An Introduction to Raising Daughters

What’s it like to raise a daughter? The answer to that question is as different as each individual child, as well as each individual parent. Whether you find yourself as mother, father, extended family, or mentor to a young girl or woman, here are some tips for fostering the best relationship possible with her as she journeys through life, from toddlerhood to young adulthood and beyond.

How do I raise a strong daughter?

Lead by example. If we want our daughters to be strong, confident individuals, the best way to encourage this behavior is to be strong and confident ourselves. The phrase “attitudes are caught, not taught” rings extremely true in this regard. So, look at your own patterns of behavior and ask, are these things I want my daughter to mirror? If you frequently hide from necessary conflict, allow others to walk all over you, put yourself down, or allow your emotions to take the wheel when you need to be calm or assertive, recognize and take responsibility for yourself and work to change. Both individual and family therapists can help parents to process past traumas and create healthy personal coping mechanisms. 

Be honest about addressing potentially difficult material. In this day and age, there are an array of scary and potentially daunting issues facing young girls: body image issues, sexual harassment and abuse, boundaries and consent, sexism in society, and gender stereotypes, just to name a few. While we may not want to spell out every shocking detail of what our daughters will likely have to grapple with in their future, it’s important to answer any questions they may have with age-appropriate honesty on a continuous basis. Shutting down questions we don’t want to answer leads to mistrust and to them eventually seeking answers from less reliable sources. 

Try to strike a balance between protection and encouragement in the face of problems. Nobody wants to see their children get hurt by anything, but we all know from experience that our daughters are bound to confront suffering in one form or another at various points in their lives. As parents, it is a large part of our jobs to both prepare them to face difficulty and help them through it where we can. While there are some things that we can and should shield them from (especially at a young age), it is important to let our daughters try themselves against the problems they come up against, providing support and encouragement but not always intervening or barging in to save the day. 

How can I increase my daughter’s confidence? How do I help my daughter with her self-esteem?

Teach her to validate herself instead of seeking the approval of others. If your daughter loves herself, trusting and valuing her own opinion over those of others, it’s harder for her to be swayed by the herd from what she wants for herself. Self-validation is a key skill for stopping things like bullying, boundary violation, negative body image, and societal oppression in their tracks. Take every opportunity to reinforce the value of listening to herself first instead of going along with whatever everyone else wants, even when it seems easier or more desirable to do what everyone else is doing. Make sure your own actions also align with this philosophy.

Help her grow in self-awareness and self-compassion. Whether it’s through mindfulness, meditation, or therapy with a trusted professional, it’s important that we help our daughters to stack their mental toolboxes with a variety of strategies for getting to know, love, and understand themselves. Encourage your daughter to become more aware of her thoughts and emotions, and how they affect each other, as well as to develop a compassion for herself in whatever she’s experiencing each day.

Encourage her to have a growth mindset. If your daughter learns to treat failure as a temporary setback and an opportunity to learn something new, she will become more willing to take risks and persevere in the face of frustration or rejection. Many girls learn to stop trying in the face of failure; find ways to help her turn “I can’t” into “I’m going to try a different way.” 

What are some tips for raising a teenage daughter?

Have an open communication policy. Let your daughter know that she can come to you with any problem, and that she will be met with respect and understanding when she’s honest with you. This fosters an all-important mutual trust that can see you through a host of problems together.

Set firm but flexible boundaries. It’s important to still be a parent to your teen, not allowing her to just do whatever she wants with no consequences; that being said, she also needs to be allowed to advocate for herself when it’s appropriate. Be consistent and clear about rules around school, extracurricular activities, going out with friends, and dating, but be willing to hear your daughter out if she comes to you with the occasional request to bend the rules. Remind her that communication with you is key to getting what she wants, and reinforce this by not flipping out at her honest requests.

Patience, patience, patience. The teen years are often rough all around—for the teens coping with hormones and a newfound desire for freedom, and for their parents dealing with boundary testing and the shift of their children from little girls to young women. Emotions often run high on both sides, so it’s extremely important for parents to stop, take a breath, and think things through when it gets heated. This helps to defuse fraught situations, and modeling a more positive behavior teaches your daughter that while anger is okay, being reactive and lashing out is not the solution to her problems. Have patience with yourself as well as your teen while doing this, and know when to take a break for a cooldown or a moment of self-care in the midst of any difficult situation.

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