Let’s be honest: We live in a world where it can sometimes feel scary to be raising a little girl. One in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted. Only 11 percent of girls globally would describe themselves as beautiful. And research has found that more than 80 percent of girls will have dieted by the time they are 10 years old.
So as the mother of a little girl, I sometimes fear for her future. I want her to be an individual who isn’t afraid. I want her to overcome challenges on her own. I want her to embrace her beauty and her intelligence. Most importantly, I want her to be strong and steadfast.
Of course, the dreams I have for my daughter are going to take some work to foster. I try to be a good role model, which is easier said than done at times. If you’re looking to raise a strong girl who will grow up into a strong woman, this list of tips is a good place to start.
1. Nurture individuality
I refuse to raise my daughter to conform. She will always know that she is free to be whoever she is, to love whoever she loves, and to pursue her own dreams. Far too often, I believe we break little girls by telling them they have to fit a mold society has deemed appropriate for them. Not my little girl. I’ll celebrate whoever she turns out to be.
2. Tell them they’re beautiful
I’m the mom who does not want my daughter to ever think that beauty is all she has to offer the world. But I’ve come to realize that there is value in a child hearing they are beautiful from a young age. So my little girl will hear how beautiful she is from me all the time. She’ll also hear that I see beauty in her kindness, her laughter, and her intelligence as much as I do in her sweet face. And she will hear me praising those qualities, and the many others she graces the world with as often as I do her physical beauty.
3. Practice health
I truly believe in the power of encouraging strength and health over scale numbers and clothing sizes. This summer, we are going to run our first 5K together (my daughter will be 4 at the time). We hike, we explore the trails around our home, and we nourish our bodies with healthy foods (and the occasional splurge on ice cream). Because health is strong, no matter what size pants you wear.
4. Teach them about giving
A strong woman is a woman who has perspective, and one who recognizes her ability to help others. As my daughter grows older, we’ll volunteer together. I want her to know how much ability she has to change the world around her.
5. Let them cry
Strength isn’t about holding in emotions or pretending to always be “fine.” My daughter will grow to know that strength is about being true to herself, even when that sometimes means breaking down a little.
6. Encourage passion
The strongest women I’ve ever known are those who are driven by their passions. So I will help my daughter to seek out her own passions (whether through art, music, or Jiu jitsu). I will be her biggest fan as she pursues those passions.
7. Preach compassion
Being strong isn’t about always being right, or about refusing to ever compromise. True strength, to me, comes from recognizing we are all human, and that everyone has a reason for thinking and feeling the way they do. Compassion will always accomplish so much more than righteous indignation.
8. Refuse to rescue
I can’t tell you how many times a day I want to leap in and save my daughter. To do her zipper up for her when she is getting frustrated, to chastise the kid at the playground who refuses to play with her, or to finish the puzzle she’s struggling with. But saving her only teaches her she’s not capable, and I want her to grow up knowing that she is perhaps the most capable person in any room. While I am always there on the sidelines, ready to help if things truly get out hand, for the most part, I let my little girl rescue herself.
9. Create challenges
Of course, building her confidence doesn’t just happen on its own. There is something to be said for constantly forcing kids to level up with new challenges and adventures. So when she’s mastered the climbing wall at the playground, I might just seek out an even bigger one for her to try.
Bottom line: Be the example
Perhaps the hardest step of all is for us to remember that our daughters are always looking to us as their example of what a strong woman should be. Which means facing down our own demons so that we can set a better example for them than we may have had ourselves. For me, that meant tossing out my scale and paying much greater attention to the way I talk about myself and my body.
For you, it might mean demanding your husband stop talking down to you, or refusing to stay at a job that makes you feel worthless. We all have our own battles to face, and there are a million different excuses we come up with throughout our lives to avoid facing them. But if you’re hoping to raise a strong daughter who is capable of facing down and defeating her own challenges, that starts with you learning to do the same.
• Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls
• Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
• Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World
• Just Between Us: Mother and Daughter: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal