Strong girls are all around us. They're tough without losing their gentleness; they turn adversity into a source of resilience. They may be loud or quiet; introverts or extroverts; there's certainly no one-size-fits-all. However, we can be sure of this: they trust themselves. They know themselves. They're confident in who they are.
What can we do to raise strong girls? Or encourage the girls in our lives if we don't have daughters, ourselves?
To the extent that we can empower them now, the more opportunities they'll have to grow confidently into the women they were designed to be. Some girls will grow to become world leaders; other women may be leaders within their own quiet homes. Strong girls come in many forms.
In short, we can teach girls the skills, give them the opportunities, and support them with the community they need to thrive.
We can (and should) also trust that we can't "make" them strong (nor should we try). It's important that we trust a girl to express her natural temperament. (The same is true for boys.) The more confident she is that we accept her exactly as she is today, the more she'll thrive.
How can we support strong girls when they're young? We can actively get involved in their lives in the following ways.
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One way gender roles materialize when girls are young is through play. For example, when you play "pretend," make the toys who have traditionally male jobs, female.
What that looks like: "Let's take this teddy bear to the doctor to see if she can solve the problem..." or "Hmmm. Let's ask the pilot if she can fly us to the moon" or "This is a BIG problem! Call the President to see what she can do!"
Normalize the idea that girls can do these things. Refrain from using the default "he" and change things up sometimes.
Some of the best picture books and early readers plant the seed early for girls and boys -- showing them that every girl can blaze her own trail. Even young children can grasp the messages. These are some wonderful fictional books about strong girls:
Using non-fiction books and other teaching tools, you can point to these women to show boys and girls real-life examples of many who've overcome adversity.
Some historical books about strong girls include these:
There are many role models to whom young women can look for inspiration. Make them a part of your ongoing discussion.
Find an organization that knows how to support girls with the skills they need to achieve their goals. Perhaps they have a mentorship program, a paid or unpaid internship, or even a day where girls are allowed to shadow experts in their fields. Encourage boys to shadow women, as well. Now as much as ever, from a young age, boys need to see women doing what they consider important work.
Ideally, boys and girls should follow women with skills that interest them, not only to further their interest, but also to teach them how they can get involved in the industry. Girls can learn from men, too, but women who've succeeded in an organization -- particularly where the typical "model" for the field is male -- might be more impactful.
Find female role models in the community and support their businesses. When possible, choose qualified female doctors, dentists, and other professionals to reinforce to strong girls that their goals are achievable. Let them see firsthand that women can have big and important jobs.
Many trade organizations have typically been male-dominated -- those are good places for girls and young women to get involved, as well.
Was every strong female just born that way? Is it innate? If a girl isn't born "strong," does she just not have natural strength in her?
Of course not. Some girls were called a strong-willed child; other girls didn't find their strength until they were much older. Just like plants grow differently from one another, children do, too. Regardless when their strength became noticeable to others, it behooves us to support girls when they're young to give them the greatest chance of fully embracing who they are.
As mentioned above, strong girls can be introverts we've supported well in their preference to observe the world rather than be loud in it. They may model strength in the quietest and most subtle of ways. Their skills might not be what the "loud" world needs, but they might grow to be women whose quiet influence moves mountains. Plate tectonics are real even though few people see them, yes?
Let strong girls be strong. Hear them; let them have the voice that comes naturally to them. Give them space to be fully themselves -- and that's exactly what they'll grow to be.
Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.
A couple of weeks ago, my four-year-old child was looking admiringly at the cover of a Cinderella coloring book. She's had it for half her life. Until now, she'd always been more interested in the scenes overall than in the individual princesses. And she's certainly never addressed anything about her body image. This time, however, she matter-of-factly announced, "Mommy, this girl is the most beautiful girl in the world. I'm not that beautiful."
I paused, with a sinking feeling in my gut, to absorb the news that the inevitable had happened. My child was comparing her looks to others'--even if the "other" was Cinderella--and finding hers inferior. Her tone was one of factual observation more than one of self-deprecation. However, I knew it was the precursor to what women everywhere are up against: the pressure to look whatever way society thinks is beautiful. People judge us on our appearances alone; people who don’t even know us, much less love us.
This mama's wish--and the wish of nearly every other mama I know--is that our children would live in a world that rises above that mentality. With my heart in my stomach, I took a breath before responding. Doing my best to summon everything I've studied about respectful parenting as it relates to body image, I neutrally responded, "Baby girl, that's interesting. Tell me more."
She proceeded to tell me everything she found lovely about Cinderella. When she finished, I acknowledged her closing statement with "Yes, I like the color of her dress, too." I continued, "Do you know what I really like, that you can’t see in any picture? In fact, I think it's what makes someone truly beautiful, more than anything else could."
"What is that, Mommy?"
"Kindness. Some people say it's nice to look a certain way on the outside, but kindness is the greatest kind of beauty. It has nothing to do with what someone looks like. Unlike appearance, which changes over time, kindness can last someone's entire life."
I could tell she was processing thoughtfully. We lingered on the topic for only a few moments more. I was careful to avoid giving the topic of external body image too much attention, lest it become a priority in her mind. As a mom, positive body image is one of the issues that I really need to own and model, and that I really want to get right for my child. It's a tough one for many of us.
After that, weeks passed without another mention of beauty. Yesterday, however, she approached me, holding the brooch of one of her dress-up gowns. On the brooch was a picture of Cinderella. I wondered what was coming.
My heart swelled with joy. Indeed, physical beauty and body image will be on my daughter's radar if she's anything like most of the women in generations before her. And she may or may not grow up looking anything like a princess, but that's not important to me.
Hard as it had been not to tell her how beautiful I think she is, I knew the importance of acknowledging what she said without negating it.
As a woman and particularly as a mother, this has been a tough lesson to learn. I have, however, learned that when I actively listen, be it about princesses or anything that's important to her, it helps foster our connection and build her confidence that she can trust me with her innermost thoughts.
So, I listened to her and added to her understanding, helping her unwrap her feelings. I wanted the opportunity to make a positive impression on her value system. The most effective way to do that is by listening to her with an open mind and guiding her appropriately. Loving and intentional guidance works so much better than telling her she's wrong.
We really can influence children’s thought processes and body image respectfully while still supporting their inner princesses—or superheroes—whoever they may be. We can help them absorb what really matters. And that, my friends, is beautiful.
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