Women make up over half the world’s population, but they still hold far fewer than half of the leadership positions in U.S. government and Fortune 500 companies. So how do we raise girls to be strong, confident future leaders?
How are you talking to your girl?
It is so easy to fall into a pattern of praising a girl’s looks (“You are so pretty!”), labeling her behavior as “good,” or congratulating her when she does something perfectly. Instead, embrace the concept of a growth mindset, and celebrate your daughter’s mistakes and failures. Confidence in your daughter will grow if she’s able to take risks, knowing that the outcome may not be perfect, and she will be loved and celebrated for her effort, regardless of the ultimate achievement.
Likewise, parents may fall into a trap of calling an opinionated girl “bossy” with a tone of disdain. However, those strong opinions are the budding leadership skills of a possible future CEO! Encourage your daughter to speak up for herself and others, starting in your own home. When she expresses a strong opinion about something or disagrees with you, you can build up her confidence by really listening to her opinion without immediately dismissing it. By showing that her thoughts and ideas have value, you are setting her up to have the courage and confidence to express her ideas in future classrooms and boardrooms.
Encourage your girl to engage in physical play with safe risk-taking. Climbing trees, getting muddy, and playing sports at a young age build confidence in the power and strength of her body.
How is the world talking to your girl?
Even for young girls, commercials and media influences seep in to everyday life. Your daughter will absorb messages about what girls “should” look like or how they “should” behave. As a parent, your best defense against these messages is to proactively dissect them with your child. When a commercial comes on during a TV show or online video, pause and ask your daughter, “What is this ad selling? How does this ad compare to our real life?”
Become aware of gender stereotypes presented in the media your family consumes. Fill your home with books, toys, and décor that do not conform to specific gender roles (e.g., buy books about female construction workers and encourage girls to engage in math and science activities). Try to eliminate gender-based references to your child, such as “princess” or “tomboy” or phrases such as “Young ladies don’t behave that way.”
What are you modeling for your girl?
If you are a woman raising a girl, you are clearly a role model for the woman your daughter will become. You have the opportunity to model resilience, strength, and confidence during challenging moments.
- Let her observe you respectfully asserting yourself with other women and men.
- Instead of mentioning the size or weight of your body in front of your daughter, talk about it in terms of strength, comfort, health, and gratitude for how it carries you through your day.
- When you talk about how you spend your days at work, ask your daughter: What difference do you want to make in the world someday? What problem do you want to solve?
If you are a man raising a daughter, be cognizant of any gender stereotypes in your family home life.
- Your daughter should see you doing household chores and you can encourage rough and tumble play with your daughter.
- When you speak about women in your life, do so with respect and not in a diminutive way.
- Allow your daughter to say “no” to you and accept that no for an answer, in safe situations, so she can learn how powerful that word can be.
Here’s to raising self-assured, resilient girls who will be our future problem-solvers and leaders!
Showing Girls What’s Possible
Inspiring strong voices, boosting self-confidence, encouraging risks, and celebrating differences — it’s all part of raising a girl. Who does your daughter want to be when she grows up? How can you help her get there? On this Teach. Play. Love. podcast episode, Rachel Robertson and Claire Goss — early childhood experts and proud girl moms — talk about everything from setting up your home to tackle gender stereotypes, to helping girls fulfill their full potential, and more.
More Resources on Raising Strong, Resilient Girls
- Let’s celebrate the achievement of girls and women, and support our working mothers – take a look at how Bright Horizons celebrates women on International Women’s Day and every day.
- Read more to understand gender as part of your child’s developing identity, and how you can help to break down gender stereotypes.
- Learn about the differences between encouragement and praise, and how this plays into positive parenting.