Raising Daughters with Strong Sense-of-Self
We are blessed with four granddaughters. This means we are also blessed with princess parties, princess movies, princess dress-up clothes, princess castle toys, princess . . . well, you get the idea. They love ballerina tutus and re-enacting princess stories. They take tumbling and dance classes. When they’re old enough, they’ll take piano and maybe singing lessons.
At this time in their lives, they are the rulers of their own kingdoms – no concern about how society views or judges them. Their parents’ jobs are to allow them to be the sweet-spirited princesses they are while teaching them to be tough enough to rule their future kingdoms – regardless of what society tells them to believe about themselves.
Too many little girls lose the ability to be themselves as they become tweens and early teens.
Each year I see girls who have lost the ability to like themselves, believe they can rule their worlds, or be strong enough to face the negative peer pressure of middle school. Somewhere along the line, for whatever reason (libraries are full of books with theories) they turn their self-images over to society.
Some girls maintain their positive self-images while others don’t.
As little girls get older, their world views get bigger. They begin to see their personal kingdoms are not what the world is like. They see things advertised they don’t own, adventures they don’t have, and bodies/hair/makeup they don’t possess. They begin questioning themselves and wondering where they fit in with society. Add to this insecurity the confusion of hormonal changes and you have the perfect middle-school-self-image storm.
There are some girls who weather this storm better than others. They sometimes exhibit moments of insecurity, but for the most part, they maintain a stronger sense of self than their peers, so what’s their story? How do they do it?
I’ve noticed things these stronger girls have in common, and they have nothing to do with expensive clothes and nails . . .
Girls with a strong sense-of-self have learned five things that help them handle the pressures of peers and society:
- They are valued for who they are. When they’re little, we love to tell them how pretty they look or how cute they are. (I know from personal experience they really are . . .) As they begin developing and figuring out their worlds, they need to hear you tell them you love them for who they are: “I love that you are able to keep trying,” “It’s wonderful you care so much for others,” “Your ability to figure things out is amazing.” These kinds of statements show them they are seen for who they really are.
- They know their accomplishments matter. It’s important to recognize their achievements as they learn and grow. “You’re so sweet” and “You’re wonderful” have their place, (I always believed my grandma when she told me that!) but too much vague praise can do the opposite of what is intended – it can create a question of whether or not it’s true. “I know it wasn’t easy, but you did it yourself,” “You practiced and practiced, and now you can do it,” “You mean you can’t do it YET, but remember when you . . ” are statements of recognition of a job well done as well as belief they can accomplish difficult things.
- They have a consistent support system. When girls are little, family is always there. Parents, grandparents, and siblings are their worlds. As they get older, family support is still there, but girls begin to rely more on friends and social interactions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they need to learn to succeed in society, but these other interactions aren’t consistently supportive. Friends come and go and social media creates roller-coaster-like emotions. If girls know they have a supportive family, they generally withstand the drama of everyday life. They might not act like it’s important, but having strong ties to a family identity helps them maintain their own identity.
- They have talents and interests outside of school. Some girls participate in extracurricular activities that create a school identity, but there are many more who aren’t in a sport, dance, or cheer team. These girls write blogs, learn a language, draw, create arts and crafts, play music, do gymnastics, get involved in politics or do community service – the list is as varied as the girls. When girls are given opportunities to find interests and talents outside of school, they go to school with a stronger sense of who they are, and they like themselves in spite of what goes on at school.
- They know middle school is just a moment in their lives. They might not express this thought exactly, but they generally have an attitude that allows them to see a bigger picture for themselves. They are taught it’s good to have dreams and goals. People in their lives listen to their ideas, goals, and dreams and encourage them to “think big.” They have plans and can see a world where they accomplish great things, so they are strong when faced with an often messy, middle-school existence.
Even as tweens and teens, girls can still be the rulers of their kingdoms.
Being a princess doesn’t just mean princess parties and tutus – a princess has to be ready to rule a kingdom. If parents, grandparents, and teachers remember the things that nurture girls with a strong sense of self, princesses will be able to rule their kingdoms with wisdom and confidence.
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