Inside:How moms can empower their daughters and raise strong confident girls
Recently my daughter came sliding into the kitchen yelling, “Ta-da!”
I spun around and saw my tween in quite the ensemble. Normally understated in black athletic pants and a t-shirt, the petite girl in front of me wore head-to-toe purple. The piece de resistance was a purple, white and black zebra print scarf wrapped loosely around her head as a make-shift headband.
“Whoa,” I said too quickly. “Are you wearing the scarf like that?”
“Yeah, I think I look awesome,” she replied. “I saw a girl do it on YouTube.”
“Um, I don’t think it looks, um, right,” I stammered, treading cautiously. “And that’s a lot of different colors of purple. Maybe that shirt would go better with jeans?”
“I knew you wouldn’t like it,” she huffed, turning around and stomping out of the room.
I wanted to shout, “Wait, I was wrong! It looks beautiful! You are beautiful!” But the truth was, she looked ridiculous.
Raising young girls is like walking a tightrope
On the one hand, we don’t want to be the ones diminishing their self-esteem or their self-worth by commenting negatively about their appearance. On the other, we want to be honest with them and help them make good choices.
Raising courageous, confident girls is hard.
Women face an onslaught of images every day telling us we’re inadequate, and Photoshop warps our perception of “normal.” It is easy to feel our thighs are too big, our breasts are too small, our nose is too wide, or our hair is too curly.
We lose our authentic selves striving to fit in, but very few of us ever fit the mold. We feel like failures.
As the mom to three daughters, I carefully select my words and focus on the good.
I try and role model a positive mindset and rarely discuss my own physical insecurities. I excessively compliment their achievements, minds and yes, even appearance. So, when they face the negative, they hear my voice in their heads, cheering them on.
But, I don’t want to tell my girls only what they want to hear.
As moms, we all want our daughters to feel empowered and accepted, but self-confidence is more than receiving compliments. Learning to accept and manage criticism, whether constructive or malicious, is an important life skill.
Yet, too often we feel caught between the desire for honesty and our motherly instincts to protect our girls from pain, whether from us or someone else.
We need to figure out how to build up our girls’ self-esteem while developing open, honest relationships with them.
But how do we do this?
7 Surefire Ways We Can Raise Strong and Confident Girls
Use the Girlfriend Code
Whenever I get in a sticky situation with one of my girls regarding their hair, clothing or appearance, I refer to the “Girlfriend Code.” I shared with them that you only use it in extreme circumstances. It states that when your girlfriend is wearing something so bad that she may embarrass herself, you tell her. You tell her because you love her, not because you want to hurt her.
This means that as parents we also have to bite our lips quite a bit. I decided to overlook the sequined beret one of my daughters decided to wear with her shorts one day, and I didn’t say a word about the make-shift bump-it hairstyle my daughter was so proud of, and I even told her she looked gorgeous when a friend did her 80s-inspired makeup, blue eyeshadow and all. But when it counts, my daughters now listen and know I’m not knocking them down.
Work with your daughter to be media savvy
Images are everywhere, EVERYWHERE, nowadays. We used only to see supermodels on the covers of magazines in the grocery store check out aisles, but our girls are barraged with pictures 24/7. It’s important to talk with your daughter about what you see without being critical of other women.
Show her the power of Photoshop and filters on imaging software. Talk about the big budgets for clothing, hair, and makeup on television and movie sets. Watch shows that empower women and discuss the qualities that make these females powerful.
Focus on growing her passions
As young girls enter their teen years, they often start to lose their authenticity. Encourage your daughter to participate in activities that build self-confidence and value as opposed to only focusing on looking good. Sports, theater, music, art, scouts, and philanthropic causes are great opportunities for girls to express themselves beyond their appearance. And remember to praise her efforts, not only her performance.
Don’t pick apart other women (especially about their appearance)
Some women feel their best when they look their best, and that’s okay. But in today’s world, we know that beauty does not always equate to happiness. There are gorgeous women stuck in abusive relationships, constant victims of sexual harassment or passed over because they are not taken seriously. These are the real problems against women – all women.
We need to disconnect the link between a woman’s appearance and her intelligence or abilities, and it starts with the way we talk about women in front of our daughters. And if we can’t lift each other up, perhaps we can disparage each other a little less.
Teach life skills
Girls that know how to perform more male-oriented tasks often are more self-assured, but knowing basic life skills also helps instill confidence. Teach her how to put together furniture or change a tire. Instead of waiting for your husband to come home to complete a task, such as hanging a picture or changing out that furnace filter, ask your daughter to help you. Make sure she knows how to cook a few great meals and where to get the best oil change.
Knowing she can rely on herself is a great way for her to feel empowered.
Be the change you want in your daughter
Before uttering the phrase “Ugh, I look fat in these pants” or “I can’t eat carbs because of the cellulite on my thighs” ask if you would want your daughter to say these words. Focus on your health and model good habits. Bond over walks or grocery shopping. Take a yoga class together. Splurge on something sweet sometimes and show her what portion control is in another. She is watching.
Love her unconditionally
Your opinion matters to her, even when she swears it doesn’t. She needs a place to feel loved and safe, so when the rest of the world pushes her down, she doesn’t stay there. Even when she tries out pink hair or funky clothes or doesn’t care about her appearance at all.
She is listening and watching all the time — especially when you’re not looking.
Thank you to Whitney Fleming for contributing this post:
Whitney Fleming tries to balance her life as a freelance writer, social media consultant and blogger at Playdates on Fridays with raising three active teen/tween daughters in a house of hormones. You can find her writing online and in several parenting anthologies. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago and enjoys reading historical fiction, coffee/wine dates with friends, and long walks with her husband and dog Jax.