You’re dreaming about girl names, shopping for girl clothes – congratulations! You’re the proud parents-to-be of a girl! As a #girlmom for over a decade now, I’ve learned a lot about how to raise strong daughters who are ready for anything life has to throw at them. Here are some of the techniques we’ve used to raise our daughters to be capable, independent, confident, and strong girls:
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17 Tried-and-True Tips for Raising a Strong Daughter:
1. Raising strong girls starts at birth
Yes, girl babies are adorable – but so are boy babies!
Especially if you’re already a #boymom, think long and hard about how you treat your daughter, and if you’re treating her differently than you would your son(s).Think long and hard about how you treat your daughter, and if you're treating her differently than you would your son.Click To Tweet
Do you tell your sons they’re strong, while trying to shelter your daughter? Do you act as if your sons are invincible, but your girls are delicate and breakable?
This type of stereotyping is pervasive in our culture, and will be hard to undo later on. Think carefully before you decide to teach your daughter to be fragile and delicate JUST BECAUSE she’s a girl.
2. Give her all the toys
No, I don’t mean you should buy out the toy store!
What I mean is that girls can have as much fun with trucks as with dolls, and with puzzles and math toys as with dress-up.Girls can have as much fun with trucks as with dolls, and with puzzles and math toys as with dress-up.Click To Tweet
When I was little, my baby bro Evan got all the trucks (and I got all the dolls) from relatives whose mindsets were more “traditional.” But, with our parents’ encouragement, we both played with all of them, together.
When my girls were little, they didn’t have much interest in dolls – but Heaven forbid I try to tell them how to park their extensive collection of trucks! Or pack any of them away, even when they no longer played with them!
3. Dirt is good
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with girls getting dirty, climbing trees, and playing in the mud. I did it all the time as a child, right alongside my brother. Sometimes we were helping our dad in his garden; sometimes we were just digging holes in the backyard for fun.
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Don’t have any “play clothes” for your daughter? Then by all means, get her some! Overalls/coveralls are always a good choice, as are denim skorts and darker-colored fabrics; these can be easier to wash the mud out of. And don’t forget to treat her outdoor play clothes for mosquito and tick protection.
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4. Encourage her to take risks…
Your daughter is obsessed with climbing things? By all means, let her! Let her climb the same tree as her brothers. Take her to climbing walls; see if there’s a local rock-climbing group she can join.
Or she wants to walk the balance beam at the playground? Or explore a cave, or try roller skating or skiing? Before you say no, ask yourself if she wants to do something you’d let her brothers do.
While it’s important to discourage unhealthy risky behaviors (smoking, drinking, doing drugs, etc.) for ALL our children, there’s no reason to shelter our daughters from “risks” we would let our sons take.
5. …and to fail
Trying things that are hard, and just beyond our reach, is one of the best ways to grow. So is testing our limits – even if we come up short.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned far more about myself from the times I failed in life than the times I succeeded on the first try.
It can be hard for kids to struggle with new things. It can be doubly hard, as parents, to watch them struggle. Don’t swoop in to rescue them!
Just like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, or a chick hatching out of its egg, the struggle and failures we experience in life make us stronger for the next time, and impart important life lessons that easy wins never can.
6. Teach her healthy eating from birth
One of the biggest challenges in raising girls is helping them develop a healthy body image, while avoiding the unhealthy eating habits that have led to a surge in childhood obesity. Like other things, there’s no time that is too “early” to start.
Remember that it can take children a dozen or more tries of a new food to learn to like it. Focus on food that is healthy, fresh, and minimally processed as much as you can. Start each meal with veggies or fruit. We’ve found that when our kids are at their hungriest, they WILL eat these before those carbs or proteins. Focus on starting every meal with that bowl of salad or fruit, then serve the rest of the meal.
If kids learn to eat a variety of healthy foods and balanced meals from birth, they’ll be much better positioned to avoid unhealthy habits, like developing an unhealthy body image, when they’re older.
Likewise, if your child eats healthily and stays active, don’t focus on her weight/girth, or teach her to do so. Once a child develops an unhealthy body image or learns to think of herself as “fat,” it can literally take a lifetime to undo that negative self-image! Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you’re worried about her weight – not your child – and emphasize making healthy food choices, not “dieting” or “losing weight.”
7. Teach her to be active
It can be hard to raise active kids with the ever-present temptations of screens and devices. That’s why staying active is another habit that starts young.
Encourage your girls to play in the fresh air. Introduce your daughter to lifelong healthy activities, like walking, hiking, jogging, or swimming – especially if they’re things you enjoy, and will do with her. As soon as they can walk, get them out of the stroller and walking alongside you. Your own exercise routine may take a hit for awhile, but you’ll be building healthy habits for them that will last a lifetime.
And let them try whatever sports tickle their fancy, even if it’s not your first idea of an “appropriate” sport for girls. Of all the sports and activities they’ve tried, nothing has captured Essie and Kimmie’s imagination quite like karate. I never dreamed I’d have black belts for daughters, but that’s the goal they’ve both set their minds on – that’s how much they love it!
Finally, limit screen time as much as possible, for as long as possible. Playing games or watching videos on devices can be addicting for young brains. Don’t hand your kids your smartphone or tablet to “keep them busy” in the store.
Our eldest never watched a movie or TV program until well after her second birthday. Now that they’re older, it’s a lot easier to keep the girls from spending every spare minute on their school-issued devices, because they’ve learned a lot of other ways to amuse themselves.
8. Let her try all the things
Besides encouraging your daughters to play outside in fresh air, give her lots of opportunities to try new things. Don’t force her into activities, or let her try too many at once. But make sure she has the chance to pursue a range of options, and follow her heart.
Also consider enrolling your daughter in programs that will expose her to lots of different activities. Summer camps can be great for this, especially a sports sampler summer camp, or camps through organizations such as Scouting.
She doesn’t have to like every sport she tries, or every club she joins. As a child, I spent one season each in ballet, Little League, and a youth basketball league, and that was more than enough for me. But once I tried soccer in 4th grade, I stuck with it through high school.
The same was true of any number of other clubs and activities I tried growing up. My parents respected my decisions to not continue with the ones that weren’t for me. But the ones I liked, I stuck with for as long as I could.
9. Spark her curiosity and stoke her brain
Read to your daughter, early and often. Ask her questions about what you’re reading together, even before she’s old enough to answer. “What do you think will happen next?” is a great way to get her brain moving. Once she can read on her own, offer her a wide range of books to read, especially those with strong heroines in a variety of fields.
Take her to libraries, children’s museums, and science museums. See if they have special programs for hands-on exploration, like MakerSpace workshops, or special events or clubs geared toward girls.
Our local science museum offers a range of badge workshops for Girl Scouts as well as Boy Scouts, and also has a Girls’ Code Club that meets monthly throughout the school year. A few years ago, Kimmie did Girls Code Club for the first time. It was a challenge and a struggle for her (see #4-5 above), but she persevered and learned a lot. And now that Essie is old enough to enroll, they can’t wait to do it together this school year.
Too many girls have been discouraged from developing their skills in math, science, and other fields traditionally dominated by men. Like discouraging remarks about weight, it can be extremely difficult to dislodge negative perceptions about STEM fields once someone has planted the seed. Encourage your daughter to think “I can,” and give her every opportunity to prove to herself that this is true.
10. Find positive activities and influences
#7-9 above are all great opportunities for girls to develop a “can-do” spirit, and envision their own futures without horizons and limits.
Programs like 4H and Scouting are other great opportunities for girls to learn about a wide range of opportunities and fields, as well as gain exposure to a wide variety of women doing interesting things with their lives.
When you’re considering opportunities for your daughter, look for those that will teach life lessons and central values beyond the actual skill being taught. I had no idea what to think when seven-year-old Essie announced she wanted to start karate lessons. But the positive values and critical life skills she’s learned from her karate master are priceless, just like the ones both my girls have learned through Scouting.
My girls have tried rock climbing, roller skating, and archery through Scouting. They’ve learned about chemistry and physics, problem-solving, and robotics and coding. And they’ve especially learned about money management, budgeting, and marketing through annual cookie sales. Essie actually founded her first “business” when she was 6 – selling handmade bookmarks to neighbors and relatives – because of the marketing and entrepreneurial skills she learned via cookie sales!
11. Be (and surround her with) strong role models
Having strong female role models in their lives is so important for raising strong girls. So make sure you seek out those role models whenever and wherever possible.
I did not choose my daughters’ pediatric practice, or the church where we worship, because of the strong female role models available in each of those places. Nor is that why I chose the friends who became their their godmothers (a tenured college professor and an ordained clergywoman). But the fact that the doctors at their pediatrician’s office are mostly female, as is our senior pastor, is definitely a positive benefit.
This is especially important for families of color. Do your best to surround your daughter with positive role models in a variety of fields who look like her, and she will reap the benefits for a lifetime. It can be hard to envision certain futures for ourselves if we don’t ever see people who look like us – whether other females, or people of nonwhite racial and ethnic backgrounds. Do whatever you can to expose your daughter to examples that will help her to dream big as she imagines her future.
12. Be wary of princess culture
Popular culture has come a long way since I was a child in promoting positive role models for young girls. But this doesn’t mean you should encourage your daughters to embrace media examples wholeheartedly and uncritically.
The rise of “princess culture” is a double-edged sword. More recent “princesses” in movies and TV shows have been smart, capable, and empowered young women; their predecessors, not so much.
Moreover, we can teach our girls that they are special without setting them apart, on a pedestal, as the world of princesses can sometimes do. At its worst, children who think of themselves as “special” and “set apart” in this way can all too quickly slide into a sense of entitlement.
I’ll never forget the day one of my first-grade daughters came home from school, telling us that she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to because she was the queen (not even a princess!). There’s a lot to be said for empowering girls and building their self-confidence. But teaching them that they’re “special” to the point that they’re set apart from (and thus better than) everyone else is not the best way to do this.
13. Focus on abilities, not appearances
It’s much better to build girls’ self-confidence through what they can do, versus how they look or who they are. Teachers call this developing a “growth mindset.”
Telling your daughter all the time that she is pretty can lead her to think that her appearances are what’s most important about her. Likewise, telling her that she is smart can shatter her confidence the first time she tries to do something academically challenging.
A better approach is to give specific compliments that focus on skills and abilities – even if they’re not ones your daughter has yet mastered. “I’m proud of how hard you worked on that project” is better than “You’re so smart – you got an A!”
Likewise, I’m not saying you can never tell your daughter that she’s pretty. But focus primarily on things like “You did a great job picking out that outfit” or “I like how you did your hair today.” These statements focus more on things she accomplished than on what she may perceive as fixed, innate qualities about who she is.
14. Encourage self-expression
Along these lines, encourage your daughter to express her own unique style, whatever that may be. Many of us choose to express ourselves through our clothing; and there’s no reason you can’t help your daughter to do this through her outfits.
Finding girl clothes that are both kid- and parent-approved can sometimes be challenging. That’s why I prefer companies like the French brand Vertbaudet, which I recently discovered. Their mission is to create clothing solutions that work for families – stylish enough that kids will want to wear them (even your discerning tweens and teens!), but still sturdy and appropriate enough to be parent-approved.
And with positive, uplifting messages focusing on things like friendship, laughter, and girl power, their lines are on trend enough that my discerning daughters would gladly buy All The Things – yet priced right, so families can actually afford them!
15. Foster skills for independence
Starting when they’re toddlers, look for opportunities to teach your girls the skills they’ll need to take care of themselves someday. This includes not just “traditional” “female” tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sewing, but also how to budget, manage a checkbook, fix broken things, and use tools like hammers and electric screwdrivers.
My husband is pretty handy around the house; he’s fixed our appliances more than once, and regularly installs new light fixtures and plumbing fixtures. Now that the girls are old enough to hand him things, he’s started to involve them in these repairs. Essie was an infant when Dear Husband first swapped out her bedroom ceiling light fixture for one that included a ceiling fan. This past summer, eight-year-old Essie proudly helped him replace the broken capacitor in said ceiling fan.
Likewise, Essie resumed school two weeks before Kimmie this past fall. I used the time alone with Kimmie to teach her such things as how to hang shelving in our basement. She now know the difference between Phillips head and flathead screwdrivers, the difference between #6, #8, and #10 screws, how to locate wall studs, why it’s important to use studs for hanging when possible, and how to use anchors when studs aren’t conveniently located.
16. Listen to her
One of the best ways we can show our kids our love, and build their sense of self – especially for our girls – is to listen to them. Really listen.
I know I’m guilty of falling short on this sometimes. When it’s late and I’m tired, it can be hard to listen to one of the girls babble on endlessly at bedtime about the little dramas of her day.
But it’s times like this that it is most important to listen. Listening to what your kids say, and validating their hopes and fears and dreams (rather than dismissing them or shutting them down) will teach your daughter that what she has to say is important.
This is a critical first step to raising a girl who’s not afraid to speak up in the classroom, or advocate for someone being bullied (including herself!), or to stand up when she sees something unjust in the world.
People who aren’t afraid to speak up against injustice are often the ones who change our world for the better.
17. The sky is the limit
Finally, encourage your daughter to dream big, and not to let obstacles stand in her way. Instead of telling he she can’t do something, encourage her to think through what steps she’ll need to take to accomplish her goals.
No, not all of our sons OR daughters will grow up to be pro basketball players. But where would the WNBA be if not for girls who started dreaming of becoming pro basketball players before there was a professional league where they could play? (See #16 above.)
There’s that old saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.” So she wants to be an astronaut, a doctor, or a lawyer? Help her think backwards through the steps between achieving that dream and where she is now. What skills and credentials will she need? How does one acquire that training? What’s needed to get into those programs, in terms of previous school experience or grades?
Knowing that a solid background in STEM courses is necessary to become an astronaut may well be the motivation she needs the next time she doesn’t want to do her math homework – whether because it’s too hard, or because it’s too easy (!).
Fellow #girlmoms, what advice do you have for raising strong girls? Let us know in the comments!
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