Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of moms of elementary-age daughters. I shared with them some friendship concepts (which I’ll share in a later post), as well as these seven ideas for helping their daughters grow into thriving adults. I had so much to share, and I ran out of time, so I am expanding on the concepts here.
Focus on your relationship with her.
The most important thing we can do as parents of daughters is focus first on developing strong, close relationships with them. Many of the “One Simple Thing” tips for creating happier, more connected families I’ve shared this year have been ideas for creating daily or weekly connection times that aren’t revolving around academics or athletics. Giving hugs and hive fives, showing interest and listening intently to their stories, and just asking about about the ups and downs of their lives are simple ways to build strong relationships.
Any way you can fit in more connection time through a fun outdoor activity, hobby, or craft you enjoy together is amazing.
Focus on your daughter’s overall well-being rather than on her appearance, popularity, or perfection.
At my parenting workshops, I ask participants to write on an index card what they dream about for their child’s future. I tell them to project ahead 10 or 20 years and write a few things they really want for their child. Rarely do parents mention a specific college degree, career, or professional sports team position.
Instead, most parents want their children to grow into caring, thriving adults who are happy and contributing positively to the world.
Looking at the long view of parenting, and the ultimate goal of raising kids who become thriving adult humans, can help us make better decisions now.
For our girls, this means we need to help them focus less on their appearance, number on a scale, and social media, and more on the activities and interests that bring them happiness.
Focus on strengths, interests, and “flow” (not what everyone else is doing).
One important way we can help our daughters feel happier and more energized is by helping them discover activities and interests where they find flow. Some of those could overlap with what other kids are doing, but oftentimes they could be unique activities.
At a 50th birthday party a few weeks ago, we were asked to bring a “hidden talent” to share. My friend Karen and I both brought back activities we had spent hours doing as young girls – she walked on stilts and I hovered on a balance board. We had time to spend hours honing those skills as young girls because we had hardly any scheduled activities during our youth.
Where have you seen your daughter “light up”? Watch for those activities that bring her “flow” and encourage them, whether they are solo activities or things she does with friends.
When it comes to our children and what makes them tick, we need to acknowledge our own thoughts, dreams, and biases. We may want our daughter to be an actress, because we loved the theater. But our daughter is not us. She is her own person, with her own personality and interests. A gift you can give her is helping her discover what those are.
At my kids’ school, the head cheerleading coach is a positive, passionate leader with a devoted following of girls who love cheerleading. Her own daughter (a student at the school) is pursuing basketball and other sports, and I’ve loved seeing how this mom has wholeheartedly embraced and allowed her daughter to pursue her own interests.
Model positive female friendships.
So much of what we teach our kids comes through our examples. Female friendships can be complicated and messy, but they can also be the source of much fun, laughter, and support both as kids and adults. When we model strong friendships for our daughters, we provide them with a blueprint for positive relationships both now and in their future.
How do we model positive female friendships?
- Show caring and kindness. Provide help and support to your friends as needed (listen when they need to talk, provide meals when sick, do errands when overwhelmed).
- Ask for help. Let your friend reciprocate and help you when you need a hand. Show that your friendship is mutual and that you both depend on each other.
- Build each other up. Compliment and encourage each other. Cheer each other on and celebrate victories.
- Refrain from gossip about others. Talk about dreams, goals, stories. Don’t talk about other people.
- Prioritize spending time together.
These are just a few of many ways to model positive friendships for our girls.
Talk about friendships and provide gentle “friendship coaching.”
Our daughters’ social lives are complex. They will make and lose friends many times over their lifetime. As parents, we can help our girls by understanding social skills strengths and deficits, gently helping them build upon their strengths, and providing gentle coaching on any areas of deficit that may be damaging their friendships.
Listen & empathize more; rescue & ruminate less.
I was heartbroken when my daughter came home in 4th grade saying that two of her close friends were whispering and excluding her during recess. My protective maternal instinct kicked in, and I really wanted to tell those girls (and their moms) how awful they were being.
Fortunately, because of my many years of experience as a camp director and having helped hundreds of kids navigate friendships, I knew that jumping in and trying to rescue her wouldn’t improve her social situation. Instead, I listened to her, empathized (“That sounds so hard. How sad that must feel…”), shared about a similar situation I had encountered as a young girl, and I asked questions: “Are there any other girls who seem kind and who you’d like to get to know better?” I didn’t want her to feel like a victim or chase after friends who weren’t including her. I wanted her to feel confident facing the inevitable social situations that come up in the complicated world of female friendships.
One of the best gifts we can give our daughters is expressing our confidence in their own ability to solve social problems. We can be there to listen, share our own painful friendship stories, normalize the rejection experience, and teach them to respond to meanness with empathy and not victimhood. We can also encourage them to move on and not spend too much time ruminating over a friendship that has not survived.
Ban or limit social media use.
My girls (now 19, 22, & 24) missed having to deal with social media as tweens and young teens. For that I am extremely grateful. By the time social media became ubiquitous, they were well into high school or college.
I have followed closely what is happening with the younger kids (Gen “Z”) who have grown up knowing nothing other than screens in their parents’ and others’ hands and their photos and videos being shared on social media. Many of our campers tell me what a relief it is to be phone-free for a few weeks each summer at camp. Children are currently in a living experiment for which we already have evidence of outcomes: rising anxiety, depression, and suicide rates among adolescents.
Young girls – who already have enough social pressure – do not need the added “second shift” of social media that Rachel Simmons describes in Enough as She Is. Postpone the introduction of social media as long as you can for your daughter’s well-being. Or, if she is already deep into it, consider taking a sustained break to see how it changes her outlook and well-being. Focus more on helping her develop her face-to-face friendships and you will give her a big boost in terms of her outlook for both present and future thriving.