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April 21, 2010

Raising Strong, Healthy Daughters

IStock_00daughters It’s important for every parent to realize that, first and foremost, children live what they know…and they know what they live.  This principle means that the best way to raise a healthy daughter is to be healthy yourself.  She is watching the adults in her life.  She is paying attention to how her parents speak, treat and relate to one another.  What she sees in her parents’ marriage is what she’s likely to repeat in her own.

What our actions are teaching our daughters:
1.    Poor self-esteem:  If we struggle to hold ourselves in warm regard, we teach our daughters to do the same.  A daughter will watch our insecurity and model it herself.  She is likely to struggle with feeling worthy and will make a lot of decisions based on what will get her liked rather than what’s the right thing to do.  The best gift we can do is strengthen our own sense of self worth so she can grow hers.
2.    Harsh, abusive or disrespectful talk in the home:  If parents speak disrespectfully, abusively or harshly to one another, they teach their daughter that this is the norm in romantic relationships.  If the family is harsh in general, she is learning that harshness is a part of all relationships.  She is likely to grow up to become harsh herself or be in relationships with someone who will treat her harshly.  The harshness will feel familiar—just like a pair of comfy, ripped up jeans.
3.    Negative self-talk:  When we walk around the house calling ourselves fat, dumb, absent-minded, etc., we teach our daughters to do the same.  She will learn to focus on her flaws rather than her strengths.  A steady focus on flaws keeps you down and hurts your ability to hold yourself in warm regard.


4.    Control:  If you micromanage everyone in your home and insist they do things YOUR way, you are stifling your child’s ability to think for herself (or himself).  In the long run, the child will learn to control or be controlled—neither of which bodes well for healthy relationships.
5.    Be present:  Our presence—emotionally and physically—sends the message that our children are worthy of our time.  When children feel worthy, they make sure others treat them as such.  Absent fathers, in particular, leave girls hungry for love.  When girls are hungry for love, they take whatever they can get from males.  They’re constantly in search for the love they didn’t get from their dads.  Fathers, STEP UP and BE PRESENT—the consequences are too great if you don’t.
6.    Mothers—learn to say no:  Mothers need to model how to set limits and stand up for themselves with their husbands and the world.  When we stand up for ourselves, we give our daughters the ability to stand up for themselves.  If we are constantly over-accommodating, placating and walking on eggshells, we deprive our daughters of a vital lesson in life.  STAND UP and practice good self-care.
In general, if you want to raise strong, healthy daughters who create strong, healthy relationships, then you need to model what you want her to master.  Get yourself strong and healthy.  Don’t accept poor treatment unless you want her to do the same.  Don’t be angry and harsh toward her or the world unless you want her to be angry and harsh.  Lead by example and give your daughter the best jump-start possible for healthy relationships.

CHALLENGE:  Look at the list above, find the areas you need to work on and commit to working those areas.  Stop the negative self talk, practice healthy self-esteem, stop controlling, be present and model what you want your daughter to master.

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I find this list excellent, having raised two daughters who are now strong, healthy young women.

My list is only slightly different. I would say "Consider saying yes, but learn to say no". Kids who know their parents are genuinely concerned about their wants but who won't compromise good boundaries seem to raise the least needy kids. Parents who allow/deny wants based on their mood, guilt, and other none relevant factors seem to produce daughters who are never satisfied.

To "Be Present" I would add that parents should consistently do affectionate hellos and goodbyes. It shouldn't matter if the kid responds to this affection, or even seems to outwardly dislike the acknowledgement of comings and goings. Most parents, especially moms, seem to do this positive behavior naturally. But parents who weren't parented themselves this way can miss this important simple behavior.

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