If you have a daughter nearing the tween and teen years, you’ve probably noticed some potentially worrisome changes. She’s lamenting how fat she is or starting to talk about diets. She filters her self-image through a more critical eye, especially when she’s comparing herself to her peers. She’s starting to worry more about things like schoolwork and doubting her abilities in areas where she was once strong and confident. Social media likes—or the lack of them—are now a tremendous source of angst. You may be left wondering what happened to the little girl you knew.
Girls at this age can be faced with unbelievable pressures: to excel, to please, to look and act a certain way, to present an enviable and seemingly unattainable image to the world on social media. With the increased focus on women’s issues in our country today, it’s more important than ever to make sure your daughter has the tools and encouragement she needs to develop the strength and self-confidence that will carry her through the turbulent times. Hayley Quinn, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Swedish Pediatrics - West Seattle offers these six suggestions for instilling your daughter with girl power.
1.Moms: Be the woman you want your daughter to be
Your daughter will look to you as a role model for how to act, so you need to be conscious of what beliefs and behaviors you are modeling to your child. “As a mom, you want to be careful about saying things like, ‘I don’t want to wear a swimsuit because I have stretch marks,’” Dr. Quinn says. “We need to watch how we as adult women talk about our bodies, our health and our relationships with other people. We need to be mindful about how we transmit these types of cultural norms about how we should look and how we should act to younger girls who are still forming their beliefs and understanding about the world and how it works.”
Not only should you be aware of how you talk about yourself, you should also take care to not speak badly about the appearance and behavior of other women. “Especially in the tween age group, this type of what we call relational aggression starts to really come out of the woodwork,” Dr. Quinn says. “That can include leaving other girls out, spreading rumors or other things relating to power dynamics.”
Finally, consider the areas where you put your focus. Do you devote time and attention to following the latest celeb marriages and divorces, or to news about women running for political office? “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fashion magazines, for example, but make a concerted effort to highlight some other roles that women are in besides those types of roles,” Dr. Quinn says. “Girls might think it’s great to be a scientist or involved in sports, but the way to really get power in society is to be a Kardashian, so you want to balance out that message. You don’t have to completely take away the fun of following celebrities but take that balanced approach.”
2. Let her take on new challenges - and not worry about failing
Dr. Quinn says it’s important to help girls develop a resilient spirit by learning how to approach challenges and learning to overcome them. “There are things in life that are out of our control or we can’t change, such as not making the volleyball team. Help them develop skills to navigate those situations instead of avoiding them. That will build resilience.”
As a parent, you can help stave off that avoidance. If your daughter has mentioned an interest in playing volleyball but fears she won’t make the team, tell her it’s OK to go for it—if she doesn’t make it, you both can deal with that if the time comes. Provide her with the encouragement to go out there and try her best.
You can also make it a family norm that your daughter tries a new experience every year of her choosing, such as volunteering. “By doing that, you are giving her experiences and opportunities,” Dr. Quinn says. “Over five years, she may say that you made her try five different things, and three of them she didn’t like, but with the other two she made new friends and became more interested in new subjects such as art. She is able to then draw on those experiences and gain confidence because she put herself out there.”
3. Give her some chores
It’s empowering for girls when they learn how to do things on their own, so make sure they have opportunities to build self-efficacy, Dr. Quinn says. “Start early with basic things, such as teaching them how to sort the recycling, mow the lawn or wash the family car. As kids get older, they can continue to learn ways to help themselves instead of having someone do it for them, whether it’s making a meal or doing their own personal care.”
This can also be a way to explore common notions about what girls can and cannot do—and ways to break the misperceptions. For instance, Dr. Quinn says, if a girl gets her driver’s license, she can learn how to change a tire or check the oil. “Kids that can do things for themselves tend to be more resilient in general,” she says.
4 Give her a sense of discovery
Your daughter can build her world view with exposure to different ways of life and experiences. “Get her outside of her day-to-day life,” Dr. Quinn says. “It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, like a big family vacation to another country. It could be something as simple as going on a camping trip in the woods, a day trip to a new area or volunteering somewhere that gives them a new outlook on how other people live.”
You can turn this into a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your child. “Explore a place together. Buy a guidebook to western Washington or go to a museum. Seeing things from a different perspective can be great,” says Dr. Quinn, adding that if you have to prod your daughter into taking part, give her some ownership in the process. “Empower your daughter and let her take the reins. Say, ‘We’re going to go away for the weekend. Here’s a guidebook, why don’t you look for something interesting?’ If you want your daughter to do charitable work, ask her about the causes she’s interested and see if she can come up with ways she wants to help in the community.”
5. Teach her the value of loyalty
Friendships are so crucial at this age but if your daughter is surrounded by mean girls, that can be damaging to her sense of self-worth and skew her ideas on what a good relationship is. how other people live.”
“You should emphasize the importance and value of relationships,” Dr. Quinn says. “As tricky as that can be with young girls and some of the challenges they face, it’s so important to your daughter to identify the relationships that make her feel confident and empowered, whether that’s friends who build them up and make them feel proud of themselves or finding the adults who play that role in their lives such as a coach or a family friend. Find a cheerleading squad that can surround your child and support them.
“Highlight those positive relationships and help your child see which ones are moving them away from what’s important in their life. That happens a lot with the patients I see — they are in these friend groups and it feels good to be in that group because there’s a sense of belonging or it’s a popular group but the group doesn’t make them feel good about themselves. The desire to be accepted can be so overwhelming that the group just seems like a better option, even though it isn’t. What I usually say to those patients is that I’m not trying to make them ditch their friends, but to identify the relationships that are really positive and give more time to those. Oftentimes, those positive relationships get stronger and the negative ones fade out.”
6. Encourage father-daughter time
Dads can play an important role in the lives of their daughters, and it’s different from the mother-daughter relationship. Fathers can help bolster a daughter’s self-esteem through honest, open communication.
“The first thing a dad should do is acknowledge that women, including their daughter, have barriers they may face that are different that the ones they experienced,” Dr. Quinn says. “They shouldn’t compare them to boys and say that one’s worse or easier.”
Acknowledging those differences can help dads keep an open mind, without judgement. “Sometimes dads can get overwhelmed with some of the girl-drama stuff. They may say, ‘Why are you friends with them,’ but that can diminish the girl’s experience because to her it’s not that simple,” Dr. Quinn says.
She adds that it helps when dads are vulnerable in conversation. “They can talk about their feelings and times when they have wanted to be accepted or felt fearful about failing at something. These honest conversations are important for girls to have with both moms and dads. Hearing those kinds of things from their dads can be empowering and validating for girls.”
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.">