How to Raise Strong, Confident Girls encourages parents and caretakers to:
* Praise little girls for what they can do, not just what they look like. “You’re so pretty!” will make her think appearance is her greatest attribute, but “You worked so hard on that sand castle!” lets her know she’s valued for her skills.
* Help her realize that girls and boys are not boxed into limited choices. There is more to a girl’s life than pink. Make sure her clothes and her room are made of many colors, and not just light pink, dark pink and magenta. It may seem like a small factor, but it helps take her beyond the only “girls wear/do this and boys wear/do that.”
*Make sure her toy box includes trucks, play tools and modeling clay as well as dolls. Include some action hero costumes in her dress-up clothes collection. * Remind others, and her, that she is valued for more than her appearance. Don’t be sabotaged by Grandma and Grandpa. When well-meaning relatives fuss over her curly hair and big eyes, remind them—in front of her—that she just learned to tie her shoes and do a cartwheel. * Take her out to the ball game and the car show as well as the ballet. Introduce her to a variety of interests. Heather Johnston-Nicholson, president of research for Girl, Inc., in an article on WebMD called Raising Strong, Confident Girls, poses the important question: How good a role model do you think you are? “If we’re not monitoring our messages, we’re passing them on,” she warns.
Learning to recognize negative messages and stereotypes is something you can do together. “Watch TV together, look at her favorite magazines with her, and deconstruct the messages together,” Johnston-Nicholson says. “Ask her what she thinks this show says about girls, what they’re like and how they should be. Ask her about the ethics of the show, and if that’s how she and her friends treat each other. Talk about the messages about bodies, and if the girls in the magazine pictures look the way people really look.”
As Sunflower turns 5, I wish her the strength to rise above the constant bombardment of “Girls can’t/don’t do that!” every time she attempts an activity more challenging than wearing a dress and smiling prettily; I wish her the curiosity to constantly explore her world and push its limits; I wish her the self-reliance to pursue her interests even when met with disapproval of a sexist environment; I wish her the heart to love herself as she is and to pursue whoever she wants to be; I wish her a strong voice to speak up when others think girls should be docile and quiet; most of all, I wish her the boldness and freedom to spread her wings and take flight, and take the world by storm with the fire of what she can do when she is no longer held back.