In the morning we hug our daughters and watch them get swallowed up by the mass of kids on the schoolyard. I’m sure many of us wonder if we have really prepared them for the “mean girls” and cliques that are also out there.
Parents can foster the growth of strong self-esteem to handle the stress that can happen with trying to fit in and also to stay out of the path of bullying. On the heels of our recent Dove Unstoppable Facebook chat, here are my suggestions for arming your girls with skills to be themselves and stand tall out there on the schoolyard:
Research shows that what children believe about themselves determines their behaviour. These beliefs come from the people who interact with them throughout their childhood — but mostly from their primary caregivers. The growth of positive internal beliefs happen when parents use kind, empathetic, and attuned messages for their child.
When you see your child doing something positive, mention that (without judgment). “Hey, I saw you help your brother without being asked.” … “I see you concentrating on that tough math problem.” … “You got really frustrated and then solved your problem. Look what you can do!”
A question I suggest using often to gauge whether you are growing positive or negative beliefs in your daughters is, “How does she feel about herself as a result of spending time with me?”
It is also important to know what kinds of interaction can inadvertently cause the growth of a negative inner voice. These are: criticism, negative judgment, labeling, name-calling, blaming, shaming, humiliating, de-moralizing, ordering and lecturing.
It is the difference between this (positive) “Oops. I saw your lunch by the backdoor on my way to work. What can you do next time to avoid this problem?” and this (negative) “You forgot your lunch again… you just can’t keep your head on straight! I hope you went hungry all day.”
This positive inner voice will help girls manage when others say things that hurt. The hurt might go in, but a strong positive “mental tape” will help it not sting as much.
Keep comments focused on how your child can solve her own problems rather than making her feel bad for her mistakes. This grows the rational part of the brain! Here is an example, (solving a problem) “It looks like your sister is really mad at you right now. What do you think you both need to say to each other to help fix this?” and (attacking) “Stop it! You’re being rude to your sister. I’m taking your phone away.”
Problem solving also helps people feel less afraid of making a mistake. We can model accepting mistakes by saying things like, “Oh no! I just did that wrong. Hmmm… I guess I’d better fix my mistake.”
This problem-solving growth helps your daughter to look for solutions rather than wallowing in a struggle or challenging time.
Girls can get swayed to following a clique’s decision to give up something they love or spend time and money on things that really are not important to your family. Support your daughter as she learns what makes her feel really good about herself. Remember to not get involved in too many activities, which can make keeping a focus on something hard. Help your daughter discover what she is good at naturally and wants to spend time developing.
This will arm your daughter with the skill to stick to her guns when others try to sway her away from what she loves, or get her to do something she doesn’t want to.
Teaching a child to “use her words” is mostly done when a parent models how to do this successfully. Each time we explain that we don’t like what is happening, and need to talk to someone about that, our children watch and learn. “Using your words,” means inviting people to consider a solution by talking about what isn’t working. It also means not shouting but rather calming down first so we can make good decisions. Show your children how to talk about the tough stuff with lots of empathy and patience for the other person’s point of view.
We also teach our children it is safe to speak up by listening when they talk. When our children believe their parents won’t freak out or punish them when they open up, that child is naturally protected from seeking help from dangerous resources.
The skill of speaking out will really help your daughter stand her ground when others might be trying to push her.
Many girls are driven by the motivation to fit in and not feel different. If our children grow up hearing that different is good — and normal, they may be less concerned about changing who they are to conform to the group. I often say things like, “Oh, I love talking to myself when I walk outside. I’m so weird!”
Perfectionism can really paralyze people. Girls can stop trying when they believe, “Why bother, I’m not good enough.” Good is good enough. Perfectionism is not a healthy goal to strive for — it can make us compulsive or give up. I actually have taken the word “perfect” right out of my vocabulary.
Encourage your daughter to try her best — and that is what counts. Things are not perfect and we can stop when we feel we’ve done a super job. Actually, I love the story submitted by Beth Hodges (one of the Dove Unstoppable Moms for Unstoppable Girls Contest winners). She turned her struggle with not feeling good enough to do sports into inspiration for her own children.
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” –Voltaire
Feeling good about trying something for the fun of it or accomplishing a goal we set out to do really improves self-esteem. This is part of the internal feelings girls can have to make them feel strong when things get rough.
All of the concepts above help to grow your child’s inner strength, but they also help your child grow into a likable person! People who are friendly and strong attract the same in others. Arming your own child with a positive inner core also arms her with strong friends.
If you would like more resources to help young girls and other moms become unstoppable, I invite you to look through this great resource guide that Dove has created.
Six out of ten girls avoid activities because they don't like how they look.
Now you can inspire a girl in your life, even when you're not there so she doesn't quit doing the things she loves. Visit Dove.ca to create a mirror with a personal message that will encourage her to be unstoppable every day.
What will your mirror say?