Raising Confident Girls

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This is one way fathers can get involved. "Many dads tell me what their daughters discuss with them -- from questions about whether they're pretty to comments about not eating foods like peanut butter anymore because it makes them fat -- and how they assured them that they are much more than how they look," says Joe Kelly, executive director of Dads and Daughters (www.dadsanddaughters.org) a Duluth, MN-based national organization that aims, in part, to strengthen the relationship between fathers and daughters and protest girl-unfriendly media images.

The Talking Cure

Parents of preschool and early elementary school girls may find themselves in a peculiar place: Their daughter may seem strong and happy, yet evidence shows that many girls will struggle with self-esteem problems by third grade. Taking a proactive stance makes sense, experts say. "When girls are unhappy about their looks, we have them list what they think friends most like about them," says Lisa Sjostrom, director of the Boston-based "Full of Ourselves" self-esteem program for fourth- to seventh-grade girls. "The list rarely includes anything to do with looks."

"It may seem hard to talk with your little girl about adult, complicated topics," says Dr. Roban, "but making time to talk about things is the best preventive strategy of all." Because most girls under 6 are unable to articulate concerns or issues, you can use things your daughter comments on as a springboard to further discussion, she says. If her role model is Britney Spears, for example (as is the case with 50% of 9- to 11-year-old girls, according to a recent survey from Sesame Workshop in New York City), ask what about Britney attracts her and why. If she mentions boys, don't tell her she's too young to think about them. "Girls must know that they can bring up anything with their parents," she says. "The best news in all of this is that in our last survey, girls -- particularly younger ones -- told us that their mother is the top person they turn to for guidance, and plenty turn to their father too."

"Actions speak louder than words" is never truer than for kids, and the process begins at birth. "The key to raising strong, happy girls -- or boys -- is letting them see diverse role models in everyday life," says Nicholson. "When kids grow up thinking they're people first, not just girls or boys, they'll be better able to realize all their goals."

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