Some thoughts from writer mom Ali Smith-Poe….
According to a recent student published in Science magazine, by age six, girls have started to believe boys are inherently smarter than their own gender. Additionally, at six years old, girls decrease their participation in activities that they consider to be for the “really, really smart” children. Our daughters are limiting themselves due to a belief in negative gender stereotypes in first grade! It’s heartbreaking and infuriating.
The only way to combat the negative messages about girls our daughters will be inundated with is by raising them to believe in their own abilities. Here are a few ways you can raise your daughters to be confident girls, starting as young as toddlers and preschool.
1. Let Her Take Risks
Babies and toddlers believe they can do anything. This belief pushes them to get up after they fall down, to figure out puzzles, to keep trying even after they fail until they succeed. As parents, we need to let our daughters continue to push themselves. Hold your tongue (and maybe your breath) as she climbs the playground structure you worry she’s not ready for yet.
2. Let Her Lead
In Naima Browne’s book, Gender Equity in the Early Years, she identifies that as early as preschool, “girls’ attempts to participate actively are overlooked, while the boys are allowed to direct the behavior.” (p. 52, 2004) Combat this in your own home by ensuring your daughter has the opportunity to direct play with you and her siblings. Listen when she says has an idea and praise her for coming up with it.
3. Believe in Her
Tell your daughter you believe in her when she tries new things. Not only when succeeds, but tell her when she fails. Especially when she fails. Remind her that failing is how we learn to get better. Avoid general praise, such as “You are so smart/kind/funny/” and instead give her specific praise, “You did a great job figuring out that puzzle!” or “That was very kind of you to check on your brother when he fell down.”
Raising confident girls cannot wait until they are tweens. By then, they will have absorbed so many negative gender stereotypes that it can be hard to combat them. Start early. Start small. It will make a big difference.