We are born into a world that’s filled with people who still have preconceived notions about the role that gender plays in determining a person’s potential and eventual purpose in their communities. So how do we ensure that our children are equipped with the confidence not to be easily influenced as they continue to explore their own desires and develop their own sense of self?
How do we raise strong girls who will nevertheless persist? I have no idea. But… I’ve got a pretty strong willed kid with some real sass.
I’m sure much of that is her personality, but below is a list of some simple things I do that may have also contributed.
1. ENCOURAGE HER TO SPEAK UP + MAKE SMALL CHOICES
Always remind her to use the power of her words to express herself. Listen to her whenever possible to show her that it works. Teach her to say no if she doesn’t like how someone is treating her, whether it’s a fellow child or an adult. Even if it’s you. Let her make some of her own choices; picking outfits, choosing between options for meals or snack time; have her decide which classes she’s interested in taking.
2. RESPECT HER BODY
Don’t MAKE her hug, kiss, or speak to people when she doesn’t want to. Yep, this includes Mom and Dad. If you want her to do something, try your level best not to use your size to physically force her to do it; like grabbing her or picking her up against her will. No, it’s not always easy. This last part is hard for me at times, especially when she’s being headstrong *cough* tantrum.
3. LIMIT SUPERFICIAL COMPLIMENTS
Don’t insist on calling her cute, pretty, or beautiful all.the.time. Point out when she’s brave, strong, or is good at something. Be specific when you compliment. Here are a few compliments I gave her this evening: “Wow, you’re really good at counting!” “You are really good at remembering things!” “I’m glad you noticed where we kept your helmet in the garage. You are so observant!”
4. ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE
Don’t be too quick to help her out. If she puts her shoes on the wrong feet, so be it. If she wants to wash her own hair, let her. If she shows an interest in mixing the eggs or batter when you’re cooking, let her try. When she doesn’t do something correctly, guide her gently to the conclusion that she may need to try again. Or … to rinse her sticky hair. It may mean more of a mess and take more time, but it’ll be worth it.
5. EXPOSE HER TO STRONG + POSITIVE FEMALE ROLE MODELS
Talk about Malala Yousafzai, Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc, Sacajawea, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, and others like them. Remember when all the classic princesses needed to be rescued? Thankfully, Disney has introduced plenty of strong and independent female characters in recent years; Mulan, Tiana, Belle, Merida, Rapunzel, Elsa, Anna, and, amongst others, Moana.
6. STOP GENDER-TYPING TOYS AND ACTIVITIES
Who decided that trains and cars were for boys and that dolls or kitchen sets were for girls? Do boys not end up being Dads one day? Will they never cook? Do girls not drive cars? Whether she wants to play soccer, basketball, football, do ballet, tap dance, practice figure skating, or look at bugs – encourage her. She can wear a dress if she chooses to and still be fascinated by bugs as she climbs trees.
7. DON’T TELL HER HOW TO FEEL
Don’t assume she feels/thinks something out loud in front of her. Refrain from saying, “don’t cry” or, dismissively saying, “you are fine” when she’s visibly upset. Instead, ask her to explain how she feels to you and tell her it’s okay to be sad/disappointed, but remind her that using her words will make it easier for you to understand and find a way to help her if she needs it. Her feelings are valid. She is allowed to be sad or disappointed when things don’t go her way, as long as she isn’t hurting anyone or being outwardly disrespectful towards any specific person.
8. DEVELOP A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE
In our home, when my daughter sees me exercise or pass on sweet treats, I tell her it’s because I’m trying to “be healthier” or “be stronger” as opposed to “be skinny” or “lose weight.” It’s unfortunate that society and Disney has managed to instill some outdated assumptions into a 3 YEAR OLD; long hair is prettier than short (she talked about how she missed my long hair for weeks after I cut my hair last summer), straight hair is better than curly (she started complaining about her curls just before her third birthday). Now, I have developed a tendency of pointing out great short and long haircuts, toned arms and shoulders on swimmers, strong calves on joggers and cyclists, and, because of the obsession with fair skin and whitening treatments among many Asian communities (like the one I grew up in), the beauty in the general uniqueness of ALL people.
I’d be lying if I said I was consistent across the board with this. These are the self-imposed guidelines I deeply believe in, though. My 4 year old is a very convincing (and sharp-witted) negotiator, so I like to give her the chance to appeal when I’ve said no – assuming she’s using her words to articulate her needs and being respectful. However, there are times I do get frustrated (gritting my teeth here as I recall the chaos that we just went through hours ago at bedtime) when she’s being too strong willed and, uhm… not using her words effectively. At times I get impatient when we are running late and it takes her an extra 15 minutes to do something that might only take me one. All we can do is try our best & hope our kids grow up with the confidence in their ability and potential that we believe they all possess.