princess can slay the dragon herself. Studies have shown that 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough in terms of their looks, performance in school or relationships with family and friends. You can keep your daughter from joining this statistic by constantly reminding her that she is not only worthy but also capable of being a leader.
How? According to Dr. Tim Jordan, redefining bravery starts with “redefining strength and leadership.” Reassure your daughter that leaders aren’t just “just soldiers in battle or presidents. They’re brave girls who are good at collaboration, bringing people together, and making sure everyone is successful.”
Once your daughter can see herself in a leadership position and is confident in her skills – no matter how unconventional they may seem for a leader – she can have the courage to be the knight of her dreams.
Since the day girls are born, they are usually greeted with sayings like, “Oh, what a beautiful baby!” or “Her daddy will need to lock her up when she gets older!” The sad fact is 87 percent of girls believe that women are judged on appearance instead of ability – and they often focus on their own looks as a result.
If you want your daughter to be brave, you should encourage her to “develop her identity from the inside out,” says Dr. Lucie Hemmen. “Focusing on external superficial stuff without authentic internal development could cause girls to feel empty, anxious and depressed.”
How exactly are you supposed to focus on your daughter’s personality when the media constantly emphasizes women’s looks? For Dr. Barbara Greenberg, activities are a good place to start. “Encourage your girls to take risks (with safety in mind),” she says, “And to try a variety of activities to challenge themselves so that they can develop their self-esteem and skills.”
When you allow your daughter to focus on what she can do versus what she looks like, you’re setting herself up to know her inner value – and to be able to bravely follow whatever path truly makes her happy.
On a similar subject, girls often lack role models, especially in terms of strong, female historical figures. In fact, one study of a fifth-grade American history textbook found that, out of 819 pages, references to women added up to less than one page. In another 1000-page version of the textbook, there were four pictures of men for every one of women.
No matter how good your parenting, girls “absorb the values of the culture” they’re surrounded by, says Dr. Hemmen. And, right now, that message is typically: “To be ‘successful,’ you must be very rich and hot.” Women also also often told “that they are products and must brand themselves…by posting only the most perfect and flattering pictures of themselves on Instagram.”
By showing your daughters women who have made history (even if they haven’t made the history books) for skills other than their looks, you can disrupt the media’s harmful message. Not only that, but role models like Malala Yousafzai and Amandla Stenberg can show your daughter that bravery is not defined by gender or age.
And if you need new bedtime stories to read to your daughters, there are a number of books available, including “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” and “A Chair for My Mother.” Goodbye helpless princesses, hello brave young women!
Even as you show your daughter other examples of brave women, you need to make sure that you’re exemplifying bravery too. Research shows that babies and toddlers learn from observing and mimicking adults. Just think of how your daughter pretended to talk on her plastic phone or play “house.” So, if you want your daughter to be brave, you need to be brave first.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of modeling bravery for your daughter, though, is checking yourself. “Parents should self-monitor,” explains Dr. Greenberg. “They may not realize their role in raising girls who are passive and people-pleasers.”
So, the next time your daughter wants to try a new sport, encourage her instead of mentioning that “basketball is just for big girls and boys.” Or, if you notice that you say “yes” to everyone who asks you for a favor, you may want to ask if these favors are really in your best interest – and if modeling how to respectfully say “no” would be a better lesson for your daughter. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Like mother, like daughter.” When it comes to raising a brave girl, that cliche might be more true than you ever imagined.
Let’s face it: eventually your daughter will grow up and enter the real world, where she’ll need to be brave on her own. That thought might scare you, but if you equip your daughter with the skills and mindset she needs to face the outside world, then she’ll be able to use these tools to confront her fears without feeling like she needs her mom or dad.
These tools can be anything – ranging from a cellphone to a self-defense class – that helps your daughter feel more safe and in control when she’s navigating her environment.
The important part is that, as parents, you “overcome the temptation to overprotect and overindulge your girls,” according to Dr. Jordan. “Girls develop grit, resilience, and courage by having opportunities to handle their own conflicts and problems, overcome challenges and obstacles in order to be able to say, ‘I did it!'”
It might be hard to watch your daughter struggle through problems on her own. However, the confidence she’ll have after she solves her own issues will be worth the pain. Because, to be honest, the final step to raise brave girls being brave enough to let her go.
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