How to raise gutsy girls
Do you have a daughter? Do you love her and want only the best for her? Do you think she’s a capable person that can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to?
We all want our daughters to become the best person they can be, regardless of what they decide to pursue. The dilemma is that they’re running uphill to get to where they want to, simply because they’re girls.
What’s the first question that people ask about your newborn? Is it a boy or is it a girl? Once you answer that question, your child will be treated as a boy or as a girl. And that’s not the same thing.
My two oldest are boys. The third and last one is a girl. When she was born, people around us commented that it was good for me (the mother) that I finally got a girl. Some people explained that they understood why we had decided to have a third child; so that I could have a girl. They really assumed that if we had already had a boy and girl, we would never have decided on a third child. They expressed that I needed someone to do girl stuff with. What’s up with that? What’s girl stuff?
No matter how much we tell ourselves that we treat our daughters the same way as our sons, we don’t. It’s really difficult to do so. And even if you do a pretty good job at it at home, there are other parts of their world that you cannot control. School, activities, friends and their families.
But, wait, do we really need to treat boys and girls exactly the same way? No, we don’t. The problem is that by treating them differently, we’re not giving them the same opportunities. And, unfortunately, this usually means that girls miss out. That they’re not given the same chance to reach their full potential. That we hold them back.
The good news is that if you’re aware of this, you can try to work around it. You can try to treat your daughter in a way that empowers her. Help her become the best she can be. She deserves nothing less.
How do you caution your child?
Girls are cautioned more often than boys. That’s just the way it is. But that doesn’t mean you cannot do anything about it. Perhaps, try keeping quiet half of the time you want to caution your daughter.
Say yes more often. When she asks if she can climb that tree, say yes. Let her discover things on her own. Usually, we say no out of fear that they’re going to hurt themselves. But, girls are physically stronger than boys when they’re young. It’s not until puberty that it becomes the other way around. Maybe, we should be cautioning our sons more?
“It must get very noisy and unruly in your classroom with so many boys.”
Comment from an adult to my daughter when understanding that she’s in a school grade with mostly boys.
What clothes do you buy?
Why do we dress our daughters up in non-functional clothes that restrict their range of motion? Why do we buy pink clothes with glitter and lace, and a text that says “Sweetheart”?
The same way we adults convey a message with what we wear, kids do as well. When arriving at kindergarten, the little girl with the cute kittens on her pink sweater gets praised for being so adorable. While the little boy with the cool Star Wars t-shirt is seen as strong and brave.
Don’t fall into this trap, at least not too deep. By all means, buy skirts and dresses for your daughter, but at least make sure they’re functional clothes. That the clothes don’t get in the way when she wants to kick a ball or ride a bike. Otherwise, you have restricted her access already instead of helping her reach her full potential.
What toys do you buy?
Some parents say “My daughter really does prefer to play with dolls compared to cars.” And maybe she does. The question is why she does so. Everywhere we turn, girls are imprinted to like dolls and little ponies. The toy stores nowadays are completely gender separated. The girl toys are in the aisles with pink and purple. The boy toys are in the darker aisles in mostly black and gray.
Try to be versatile when it comes to toys. Boys tend to get a lot of toys that require construction or experimenting. Try to give that to your daughter as well. If she doesn’t seem interested, do it together with her. All kids like to hang out with their parents. Engage yourself in the activity.
“I guess you don’t play with Lego since you’re a girl.”
Comment to my daughter from a staff at her school.
How do you praise your child?
How do you praise your daughter when she’s accomplished something? Do you tell her what a good girl she is? Don’t. Try to use a different phrasing.
Compliment her on the thing that she actually accomplished. If she painted a picture, ask her about the painting. Ask her why she painted a horse. Ask her about the choice of colors. Don’t just say that it’s pretty. Elaborate more.
Try not to comment too much on her looks. If your daughter made a braid all on her own; applaud her for having such strong arms that she can braid her own hair. Of course, she also needs to hear how beautiful and special you think she is, but we need to move away from praising our daughters for their physical attributes and admire them more for their brains and thinking.
How about activities?
It’s important for all children to have some kind of physical activity. Instead of just the traditional singing, dancing and crafting extracurricular activities that girls are exposed to, encourage your daughter to try something different. Something that girls don’t typically do. Mountain biking, alpine skiing, ice hockey, archery or anything else that she wants to try. Let her try a lot of things!
When it comes to computers, encourage your daughter to not only be a consumer. Help her understand how a computer works and expose her to programming. If you don’t know how to, there’s a lot of useful information on the internet.
For instance, at code.org you can find a great introduction to coding in a playful way. You can learn how to code with the characters from the movie Frost or likewise. In the instruction videos that they have on their site, boys and girls alike are portrayed learning how to code. Among the adult programmers that talk about their jobs, there’s a lot of cool young women portrayed.
“I think it’s good for my son the be the only boy in the grade. He’s a bit of a wild one, but the girls will calm him down.”
Comment from a father when understanding that his son will be in a school grade with all girls.
How about role models?
In children’s books, there’s a sorry lack of gutsy girls. Unfortunately, a great majority of them portray boys as the main character. Go out of your way to find books where the hero is a girl. Maybe she’s also a princess, but as long as she’s the one rescuing the prince, that’s fine.
With the internet, there is a ton of information flooding your daughter’s computer. Try to introduce her to some interesting, creative young women on Youtube. That way, maybe you can steer her away from the ones that only talk about looks and instead show her the ones that use their brains. Perhaps someone who invents things or does gutsy stunts.
How about chores?
In most homes, there’s a division of chores. That’s ok. We might prefer to do different tasks. But we need to discuss why that is. Do we have different skill sets because we were taught that way? Or is it because we have diverging interests? If so, why do we have different interests?
Perhaps it shouldn’t always be the man that changes the tires? After all, it’s quite practical for everyone to know how to change a tire if you one day happen to get a flat one.
Show your daughter that all chores are equally important for a household to function. Doing the laundry or fixing the garden shed are both things that need to be done. But perhaps also do a little experimenting on your own? Maybe your partner can do something that you normally do and vice versa? Show your daughter that you’re trying new things.
Teach your daughter how to use tools. Let her help out with small projects around the house. Make sure you ask your daughter as often as you ask your son. The other way around for household chores like emptying the dishwasher. Make sure you’re asking your son to help out as often as you ask your daughter. Don’t expect your daughter to clean her room by herself, while you clean her brother’s room.
How about your own actions?
We all know that children don’t do as their told. If you say one thing and then act another way, you’ll be in trouble. You have to set a good example by treating your partner with respect. Never make comments to put them down. Also, you need to respect yourself. Your actions have to align with your words. Otherwise, your daughter will pick up on that.
As a parent try to step out of your comfort zone. Not only will you help your daughter tremendously, but you’ll also challenge yourself. For a father, perhaps dressing up as a princess along with your daughter on Halloween. For a mother, maybe playing in the yearly children-parent soccer game.
Every day, your daughter will be confronted with comments about what she should do and not do simply because she happened to be born a girl.
Adults constantly make assumptions about how girls should be. I do too, but I’m trying not to. I’m trying to become aware of the things that I say and do since I know my daughter is watching me all the time.
Whenever you hear a silly comment like “Girls can’t play with Lego” from a child or an adult, talk to them about it. There’s no need to get agitated, but simply let them know that you’re of a different opinion. Don’t just let it pass by unremarked. If not for you, do it for your daughter.
We have to stop putting labels on what’s typical for girls and boys. Because when we do, we’re limiting our daughters to reach their full potential. Instead, we have to empower our girls to help them become whatever they want to be.
A first step is to acknowledge that we do treat our girls and boys differently. And then to take action against doing so. It’s difficult, but not impossible.
Are you ready to make some change?