10 Little Ways You Can Teach Your Daughter To Stick Up For Herself
Now that Election Day has come and gone, we must come to terms with the results and the potential ramifications. More than ever, I'd argue, we have to teach our daughters to stand up for themselves. Regardless of any political campaign, or the outcome, it can be difficult for young girls to feel empowered (and safe) enough to do so. Thankfully, there are little ways you can teach your daughter to stick up for herself, that will aid her in whatever comes next (and for the rest of her life).
We have a president now who believes that "the future ... must be shaped by girls," a man who created the White House Council on Women and Girls. However, we just elected Donald Trump, an individual who has bragged about sexual assault and consistently insulted and denigrated women. A lot of women have had a hard time explaining the outcome of this election to their kids, and many more women (predominantly women of color and women of the LGBTQ community) are having trouble feeling safe.
I certainly did my best to explain what this election could potentially mean to and for my daughter, given that I don't know how to explain it to myself and my daughter's vocabulary mainly consists of words like "mama," and "dada," and the Spanish word for "cat." However, I assured her that everything will be OK, that her dad and I will protect her, and that — in our family — love and respect win the day. She's going to do a lot of growing up in the next four years, and I'm making it my mission to teach her to stand up for herself.
Yes, many of us are grieving the results of this latest presidential election, but eventually we have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and act. We owe it to our daughters, and their futures hinge on their ability to lean in. Here's how we do it:
Teach Her To Say "No"
All kids, but girls in particular, need to learn that they have the right to say "no" and that their "no" should be honored. That means that they have to respect a "no" from their friends, too. It also means that you as the parent have to accept your child's "no," even if you feel bad because they don't want to hug grandma today.
Give your young daughter the opportunity to say "yes" and "no" by providing her with choices (within reason, of course). It may not be an option to play in the dog's water dish, but maybe what she wears can be negotiable. This kind of daily interaction will bolster her sense of self and her confidence in her own agency as she gets older and has more control over her decisions.
Every child should learn that their body belongs to them, and them only. Teach them to ask permission before they hug or kiss someone else, and that will help them internalize that everyone gets to make the decisions about their own body. Insist that others who ask for physical affection, honor the wishes of your child instead of taking it personally or forcing your child to engage physically when they otherwise do not want to. Someone else's hurt feelings are a small price to pay for a child who understands consent.
Use Correct Body Part Names
Sometimes other moms ask me what I call my daughter's private parts. This confuses me because it's a vagina, so I call it a vagina. I don't think I'm doing her any favors by using a cutesy name. I feel like that would suggest that there is something to be embarrassed about, and I want my kid to feel like she can come to me with any concerns about her body. And if she gets sick or injured, she needs to be able to tell me exactly where it hurts.
Read Her Empowering Books
If the only narrative our girls hear is that of the damsel in distress, they're going to grow up thinking they need to be rescued. One way to change that storyline is to provide books that buck gender stereotypes. Welcoming Schools has a great list of books that challenge gender limits. I personally love The Paperbag Princess, in which Princess Elizabeth outwits the dragon, saves the prince, and gives marriage to that loser a hard pass.
Hold Up Historical Badasses
There are plenty of women who are historical bosses. The women's suffrage movement is a great place to start. What better precedent for standing up for oneself than the ladies who fought for the right to vote, right?
My favorite little known historical female? Sojourner Truth. Truth, a former slave, became a women's rights activist and abolitionist whose "Ain't I a Woman?" speech is beyond inspirational. Direct your daughter to A Mighty Girl and Amy Poehler's Smart Girls for spotlights on other kickass ladies in history.
Make Sure She Knows Her Rights
In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Children's rights are human rights, with special considerations given their unique characteristics. Children have the right to, among other things; equality, education, medical services, and protection from neglect, cruelty, and exploitation. Children are also afforded protections under the First Amendment, and I recommend pocket constitutions for older children. After all, it's pretty hard to stand up for your rights if you don't understand them (and there are plenty of bad people counting on that).
Teach Her To Use Her Voice
Throughout her life, your daughter will get plenty of messages surrounding the popular idea that it's better for her to keep her mouth shut (better to be seen than heard, and all that). It's up to you and your village to combat that.
Engage her in conversation, ask her questions, and encourage her to articulate her feelings and opinions. Even if you disagree, show her that you respect what she has to say. Even a toddler can be encouraged to use his or her words in the midst of a tantrum and learn better ways to express themselves, rather than bottling up feelings until they blow up.
Don't Do Things For Her She Can Do Herself
When you see your child struggling, it's tempting to jump in and do it for her (get that food into her mouth, tie her shoe, or whatever that it may be). Resist that urge.
When you do something for your child that she is capable of doing herself (albeit slower than molasses), you send her the message that she's not capable, at all. That lesson isn't conducive to raising a confident, assertive young woman.
Provide Her With Examples Of Strong Women
Did you watch Hillary Clinton's concession speech? You should, and make sure your daughter's in the room. She was articulate and gracious, urging unity above all.
She also had a message for young girls: "Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." Hillary may not be the next president of the United States, but there are plenty of women we can look to who can be our champions. (And we still have Notorious RBG, for which I am forever thankful.)
Set An Example
Your daughter's best example of a badass, powerful, confident woman is you. She needs to see you stand up for her and for yourself. Do you make concessions because you don't want people to feel bad? Do you undervalue your contributions? I know I'm guilty of this but, now that I have a daughter, I feel a renewed commitment to my feminist leanings.
One of the best ways I can show my love for my daughter is by loving and respecting myself. I'm already proud of my daughter. My husband predicts that she will lead millions (for good, we hope). In the meantime, I'll do everything in my power to make sure she knows what a valuable, capable, and wonderful person she is.