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How to raise confident, happy, and empowered young...

How to raise confident, happy, and empowered young girls 

Raising Girls

Raising happy, confident, and empowered girls starts from a young age. From language choices, to addressing stereotypes, and encouraging assertiveness, parents play a pivotal role in the crucial early years. We asked the experts for their advice on how to foster a positive environment for young girls.

Language choices in the crucial early years

We often talk to girls differently than we do to boys. So it’s really important for parents to be mindful of their language. Watch out for subtle differences in expectations, encouragement, and praise. Strive for gender-neutral language to ensure equal opportunities for both girls and boys.

Kim McCabe is the founder director of Rites for Girls CIC which, since 2011, has offered year-long Girls Journeying Together groups and online Girls’ Net groups, support for mothers, and training for women wanting to support girls. She is also the author of ‘From Daughter to Woman, parenting girls safely through their teens’ and a series of online parenting courses.

McCabe offers the following advice for girl parents: “What you say to your child becomes her internal voice – so what do you want your girl to be saying to herself? It will depend on the girl, of course, but “I can do it”, “It’s okay to mess up”, “I’m bright”, “I’m strong”, “I mind” might be some of the things…”

Body acceptance and a positive mindset starts early

Mums, in particular, have an important role when it comes to modelling body acceptance. Encourage a healthy relationship by focusing on overall well-being rather than appearance. Emphasise the importance of diverse body types and teach girls to appreciate their uniqueness.

McCabe says that body acceptance starts at birth: “Love them just exactly as they are right from the start; and for the rest of their lives.”

She continues: “If you want to model body acceptance, then practise accepting yourself just exactly as you are too. Look at yourself with kind eyes. Never say anything negative about your body (even if you think it). And enjoy taking care of your body – you know how! – by eating well, drinking water, relaxing, exercise, fresh air, getting enough sleep, and doing things you love; all that stuff.”

Encouraging assertiveness from a young age

Girl parents can foster assertiveness by encouraging their daughters to express their opinions and needs. Teach them to stand up for themselves while also respecting others. Provide opportunities for them to make decisions and solve problems independently, building their confidence and assertiveness.

Preparing for sexism from a young age

Addressing sexism begins early. Parents can prepare their daughters by discussing the concept of gender equality and the potential challenges they might face. Equip them with the tools to navigate sexism, promoting resilience and a strong sense of self.

McCabe says: “Catch yourself being sexist and stop it! – and I mean even in your head. Then stand up for equality between the sexes, so they learn from you what’s right.”

Challenging assumptions and stereotypes

It’s important to challenge common assumptions and stereotypes about girls. Encourage interests and hobbies without conforming to gender norms. Avoid reinforcing limiting beliefs and provide a diverse range of role models to inspire girls to pursue their passions.

Positive experiences in nursery and extracurricular activities

When it comes to choosing a nursery and extra curricular activities, it’s important to make sure they promote a positive experience for girls. Look for environments that encourage inclusivity, respect diversity, and foster a sense of belonging. Regular communication with teachers and caregivers can help address any concerns and ensure a supportive atmosphere.

McCabe says: “Does she want to go? Does she come away happy? Our children’s behaviour is how they communicate with us. She’ll let you know what feels good and right for her.”

Dad’s role in nurturing self-confidence

A dad’s role is crucial in nurturing self-confidence. Positive father-daughter relationships can contribute significantly to a girl’s emotional well-being, fostering a sense of security and self-worth. Encourage shared activities and open communication to strengthen this bond.

In her book, ‘From Daughter to Woman’ Kim McCabe writes: “Dads can show their daughters how to love, play, feel safe with a man, disagree, be in the world, debate, think, follow the rules, bend the rules, completely flout the rules, have fun and be loved. Dads show their daughters how a man expresses his feelings and how a man doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She continues: “How a father treats his daughter will shape how she expects to be treated by men. How her father treats her mother will shape how she expects to be treated by men.”

Limiting exposure to Disney and Barbie

The worlds of Disney princesses and Barbie are filled with unrealistic body images, but the important thing is to strike a balance. Introduce a variety of role models from diverse backgrounds, including scientists, artists, and leaders, to broaden girls’ perspectives and aspirations.

McCabe says: “If you ban something it becomes even more appealing, so I’d focus on putting the good stuff in. Watch films that reinforce the messages you want your daughter to hear – like Moana and Brave – and find dolls with realistic body shapes.”

Finding inspirational role models

Parents can inspire their daughters by introducing them to a diverse range of role models. Showcase women who have excelled in various fields, breaking stereotypes and challenging norms. Encourage discussions about achievements, perseverance, and the importance of pursuing one’s passions.

McCabe suggests taking a look at your own life and questioning if it looks appealing. Are you a good advert for womanhood? 

She says: “Children learn by copying so fill your daughter’s life with good women, so she can see different ways to be. Make time for female friends, family members, and celebrities who inspire in the ways you want her to be inspired.”

Creating a safe and nurturing environment at home

Establishing a safe and nurturing home environment is key. Foster open communication, provide emotional support, and create a space where girls feel valued and heard. Encourage a sense of autonomy and independence while emphasising the importance of empathy and kindness.

Being kind to yourself is important too. McCabe says: “Look after yourself. Nurture yourself. Then you’ll be able to do that well for your children.”