Raising brave girls

There is something about raising girls that induces equal parts fear and worry into the minds of even
the most relaxed parent. So it is perhaps not too surprising that much of the popular parenting discourse seems to be focused on how to keep young women safe in a world that is all too often unkind, or dangerous, for our daughters.

But the best gift we can give our girls in this fast-evolving and increasingly uncertain environment isn’t protection, but rather confidence and courage.

This is not the kind of confidence that comes from knowing how to conform to beauty ideals – so often girls and women are sold the message that if they just had flawless skin or were a smaller dress size, they’d suddenly be sure of their own worth.

Nor is it the type of courage that it may take to post a make-up-free selfie on social media.

Rather, just like the bronze Fearless Girl statue facing off against the charging bull on Wall Street, we need to raise young women who can stand their ground and hold their heads up high when needed. And we need to teach them how to use their voices – not just for themselves, but for others – and how to demand a seat at the table.

1. Increase her confidence by enhancing her competence
Real self-esteem is about appreciating your skills and abilities, learning how to upskill, and respecting the gifts others have (in order to value yourself, you must first value the person next to you). It is about competence and connectedness. Provide opportunities for your daughter to grow alongside her peers, whether it be through working her way up through the belt colours in taekwondo, or earning badges in Girl Guides. Perhaps she may prefer to join a like-minded group of activists working towards social change. Apart from fostering a sense of personal agency and contributing to a cause she’s passionate about, learning how to be an effective activist will boost a whole range of vital and transferable skills, including communication, event coordination, networking and problem-solving.

2 Support her to flex her assertiveness muscle
In an effort to avoid raising a “mean girl”, we sometimes fall into the trap of telling our daughters they should be friends with people they say they really don’t like (often without even asking why they feel uncomfortable with that person), that they should hug relatives they instinctively pull away from, and do as they’re told. Instead, teach her how to know her own heart and mind, and to express herself by finding that sweet spot between passive and aggressive. Equip her to know how to set boundaries, too. How often do even the most empowered of us still avoid tricky conversations? It can be difficult to set boundaries; those of us who are hardwired for connection may be burdened afterwards with guilt. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that all that biting of tongues isn’t working – it merely paves a pathway to resentment. Show her how to express her limits by being brief (long-winded conversations only open up points for disagreement) and share techniques for staying calm and in control under pressure.

3. Expand her sisterhood circle
Girls can’t be what they can’t see. From politicians (she’s bound to want to jump to her feet and cheer at Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech) to sports stars (AFL player Tayla Harris kicked out at her trolls), there are women who young girls can look up to. And sometimes our outspoken female role models may be closer to home. Mums, grandmothers, aunties and literal big sisters – don’t
just seek out role models for her, be one. Your voice matters, too.

This post was originally published in Body+Soul magazine nationally