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Raise confident girls

Thursday, December 06, 2018

While there is much work to be done in terms of creating equality for girls on the political, economic and domestic front, parents can play a large role right from early childhood, says Anjali Kalani

We live in a world where the United States, arguably one of the most progressive nations in the world, has yet to elect a woman president, where women are still fighting for equal pay and where the bulk of the household responsibilities and child rearing duties are still relegated to women. Clearly, as a collective, there is still a lot of work ahead of us in terms of creating equality in the political, economic and domestic front.

Rather than accepting status quo, as parents, we can make a difference by raising generations of resilient, confident daughters who believe they are every bit as capable as their male counterparts! Self-confident girls possess high self-esteem and tend to perform well academically. They are also likely to make sound choices in their teenage years and beyond because they feel good about themselves. So how do we begin empowering our daughters? We start in early childhood, while the slate is still relatively untainted by societal expectations and gender stereotypes.

Give choices Prepare your daughter for decision-making by providing choices early on in life. The Montessori Method recommends offering choices from birth itself. Hold up two rattles and ask her to pick one. Let your daughter decide between two outfits that you select from the age of two-and-a-half onwards.

Promote Independence Encourage both physical and mental independence. Keep a stepstool handy so your daughter can reach counters and sinks on her own. Show her how to wear her clothes, brush her hair and wear her shoes. Involve her in household chores and hobbies that both parents enjoy. To promote mental independence, encourage your daughter to problem solve. Ask, “What do you think you can do to fix the situation?”

Involve dad

Studies have shown that daughters with involved fathers have higher levels of self-esteem than those whose dads do not play a significant part in their lives. Dads interact differently from mothers and help daughters feel secure. Besides, there is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a dad share his hobbies with his daughter.

Praise wisely Focus on your daughter’s efforts rather making generalised statements. Say, “You worked really hard on cleaning up your toys,” instead of “good job!” Be as specific as you can when you administer praise. Compliment her character traits, like kindness and bravery instead of just telling her she looks beautiful.

Nurture her passions Observe your child and discover what she enjoys. Whether it’s singing, dancing, working on puzzles or art, find ways to nurture and further her interest. If you see that she has a passion for writing, gift her a special journal and encourage her to write.

Be selective about her reading material and media usage Read books about courageous women, such as Rani of Jhansi, Rosa Parks and Yusra Mardini instead of fairy tales where the prince enters the picture and saves the day. The damsel in distress stories and movies propagate the myth that girls need to be rescued. Expose her to quality entertainment only and limit media usage in favour of purposeful activities.

Make math fun There is a dearth of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers. According to research, girls by middle school convince themselves that they are bad at math. Build a strong foundation in math from early childhood by playing number games while driving or before bedtime. Khan Academy is a comprehensive, free online resource that can be used to learn and practise math skills.

Encourage participation in sports Sports teach teamwork, build confidence and lower stress levels. Research also shows that girls who play sports fare better in school. Expose your daughter to different sports, narrow down on at least one she enjoys and help her excel in it.

Give her opportunities to speak for herself Some children find certain social situations intimidating. Don’t speak for your daughter or embarrass her by insisting that she speaks for herself. Instead, prepare her for the encounter by dramatising the scenario at home. Let her also gain confidence by ordering her own meals at restaurants.

Teach her about consent and boundaries Have age-appropriate conversations with your daughter about how her body belongs to her. Tell her that the only people who are privy to her private parts for a short time are mom, dad or the nanny while they help her bathe, and the doctor, when she goes for a check-up. Teach her that she isn’t obligated to allow anyone into her physical space if she’s uncomfortable, and that it is perfectly acceptable to say no, thank you. Let your daughter know that you are always available to talk to her about anything.

Be a good role model Our children observe us all the time. Let them see someone who shares a respectful relationship with her spouse, follows her passions, exercises and eats healthy. Don’t assume your fears and inadequacies will be hers as well. If you were terrified of swimming, don’t take for granted that she will be, too.

While we may not be able to guarantee a future free of gender stereotypes, as parents, we can certainly empower our daughters by giving them choices and opportunities to be independent, pursue their passions and play sports. We can also help by being intentional about their reading material, media consumption and by practising math. Teach your daughter that she owns her body and is entitled to refuse any physical touch that makes her uncomfortable. And last but not the least, let’s not forget to be positive role models as ourselves!

Anjali Kalani is a mother of two independent, precocious children and an AMS and AMI certified Montessori guide who teaches children aged three to six in Houston, Texas.

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