I heard a great talk last week about boosting resilience in girls by Simone Marean, executive director of Girls Leadership Institute. Here's how the organization describes its work: "We teach girls to identify healthy relationships, communicate effectively, and develop a resilient response to conflict, challenges, and mistakes." Even if you hope your daughter will excel in STEM someday, she also needs emotional intelligence.
Girls often feel pressure to be perfect. Their fear of failure makes it harder for them to take risks. I'm sure my daughter isn't the only one who has a tough time hearing criticism or apologizing when she's made a mistake. Girls know that it's ideal to feel confident and happy, so they're often uncomfortable expressing negative emotions. And if they feel like they should have a BFF with whom they never fight, they don't learn to manage conflict in their relationships.
Unfortunately, our best efforts to discuss these types of issues with our girls ("How did that make you feel?") often don't get very far. Instead of opening up to you, your daughter may just roll her eyes or say, "I'm fine, it's nothing."
Marean offered these fresh ideas to try:
Talk about your own no-so-happy feelings. Look for opportunities to tell your daughter about a situation that made you feel embarrassed, nervous, awkward, or insecure. Use those words. Her ears will perk up and she will be eager to hear how you handled it. Of course, it's best to choose a minor anecdote; you could tell her that you were embarrassed when the wind blew your skirt up, but you don't need to tell her that you're worried about losing your job. She shouldn't be put in the position of being your therapist; the point is just let her know that these types of feelings are normal. You're her first role model.
Share your mistakes. Maybe you forgot the cable TV guy was scheduled to come today or you said something to your own sister that she found insulting. Girls often convince themselves they didn't say something mean to a friend because it conflicts with the image they have of themselves as a nice person. Or girls exaggerate the significance of a mistake ("I can't believe I kicked the ball into the other team's goal—I'm never playing soccer again!"). Show your daughter that worthy people make mistakes and take responsibility for them. Talk about the fact that a situation isn't usually one person's fault—different people can each make a "contribution." (Maybe your husband promised to remind you that about the cable guy!) Young kids like the idea of "double sorry," in which each person apologizes for what she did wrong.
Help her solve her own problems. If your daughter is upset about a problem with a friend, instead of giving her advice, encourage her to brainstorm about what she could do. Offer to role-play the situation so your daughter can practice being assertive with her friend (rather than too aggressive or too passive) just like she practices sports. "Relationships should be the fourth R," says Marean. "Social skills need to be learned."
Girls Leadership Institute offers helpful "Real Parents, Real Daughters" workshops for girls in grades K-8, as well as day camps and overnight camps. Visit their website for more information or to join their mailing list.