Girls are taught to be nice. They are expected to be "good," considerate and polite. They are under tremendous pressure to make others feel good and to always look good.
Unknowingly, parents often contribute to this pressure.
So it's important to be aware of what we expect from our girls and what we really want to teach them. If we want to raise daughters who enjoy life and who give back to the world in a meaningful way, we need to teach them the most important lesson of all-to love and value themselves.
Girls need to know that they are enough just as they are, and that a certain look, weight or outfit will not result in happiness.
It's not easy when billboards, magazines and the entertainment industry focus solely on girls' looks and sexuality, but you can create a home that supports your daughter, starting with some very basic steps:
Allow her to express herself
Girls get mad sometimes and that's OK. If girls are allowed to feel their anger and share their feelings, they will be better able to release them and move on. The more we tell them not to feel anger, frustration or sadness, the more they will deny or repress these feelings and inevitably, those feelings will turn into something else (low self-esteem, bullying, depression).
Girls should be able to express the full spectrum of emotions without being made to feel guilty or wrong. The more you respect your daughter's emotional responses, the more she will be able to speak up for herself, ask for what she needs, and not internalize her discomfort.
Teach her the real definition of beauty
As a society we have a very limited perspective of beauty-it's based on appearance, fashion and the "look of the moment," which usually is unattainable for the majority of the population.
So we need to remind our daughter (and ourselves) that the cover of a magazine (although not Chicago Parent's cover) is airbrushed and altered. We need to remind her that TV shows, even reality shows, aren't reality.
Then we have a better chance to teach our daughter what real beauty means-it's the way she carries herself with confidence and joy, the way she laughs and smiles, the way she shares with others, the way she runs or throws a ball, the way she dances or pretends to fly, and the way she falls down and gets back up again. Consistently offer tangible definitions of beauty so your daughter can claim this word and know that you really see her.
Ask her opinion, value her opinion
We can become very attached to how our daughter looks or acts, believing that it somehow is a reflection of us, but really, our job as parents is to help her embrace her own look and opinions. Instead of trying to make your daughter like you or what you "dream" she could be, allow her to be herself.
Next time your daughter asks what she should wear, ask her what she thinks. Next time she asks what her paper topic should be, ask her what she thinks. Next time she has a challenge, listen as she shares with you, but then ask her what she thinks. Let her know that you trust her and teach her to trust herself by listening and valuing what she has to say.
Encourage eye contact, discourage unnecessary apologies
Once your daughter is old enough to socialize and interact on her own, remind her to keep her head up, make eye contact and give a firm handshake when one is offered. Body language expresses confidence and also builds confidence.
Girls tend to over-apologize, even when something is not their fault. They want everyone else to feel comfortable, so they will take the blame or shrink back in an effort not to offend. Moms, notice if you do this and notice if your daughter does this-if so, be aware and make a point to discuss it. Meaningful apologies always are thoughtful and appropriate, but apologizing so people like you is inauthentic and disempowering.
Talk to her about sex and sexuality
Talk to your daughter about her body parts and how they work, and teach her the real names of her sexual organs rather than make up names so you don't have to say the real ones. Help your daughter embrace and respect all parts of who she is by speaking frankly and lovingly about what it means to be a woman.
Teach her to respect and understand her cycle rather than dread it, teach her to honor her body and not give it away, teach her to love what she was given rather than wish she looked differently. Moms, treat yourself and your body with respect. Dads, treat women with respect. Your daughter is watching and learning from both of you.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.