The happiest moment of my life was when my daughter was born. But it was also the scariest. Raising a daughter is requiring me to be courageous in the midst of facing my own challenges and fears through her eyes and her experiences.
Clara, mother of a 10-year-old girl
Ask any mom about the first reaction she had when she found out she was having a girl and you can bet it was shear delight…and then apprehension! Delight that she was going to have a little mini-me to play with, dress up, watch perform or compete and take to tea parties. Apprehension when she recalls navigating girl relationships, self esteem, body image and finding love. It’s amazing how personal our daughter’s challenges can feel. So much so that we need to make sure to regulate our own emotions and histories, and to be very gentle with ourselves when we feel the familiar pains or relive our own fears when our daughters find themselves in challenging situations.
According to Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Girls, “Girlhood is a lot of fun, for parents and for girls themselves, but it also has its intense times. At each stage of their growing up, girls must ask key questions and have to deal with difficult decisions. They get confused and they make mistakes, but eventually they learn and grow, and out of all this they become capable and strong adult women.” (By the way, so much of this applies to boys as well. Stay tuned for my upcoming article on Raising Boys!)
Stage One: Security (Birth to 2 years old) “Am I loved and Safe?”
A secure attachment to her primary caregiver is key and lays a foundation for all future friendships and romantic relationships. Those early years of attuned connection with her mother is giving her a sense that she is loved and lovable and her world is safe. Her relationship with her father is key to having a sense of security and confidence. Babies need ample time to rely on a parent to care for every need and regulate their brains and emotions. This regulation is internalized and helps our daughters with all future experiences and relationships.
Stage Two; Exploring (2-5 Years) “Is the world a fun and interesting place?
This stage builds on the security and safety of stage one. When our girls feel safe and loved, they have the confidence to explore their worlds with joy and interest. The more secure a child feels the greater her curiosity to explore and take risks in her play. Creative play is key and lays a foundation for all future learning and success. When she is confident in her play, she is then confident to initiate play with her peers in the future. Stage Two lays a foundation for the confidence to make friends later in life.
Stage Three: People Skills (5-10 Years) “Can I get along with others?”
During this stage our daughters learn that life is more fun when you do it with a friend. Healthy relationships are established through sharing, giving, cooperating, taking turns, listening, and kind and thoughtful actions. We can teach our kids by modeling these behaviors in our own relationships and coaching them when we see they need a little confidence to step out and be a friend. Discussing the value of making eye contact, smiling and being friendly, reading their own and others’ emotions and picking up on play cues helps support them in making friends. Also, when we share our own stories of childhood friendships, mistakes we made, how we held up in the face of a bully and what we did to maintain longtime friendships is really helpful.
Stage Four: Finding Her Soul (10-14 Years) “Can I discover my deep-down self and what makes me happy?”
There are so many changes going on at this stage of puberty and some girls seem to change over night. Talking to our girls about the changes they will be facing (in their brains, bodies, emotions and friendships) before they start (when they still want to talk about it) is a very helpful way to set the stage for the upcoming transformation. American Girl has some fabulous books to read with your daughter, such as The Care and Keeping of You-The Body Book for Girls, and other books on friendships, feelings and managing the internet. My daughter (age 12) and I are currently reading their Mother/Daughter Book called The Care and Keeping of Us that has been so helpful.
Also, this is the stage when our daughters are searching for their identity and slowly moving from finding their approval from parents to the approval of their peers. She begins to think about what she stands for and what she most deeply cares about. It is helpful at this time to assist our girls in finding their passion and their purpose. Setting firm boundaries around their use of screen time is crucial for them to develop a strong sense of self during this stage.
Stage Five: Stepping into Adulthood (14-18) “Can I take responsibility for my own life?”
At this stage girls will begin to assume more responsibility for themselves and will need opportunities to experience increasing independence. This is the stage where they can begin to manage their own money, time, eating habits, clothes, safety, friend choices and values while still safe under our roof to guide when things get rocky. She is still growing and making mistakes along the way, but with gentle guidance and connection to her family she will have the confidence to pick herself up and try again. Girls at this age benefit greatly by having mentors, coaches, aunts or teachers who take a special interest in them and who they can confide in when they face challenges.
Raising Girls in the age of Social Media
I cannot write an article about Raising Girls without acknowledging the times we are living in and how social media is affecting our daughters. Girls right now are facing some of the biggest challenges in history. According to Biddulph (Raising Girls) one in five girls are facing anxiety and depression, eating disorders are on the rise, sexual encounters are starting at earlier ages and self-harm is up 60% in the last ten years. David Whiting, in his article “Living in a New Age of Pressure” (Pasadena Star News 3/18/18) sites yet another teen girl suicide. Current research sites that many of these ills are due to the tremendous stress of managing a social media image and navigating the constant stream of incoming information on what everyone is doing and posting. The article states that some of the reasons for the rise in self harm is due to “lives lived in a digital world in which kids are measured by Instagram and Snapchat ‘likes’, a sense of overwhelming pressure coupled with fear of failure, and the belief that practice- and enough internet research-can make you perfect.” It also states: “Consider that smartphones arrived in 2007. Instagram came on line in 2010, Snapchat a year later. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011.” I really believe that we are entering into a new age where unless we go counter-culture (limit screen time) our daughters will suffer.
Our girls need a sense of belonging and connection, purpose and value, their innocence preserved and their brains engaged in productive ways. I urge every parent to WAIT to get your daughter a smartphone too early. Let’s get our girls on solid ground before we immerse them into a current too strong for them to keep their heads above water.
Managing screen time starts early. When we establish healthy boundaries in the early elementary years, limiting time spent watching shows, playing games and searching websites our girls will hopefully have an internal regulation once they have their own devices. Talk to your daughter about the addictive aspects of social media, the trappings of constant postings, the deception of portraying “perfection” and also the damage cyber bullying can do before she gets pulled into that world. Once she does open an Instagram or Snapchat , check in regularly to see how she is managing things. Create a contract and set firm boundaries on when the phone gets turned off and put outside the bedroom at a decent hour.
Our girls need our help and support more than ever! By helping them feel loved and safe in our relationships with them, creating a rich an interesting world for them to play and explore, giving them opportunities to build supportive and loving friendships, honoring her journey to find her soul, releasing her to grow in independence, and lastly coaching her to manage her relationship with technology, our beautiful daughters will grow to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted individuals who will change the world!
This article by Sloan Walsh was originally published through La Canada Presbyterian Church’s (LCPC) Parent Education email newsletter, “From My House to Yours.”
Sloan Walsh, a previous elementary teacher and literacy specialist, has been teaching Parent Education at La Canada Presbyterian Church for 15 years now. She has worked with parents of children of all ages and has led support groups for moms of kids with special needs. Sloan graduated with a BA from UCSB and received her teaching credential from Cal State Northridge. In addition to all her years of learning and teaching in La Canada, she has also enjoyed the opportunity to be trained by and work with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, co-author of The Whole Brain Child, at The Center for Connection. Sloan is passionate about working with parents and children to see them thrive in their lives and families. She is married to Bob (29 years) and has three children ages 20, 18 and 12.