Raising Brave, Confident Girls

March is Women’s History Month, and we want to join in the celebration with a post on raising brave, confident girls!

The hope we have for every child at Little Sunshine’s Playhouse® is that they grow up to feel powerful! That means feeling secure in themselves, making positive life choices, learning to think critically, expressing and acknowledging their feelings and thoughts, and leading full lives. 

Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against girls when it comes to feeling empowered. The most important quality that people assign to women is physical attractiveness. Early on in life, girls feel that their worth is based on their appearance, their ability to gain attention and approval, and their accomplishments. 

So how do we raise girls to be powerful when all of this junk is getting in their way? Start early! 

Here are ways that, even as infants and toddlers, we can instill bravery and confidence in little girls.

  • Teach them to be brave, not perfect.

In the 1980s, psychologists observed bright fifth-grade boys and girls as they tried to complete an assignment that was too difficult for them. Bright girls gave up quickly — the higher the IQ, the faster — but bright boys were motivated by the challenge and tried harder. It wasn’t an issue of ability, since girls statistically outperform boys in every school subject at that age.

So what happened?

Reshma Saujani, author of “Brave, Not Perfect” and founder of Girls Who Code, summarizes it with incredible clarity: Girls are raised to be perfect, while boys are raised to be brave.

“Women are being left behind,” says Saujani, “and it means our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect.”

We need to let our daughters know that their worth isn’t tied to how perfect they are. Encourage them to take risks, fail, and persevere through challenges. Afterall, those are the characteristics they’ll need to get through life. Nobody can achieve perfection, but everyone can be brave!

  • Focus on self-compassion and character.

For girls, focusing on accomplishments can be a terrible side effect of trying to “keep up with the boys” and prove their worth to others. That’s why it’s so important to teach them self-compassion.

True self-compassion is unconditional self-acceptance. Teaching this to children means showing them how to be mindful of their emotions, be kind to themselves in success and in failure, and recognize that making mistakes is part of being human. 

“With this kind of tenderness,” says author Lindsay Sealey, “we are teaching girls that while we know just how nurturing and caring they can be toward friends, they can just as easily nurture themselves.”

Expressing true self-compassion means focusing on a girl’s traits instead of their appearance or accomplishments. 

“Commend your daughter when you observe moments of strong character,” says pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker. “Perseverance. Courage. Honesty. Applaud her for these things.”

  • Point out and identify double standards.

Despite all our good intentions of raising children equally, it’s very easy for small differences to slip in when it comes to the way we treat girls and boys. 

For instance, researchers found that parents cheated less in front of their daughters while playing a game than they did when their sons were in the room. Studies have also shown that women suffer in the workplace from their interruptions or jokes being judged more harshly. 

As a parent, we need to ask the uncomfortable question, “Are there pressures, expectations, or double standards that I hold for my daughters that I don’t have for my sons?”

Also, when you see unfair treatment for women or girls happening, point it out to both your sons and daughters! It will help your girls recognize the action as unfair and communicate to your boys that it’s unacceptable.

“Wonder aloud about more general patterns you see, like how all those little purses hanging from everything might make it seem that all girls, even 3-year-olds, are into shopping,” says Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., and Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., co-authors of Packaging Girlhood.

  • Limit the exposure to pop culture.

Limiting your daughter’s exposure to mainstream movies, TV, music, and magazines can help keep them from internalizing potentially damaging messages about their self-worth. 

“This will give her more time to develop her own ideas, creativity, and imagination from her direct firsthand experience,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D. “As she grows, media messages will start to get in, so having rules and routines from the start can help your daughter control her own experiences as she gets older.” 

  • Read books!

Here are some books you can read with your daughters that will help them grow up brave and confident:

It’s never too early to foster bravery and confidence in our kiddos. The world is making it harder for them to feel that way on their own — especially for girls — so those of us at Little Sunshine’s Playhouse are committed to helping them feel powerful.

Go girls!

For more on raising confident kids, take a look at these blog posts: