Month: April 2017

7 Skills to Teach your Daughter by age 13

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By: Rebecca Ruiz

A pre-teen girl is at a unique moment in her life.

The spark that is her potential grows more intense, yet she’ll have to fight against gender norms that threaten to diminish it.

Those expectations might convince her to sacrifice ambition for popularity, or shame her for rejecting feminine beauty standards. There are countless ways she’ll feel pressured to hide or change her authentic self.

Most adolescent children, regardless of gender, feel that tension, but girls often face distinct challenges. Research shows, for example, their self-esteem plummets compared to boys.

“Girls are at their fiercest and most authentic prior to puberty,” says Rachel Simmons, author of three books on girlhood and cofounder of Girls Leadership, a national nonprofit that provides training, education and workshops to girls and the adults who support them.

Parents can prepare their daughters for the trials of being a teenage girl by teaching them vital skills early on. These include honest communication, assertive behavior, self-compassion and developing a positive relationship with their body.

Talking about these and other issues, says Simmons, should also be an exercise in learning about your daughter’s interests and who inspires her. Draw from pop culture examples after you’ve asked about, for example, her favorite song, celebrities and YouTube videos.

“That’s your best way to get an education,” says Simmons, “and win some love and respect from your kid in the process.”

Here are seven skills to consider teaching your daughter by the time she turns 13.

1. How to respect and express her feelings

Popular stereotype portrays girls (and women) as in touch with their feelings and naturally good at communicating them. That idea, however, has a harmful corollary: When girls and (and women) are overcome by their emotions, they become incapable of making decisions.

We so frequently assume that girls and emotions are a natural pairing, for better or worse, that we neglect to actually teach girls emotional intelligence. That skill, says Simmons, means having the ability to describe and convey the full range of human emotion. But when girls are taught to value being happy and liked, they often suppress or can’t acknowledge their more difficult experiences.

Instead, parents need to show their daughters how to “flex the muscle of expressing their strongest feelings,” says Simmons. They can do that by modeling their own emotions with an expansive vocabulary using words like happy, nervous, excited, scared, angry, frustrated and confused.

They can also “authorize” their daughters’ emotions by honoring their experiences as opposed to diminishing or questioning them.

“When your girls express authentic emotions — even if they’re difficult — you take them seriously,” says Simmons, “you don’t deny them or challenge them.”

2. How to feel self-compassion

It’s easy to be one’s most unforgiving critic, no matter gender. But girls, says Simmons, get a lot of messages that it’s important to please others. So when they experience a setback, it often feels like letting someone else down.

Research shows that adolescent girls may be exposed to more interpersonal stress than boys. That makes them more likely to ruminate on negative feelings, which puts them at greater risk for depression.

To help prevent this cycle of suffering, Simmons recommends parents teach their daughters how to deal with failure:

“What we want is for girls to have is the capacity to move through a setback without beating themseves up.” 

“What we want is for girls to have is the capacity to move through a setback without beating themselves up.” 

This means teaching a girl how to relate to herself and practice self-compassion in a moment of crisis. It’s important that instead of criticizing herself harshly, she focus on the universality of disappointment and practice self-kindness. By realizing others share that experience, she’ll be better prepared to treat herself compassionately and develop resilience.

3. How to develop a positive relationship with her body

Lost in a sea of selfies and reality television, where the lines between self-objectification and self-empowerment are frequently blurry, girls might not know how to view themselves beyond objects of desire.

One way to help them develop a holistic, positive relationship with their body is to introduce them to sports. The physical activity gives them an opportunity to see their bodies as capable of strength and stamina, rather than being defined by appearance only. Research shows that sports can directly affect a girl’s self-perception and self-confidence.

But even girls who feel physically capable and confident might still feel ashamed of their body and its sexuality. Simmons recommends talking with girls about their bodies from toddlerhood. Parents should know and use the right names for genitalia and do their best to  “represent sex as a healthy, beautiful experience that should be had with joy and consent.” And yes, that means talking about what consent means early on and emphasizing that a girl’s body belongs to her alone.

Parents who are uncomfortable discussing sex and the body communicate those feelings to their daughter. “When girls feel uncomfortable with their bodies,” says Simmons, “they can also disconnect from how they are really feeling, and worry more about how someone else is feeling, or what they want, instead.”

4. How to learn from friendships

Girls are frequently told that friendships are paramount, and that may be why they can be so singularly focused on those relationships. There’s a reason why Taylor Swift’s “squad” was the subject of numerous news stories and think pieces this year.

But we shouldn’t take female friendship for granted, says Simmons. Relationships help girls learn to assert themselves, compromise and set boundaries.

Parents should view friendships as an opportunity to show girls what healthy relationships look like and how they can relate to others and themselves.

One example might be helping your daughter respond when her friend doesn’t save a seat for her on the swing. That could start with asking her what choices she has in the situation and working with her on role-playing an assertive response. Encouraging her to communicate honestly and reasonably assert herself, says Simmons, provides her with skills that she’ll need to push for a raise as an adult.

5. How to deal with bullying

No parent wants to learn his or her child is being bullied — or has become the bully.

Dealing with either situation is challenging because it involves so many factors: communication, friendship and a parent’s own emotional intelligence. Digital bullying, the subject of multiple education campaigns this year, adds another layer of complexity.

“Girls will bully because they don’t have the tools to deal with their feelings,” says Simmons. And when girls are bullied, they often feel powerless to stand up for themselves. In both cases, Simmons recommends making sure they ask for help from an adult as needed and practice assertive but respectful communication. She admits, though, that approach won’t always work, so girls must know when to step away from a situation that is “unkind” and “unethical.”

These are critical skills to teach a girl, but many parents don’t even possess them. Some will encourage bullying behavior or intervene every time their daughter complains about a difficult interaction. Parents, says Simmons, have to accept responsibility for their own role: “They have to set the tone early on for what’s OK in relationships and not.”

6. How to embrace her gender identity

From exposure to stars like Caitlyn Jenner and Miley Cyrus to Facebook’s 50-plus gender identification options, girls are learning about gender identity and fluidity at increasingly early ages, says Julie Mencher, a Massachusetts-based psychotherapist and educator who specializes in gender diversity and LGBT issues.

The message they’re hearing is that gender is not simply male or female anymore. This increased attention to gender, says Mencher, “gives us the opportunity to teach [children] that  there’s not just a spectrum of masculinity to femininity out there in the world, but inside each of us as well.”

Mencher recommends parents use language that expands the gender binary beyond boy and girl to include identities like transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid and gender-neutral. It’s also important to describe human characteristics and emotions not just in gender-based terms (see: girls are always emotional).

Parents should reflect on their own identities as well, noting how much they embrace their “female masculinity” and “male femininity.”

Creating this kind of openness in your language and relationship will help a girl develop confidence in her own gender identity — no matter what that might be.

7. How to lead

We have more powerful female role models than ever before: Hillary ClintonSerena Williamsand TIME Person of the Year Angela Merkel, to name a few. But girls still find it difficult to develop leadership skills amidst the stigma of being called aggressive or bossy.

It’s even harder when they don’t know how to communicate their honest feelings, assert themselves, practice self-compassion, handle bullying or embrace their identity will probably have a tough time becoming a leader. That’s why it’s so important for a girl to cultivate a diverse set of life skills.

There are, however, specific strategies parents can use to encourage their daughter to take a leadership role. Fathers who evenly share household duties are more likely to raise daughters who believe they have a broader ranger of career options. Mothers can set their own example by taking on a leadership role at work or in a volunteer capacity.

Sports, says Simmons, is another way to teach leadership skills to girls; it’s a “pre-professional environment” that can help them succeed well past the season’s end.

“There’s a very powerful and painful unwritten communication code among girls that you’re not supposed to say what you really think to someone’s face and you’re not supposed to promote yourself,” says Simmons. “Sports perverts all of that; they can do that and be rewarded for it.”

These important skills aren’t easy to master, but the more chances a girl has to practice them under the guidance of a trusted adult, the more likely she’ll feel confident and self-assured as a teenager.

This article was originally published by mashable.com on December 18, 2015 and was written by Rebecca Ruiz.

15 Things All Dads of Daughters Should Know

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JUSTIN RICKLEFS

“I feel sorry for you when they become teenagers.” “Dude, you’re surrounded by women.” “What did you do to deserve that?”

Being a dad of four daughters (we also have one son), I hear stuff like this almost daily. And honestly, I’m the one who feels sorry for people who think this way.

Having daughters is one of the greatest joys I could imagine. We have a saying at our house that goes like this, “I love you more today than I did yesterday.” Raising girls is a privilege, not a burden.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned 15 things about raising girls these last 11 years.

1. She wants to be loved. More than she wants the stuff you can buy her or the things you can teach her, she wants you to love her. No one else on Earth can assume your role as daddy. Your daughter will let you down, make huge mistakes, and maybe even turn her back to you for a season, but don’t ever let her doubt your love for her. Look her in the eye and tell her you love her. Lots.

2. You have an influence on her future partner. Scary thought, but the kind of man you are to her will have a direct impact on who she chooses to marry some day. For years, our third daughter would beg me to marry her when she grew up. I had to explain that I was already married to her amazing mother. If you’re doing it right, she’ll want to marry someone like you one day.

3. Listen to her music. When my girls are in my car, you’ll be able to catch us rocking out to the following Pandora stations: Taylor Swift, One Direction, Cody Simpson, Kidz Bop Radio, Katy Perry, you get the point. Not stations I’d listen to on my own (with one exception — I love Taylor Swift), but when it lights them up, it lights me up.

4. She’s watching how you treat her mom. If you take one thing out of this entire list, make it this. One of the best things you can do for your daughter is to love her mom well. It’s easy to be child-centered. Running from one kid activity to another. But fight for your marriage and make it a priority. The seasons of life when I lose focus on dating Brooke (my wife) are also the same seasons when our children have more issues. I don’t think that’s coincidental. Love your wife, make time to date her, take her on trips, and show your kids that she is a bigger priority than they are.

5. Don’t shrink back as she grows up. Our oldest is almost 11, so we haven’t hit the dreaded teenage years, but I say bring them on. Dads who are further down the road than I am regret not being more emotionally engaged with their teenage daughters. It will be awkward for all of us, but I’m leaning right into it. Periods, boyfriends, shaving armpits, Snapchat, whatever it is. My girls won’t know any different than their dad being every bit as engaged when they’re 15 as he was when they were 5. Don’t disappear when their emotions and bodies start changing.

6. Teach her how to do a real push-up. I won’t be mistaken for Billy Blanks, but we take health and wellness seriously at our house. My girls aren’t wimps. They know how to do real push-ups. They play sports hard. They think “throwing like a girl” is a compliment, not an insult. They bring it. And more than the physical toughness, we’re raising mentally tough girls. Like their momma. In a world where femininity gets assigned far too often to princess dresses and fairy tales, my girls are tough as nails.

7. Make memories. A friend once told me that my job is to be the Chief Memory Maker of the house. It’s morbid, but I have 50-60 years left on this Earth, tops. That’s not a ton of time, so I’m going to go hard and create as many memories with my girls as I possibly can. We celebrate big things like a 10-year-old trip, but we also take the little things seriously. Family movie nights on Friday nights. Big breakfast Saturdays. Hikes after church. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it does have to be intentional. Fill up your daughter’s emotional journal with memories of being with her dad.

8. Teach her that it’s not about her. Something amazing happens when we realize that the universe doesn’t spin around us. We’re not modeling it perfectly for our girls, but we’re trying to show them that life is best lived when we give ourselves away. To serve others. To go last. To not always have to be right.

9. Show up to her events. As dads of young daughters, most of us are building careers at the same time. So it’s not possible every single time, but make the effort to get to her stuff. Even if it’s not your favorite stuff. I hate the commercial of the dad at the daughter’s dance recital who is watching a football game on his phone. I love a good football game as much as the next guy, but clap as hard for your daughter’s recital as you would on your couch watching sports.

10. Proximity doesn’t equal presence. I’m guilty of forgetting this often. The simple fact that you’re there doesn’t mean you’re really there. Especially in an era of constant information and entertainment. Turn your phone off when you get home from work. Or at least put it in another room. Your daughter couldn’t care less about your Twitter feed, your emails, your fantasy football team, or your group texts. She cares about spending time with you. Playing with you. Being with you.

11. Do her hair and nails. Brooke does this 99 times out of 100, but I make it a point to tell all my girls that daddy can make a killer ponytail. And I can paint their nails like a champ. Heck, they’ve painted mine on many occasions as well. Show her that a man can be gentle.

12. Date her. I wish I could say I do this consistently, but even once every few months is better than not at all. Dating your daughter is critical to showing her how a man should treat a woman. Call me old school, but on my dates with my girls, I open the doors, pay the bills, look them in the eye, and make them feel like a million bucks. This doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. A walk around the block. A short bike ride. A trip to the ice cream store. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but again, it must be intentional.

13. Her heart is more beautiful than her appearance. Guess what, dad? It’s your job to tell your daughter, and then remind her a million times, that what’s on the inside of her is what will make her go far in life. The heart is how we talk about it at our house, but it can be her character, her self-worth, her core. Raising girls in this sensual world isn’t easy, but they don’t have to settle for the belief that to be pretty means you must fit into a size zero or show almost every piece of your skin when you walk into a room.

14. Don’t blink.Kenny Chesney was right. She calls you daddy. Enjoy that role — it flies by.

15. Will you forgive me? I forget 1-14 more than I would like to admit. I’m doing my best. You are too. But when I blow it, when I hurt her feelings, and when my intentions were better than my actions, I’m learning to ask her for forgiveness. Not a simple apology, but a sincere plea for forgiveness. Model being a dad who gets down on her level and admits that you don’t have it all together. She’ll forgive you for that.

 

This article was written by Justin Ricklefs and was published in the Huffington Post on 10/3/2014 and updated on 1/13/16.