You would think, I suppose, from the title that I have it all figured out. Truth is P is not yet 6, and I am ‘Just-another-parent-trying-my-best’. (I did try to create an acronym for this, any ideas gratefully received).
This post is mostly about mother-daughter relationships, and although most of what I write will apply with both sexes of parents and girls of all ages I am concentrating on the mother-daughter aspect as this post is, of course, written from a personal perspective about our relationship and mothers, as girls first and foremost role-models, greatly affect the type of women they will become in the future.
Growing up I was scared, shy and highly anxious. Social situations were quite unbearable and looking back I missed out on so many amazing opportunities just because I was not willing or even able to step out of my comfort zone. I am hoping this is not the future waiting for my daughter, and if I can, I will do everything in my power to prevent it, because, honestly, it’s no fun missing out. I know, I’ve been there, having a history of anxiety, panic attacks and un-diagnosed depression, and yes it has helped to shape the woman I am today, and now I’m really proud of myself and who I am, and what I have achieved in my life so far.
Of course this should not be about me wanting to live my life through my child, or pushing her to be an overachiever. Every step of the way personality and preferences need to be taken into consideration of course, not to mention life events which we have no control over. Confidence is key though to taking opportunities when they present themselves, and instilling confidence and building self-esteem is an active part of my parenting, because P lacks confidence and I have personal experience myself of how limiting this can be. All this boils down to is the hope that my daughter will have the persistence, confidence and emotional resilience to dive right into life, chase her dreams, learn from her mistakes and not be defeated by them, be a loving and loyal friend whilst also having strong boundaries and knowing when to say no. Maybe most importantly I want her to not to be afraid to walk away, or start again if the situation calls for it.
Am I expecting too much? This is not a tick box exercise, no aspect of parenting is, or ever should be. This is about deepening my relationship with my daughter first and learning how to be a great role-model second.
Mothers, as girls first and foremost role-models, greatly affect the type of women they will become in the future.
It’s pretty tough at times, making those decisions which require me to make changes, and honestly, over the last 6 years I wouldn’t have done half the things which have made me a better person if I wasn’t doing them for the benefit of my daughter. That is not meant in a self-sacrificial way, I really am benefiting, and if I’m the only person who does, then that is still good enough, but the way life works, as we learn and grow through our life experiences we do affect those around us.
Intelligence Vs Persistence
This article has completely changed my way of talking to my daughter. I was aware of the importance of encouraging persistence, but I was much less aware of the harmful effects of using the labels smart, clever or intelligent. I was shocked, really, to discover that the brightest children, those labelled as the most able, often underestimated their abilities and gave up on things they found difficult far sooner than children who have been praised for trying hard. Some extracts which highlight the issues; “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control.”…..“They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” ……”It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.” It’s very common to praise intelligence, and to be judged on it, and for these reasons I’m not sure it’s helpful for parents to avoid using these labels completely. I think it’s more important to help children understand the link between persistence and intelligence.
Linking effort and intelligence together, for example “You are smart because you keep trying” will help children to understand that intelligence can be developed.
I am now much more mindful now of praising my daughter for the effort she puts into something than her natural aptitude for a particular task, which after all, can vary according to whether we nurture it or not. Linking effort and intelligence together, for example “You are smart because you keep trying” will help children to understand that intelligence can be developed, that if they are not good at something right away they can become good at it through persistence, and also if they do find some things easier than others it is not to be taken for granted.
Self Esteem and Confidence
Girls self-esteem peeks around age 9, after that it plummets. The Always video #LikeAGirl is shocking in the contrast between what young girls and other people perceive to define what it is to do particular actions ‘Like a girl’ (run, fight, throw – think about your own responses and then watch the video it brought me to tears). With the knowledge and awareness of this age-related (puberty -related) confidence-crash parents need to work actively to bolster girls positive self-image from as young an age as possible. This means for mothers, as role models, to work on our own self-esteem issues, and to reflect upon how our self-limiting beliefs hold us back. This lengthy but fascinating article, The Confidence Gap highlights the thought processes and behaviors which holds women back from achieving as much as we are capable of, and some tactics to change that. A quick extract “Perhaps the clearest, and most useful, definition of confidence we came across was the one supplied by Richard Petty…..who has spent decades focused on the subject. “Confidence,” he told us, “is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” ….”It is the factor that turns thoughts into judgments about what we are capable of, and that then transforms those judgments into action.”
I have been guilty of trying to protect my daughter by avoiding challenging situations with her, but my understanding of the need to push through these barriers is growing, and my attitude towards taking risks myself is changing. As a positive role model it is important that children see their parents learning new skills, trying to figure things out, being curious enough to look for answers to questions, asking for help when we need it, and not being disheartened by our own failures. “I figured it out”, “I did my best.” “I learned how to do something new today” or “I will keep trying” are comments which will filter through and give a child the confidence to also try again when they find something tough.
Recently I asked a colleague to show me how to re-upholster some dining chairs, and I’m really pleased with the results. My inspiration was seeing photos of my sisters recent first attempt at tiling – she had done a great job and it gave me the boost to try my hand at a new skill too – we can all inspire each other to try new experiences and challenges when we have a go at something new ourselves.
“Confidence is the stuff that turns thought into action” Richard Petty.
Confronting a fear or phobia, or taking steps towards realising a long-held dream role-models confidence. Get someone to take a photo of you doing scary / exciting thing, or create your own certificate of achievement, frame it, and keep it proudly out on display. I have a photo of me abseiling off a 210 ft building. Facing my fear of heights and doing that carried me through a very tough period of my life.
My daughter has a favorite climbing rock, she can climb up it by herself but I always help her back down. A few minutes after taking this photo below P wanted to climb back down from the rock and asked me to turn around and not look. I really truly considered refusing her request. Then I realised that is exactly what I do sometimes, just to stop myself from freaking out over a new physical challenge she is pitting herself against, and so maybe her request was not so unreasonable. It was not that she was trying to get away with something I might not approve of as wanting to prove she could do it herself, without me stepping in too soon, as I invariably do when I get nervous. As it happened she did ask me to help but that was after I had turned away and she had a good try doing it on her own before she called me.
One of the main reasons I actively encourage P to learn these sort of skills young is not to turn her into a daredevil / adrenaline junkie / extreme sports fanatic, but simply so she will learn from a young age in a safe environment how to assess the risk, when to push herself and when to ask for help. In this situation she wanted to do it all alone, tried, but ultimately decided she wanted some help. Those are the sorts of decision-making processes that if she starts now, hopefully she will continue to develop so when she is older and wants to try something new / difficult / dangerous when I’m not around she can make a sound decision based on her past experiences and awareness of her abilities.
In the book ‘No Fear, Growing Up In A Risk Averse Society’ author Tim Gill says “Activities and experiences that previous generations of children have enjoyed without a second thought have been re-labelled as dangerous or troubling, while the adults who still allow them are branded as irresponsible.” Gill goes on to discuss the fact we are bombarded by the negative news of every incident which goes wrong, and awareness of these horrible and very sad accidents and fatalities has skewed our expectations of risk and affected our ability to understand the importance of taking risks for children. Of course no-one wants their child to get hurt, but the irony is that children have to learn these life skills to learn how to keep themselves safe. Just like the sad statistics that children who never learned to swim or to play around (ie. respect) water are the most likely to drown, I believe those who never learn to climb as young children may be at more risk of serious injury if they start to do so when older.
“Historically risk-taking has been framed so narrowly that it skews our perceptions. For example, the majority of studies that point to men having a greater inclination for risk-taking define risk in physical and financial terms. They don’t point to risks like standing up for what’s right in the face of opposition, or taking the ethical path when there’s pressure to stray — important risks that I’ve found women are particularly strong at taking.”Doug Sundheim
It’s true that I have a limited perception of what defines a risk, and it certainly helps to understand that there are other types of risks we can help children to explore. Doing the ‘right’ thing morally and ethically does carry risk of being ostracized by peers. A girl who has a strongly developed sense of empathy can feel pulled two ways; by the desire to do what is right, maybe sticking up for one friend, at the risk of offending another, even if she feels they are in the wrong. Up until now I have encouraged P to ‘walk away’ from a friend who is being mean, but maybe I’m not giving her the best advice, or tools to handle these sorts of issues as she grows up. I have decided to talk more with her about ‘why’ people are sometimes mean to each other, and help her to understand that its more important to develop boundaries by telling her friends, for example, “I don’t like it when you call me names.” so the issue has a chance to be resolved, and P learns to express herself clearly about what is or isn’t acceptable to her whilst also help her to differentiate between how she views the person and how she views their behavior. I am thinking now that teaching my daughter to walk away is teaching her to reject the whole person rather than the behavior – except for in exceptional circumstances maybe this is not a good life tool.
Books, Books, Books Books, Books
A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give out children, and the benefits are well researched.
A Mighty Girl’s book section is by far the most comprehensive collection of books starring strong and courageous girls and features over 2,000 girl-empowering books, with over 200 book categories to explore. For good alternatives to the traditional fairy tales try some stories featuring Independent Princesses, or inspire with biographies of female artists, scientists, explores, leaders….
Provide Gender Neutral Toys Which Encourage Creativity
Just as boys benefit from playing with dolls and prams and enjoy developing their nurturing side when given the opportunity, girls benefit from playing with construction toys and enjoy rough-and -tumble games. Across the board all children’s toys are suitable for children of either gender. Interestingly the gender divide in toy marketing is much bigger now than it was in the 1970’s
The Let Toys Be Toys Campaign is challenging the toy and publishing industries to stop labeling and advertising products as specifically for just boys or girls saying “Children don’t pop out of the womb with expectations about their future careers, or beliefs about what their work is worth, but the stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life“…”Themes of glamour and beauty in toys and playthings directed at even the youngest girls tips over into a worrying emphasis on outward appearance.”
Songs and Anthems
Lyrics are a form of mantra, think about the words you find yourself singing and how they might affect your sense of self. Think about how much more impressionable children are than adults.
Here are some songs I am proud to hear my daughter singing along to.
Lesson Number One from Mulan 2
Rock What You Got superchick
Search for the Hero by M people
Roar Katy Perry
Firework Katy Perry
Touch The Sky from Brave
I Walk the Earth Voice of the Beehive
Let It Go from Frozen
Like Other Girls from Mulan 2
Here are some of the inspirations which are helping me raise my strong, confident daughter.
A Mighty Girl website. The number one resource for girl empowering books, films, characters, songs, toys and clothes, as well as quotes and inspirational parenting resources.
On My Reading List
“…Above all else, our daughters need to know, beyond any doubt, that they are deeply loved and infinitely lovable — even when they’re behaving anything but.” Margie Warrell