by Dianna Flett
So let’s talk about our girls. I’m the founder and one of the facilitators of a program called Girl Smarts. You can read about it at girlsmarts.com or on Facebook at Girl Smarts LLC. It has grown in popularity, and over the past 10 years we have had about 4,000 students attend our workshops. Girl Smarts is throughout Central Virginia and has a growing footprint in Northern Virginia as well. In this post I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. Hope it will provide some insights.
“What can I do for my daughter to make her stronger?”
That’s the question I get most often when I am speaking to groups of parents. This is the first time I’m offering some systematic steps you can take with your daughter to help their confidence. These work similarly for boys. My program is just “packaged” for girls.
I’m from Jersey so I will share my focus for this post in the voice of my people:
“How you doin?”
A study done by Dove showed that 66% of our girls look to their moms as their primary role model. So, as if we didn’t have enough to do, we have to remember our girls are watching. How are you doing in terms of showing your strength? You can begin to consider the example you’re providing with these thoughts as self-reflection points:
1. What you say to and around your children becomes their inner voice.
It is painful to see girls at 9 years old talking about their self-declared body defects. We as adults must be self-accepting and loving of ourselves, with all of our imperfections, to set the example for our daughters. If we are critical of how we look in the mirror; how our bodies are not what we want them to be; our hair is a mess, too long, too short; talk about how we hate our nose/chin/ears and of course the “f” word (fat); then the girls will totally pick up on that self-talk and insert your discussion points into their own mirrors.
What they hear you say about yourself and others, as well as what you say to them, will become their inner voice. Let’s perhaps reframe and practice saying things about ourselves that promote acceptance. “You know I love that fact that I have my grandma’s nose.” Or stay away from body comments completely. See the image at the bottom of this post for some alternate compliments we can use.
2. Stay in the picture.
In 4th and 5th grade I’ve watch as girls remove themselves from a group photo. When I ask why they don’t want to be a part of the group shot I often hear, “I don’t like my picture taken.” Often these are girls who are differently sized than their peers: taller, shorter, heavier or thinner. They already feeI the difference and they don’t want to be in the group photo. Is that a self-learned behavior?
If you are a mom who doesn’t like having her photo taken I’d encourage you to reassess your approach and keep yourself in the picture and in the history of your children’s lives. I lost my mom about 10 years ago. When I flip through photos of her I never, ever say, “Gosh she looked bad in this picture.” Be a part of their memories.
3. Don’t stress the small stuff.
How we react in stressful situations is how our girls learn to react in stressful situations. (*note: I am not talking about situations where medical diagnoses are present.) When you are dealing with something hard, what is your process? Do you approach it with thought, reasoning, resilience and grit? Bring your girls into that process when you can. Let them see how you handle tough things and they will learn how to handle tough things (of course all age appropriate). Identify between what you can control and what you cannot control. It will help them do the same.
When my boys were very little we lost our 9 month old pup after she suffered a heart attack at our back door. It was a very difficult moment. It was early in the morning, before school and we were all very sad. When I understood what was happening I went to hold our pup Phoebe in her last moments. I loved her and whispered calmly into her ear that it was okay. My son was watching. It became a teachable moment when I asked the boys if they wanted to say goodbye to Phoebe. They did and then we talked about death over the coming days and made it a part of life.
I’m not sharing this to say our message is the message you have to send, but to say that teachable moments present themselves all the time. How we use them to coach our children to grow is an important part of this coaching process.
4. When you use your tongue like a sword, you will cut your own lips.
This is back to where I started. Your kids are watching EVERYTHING you do. They see how you treat your men friends and how you treat your women friends. They see how you allow yourself to be treated by both men and women. Be thoughtful to lift others up as you speak of them in front of your children. That will go a long way to show how they should treat their friends.
One exercise I do with the girls is I tell them I’m going to teach them to “talk behind their friend’s back”. Of course they are aghast that I would consider showing them that sort of thing and there is always an audible gasp or two. Then I ask for a volunteer. When “Susie” comes to the front of the room I tell her to turn around so her back is to the group and I lean over like I’m telling a secret:
“Hey guys – you know what I saw Susie do?” I whisper loudly. “You’re not going to believe this.”
Of course they hunker down and lend an ear.
“Susie saw a kid struggling with his book bag and she went right up to him, asked if she could help and carried his bookbag all the way to his classroom for him. And that outfit she had on today, wasn’t that the cutest?”
I watch as their faces change and show their understanding of what I’m doing.
If our children hear us speaking positively about our friends, our relationships and our co-workers, they learn that is the standard. I know, this is WAY harder than it sounds. And who doesn’t love a bit of gossip now and again; but be thoughtful of your words because words count. And sometimes they hurt.
Okay enough for today. But the message of this post is empowerment of our children starts with you. Take a moment and take an inventory of yourself and see what standards you are setting for your children. I’ll be back with my very best tips on helping your child make a great first impression and a couple of tricks they can use to help them feel at ease.
Let me know below if this was helpful to you. Or perhaps there’s a topic you really want to hear about as you travel this path with me. I’m happy to share what I am learning.