Looking back, what do you know now that you wish you’d known sooner? What do you still not know and wish someone had taught you? We all want what’s best for our girls, and we do the best that we know how. Young children’s brains are little sponges, soaking up everything they experience. Teach your daughters what they need to know while they’re still young, and they’ll thank you when they reach your age!
1. They may dress like princesses, but they’re no damsels in distress.
Every girl has her favorite princess. (Mine is either Ariel or Sleeping Beauty. Does Mulan count?) But real life isn’t always happily, ever after, and princes aren’t the solution to all of our problems. A little fantasizing is fun, but share some real-life heroines with them, too, like Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Malala, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman.
2. How to learn the “3 R’s” — and love them!
This seems like an obvious one, but girls need to have those basic educational skills. In these days of continuously changing standards, practices, and policies, kids can fall within the cracks. Be an advocate for daughters and support them in and out of school. When and why do some girls begin believing they can’t do math? Do they love to read or hate it? A love of learning is the key to opening up the girls’ worlds. Be an example for them by reading yourself, and buy them a special journal of their choice so that they can see writing as enjoyable and as a window into finding out more about themselves. Take educational trips and turn everyday experiences into chances to practice their developing skills!
3. How to play
Play is underrated these days — and it’s so critical! Play is great for social skills. It encourages creativity and problem-solving. It helps children figure out their environment, their world. Foster these opportunities for your children — and no, video games do not count!
4. How money works
I grew up with practically no concept of financial planning. I created my first budget years after starting my first career. Financial literacy is not a prerequisite for college — and it should be! If your daughters do not learn money management from you, they will learn it one way or the other — perhaps at the mercy of credit card debt or college loans. Start sharing your budget with them from an early age. “Why do we keep it a secret?” And see this as a great opportunity to bring math to life! Explain in terms they’ll understand and try visuals like pie charts. Start with the supermarket and explain how much money you’ve budgeted for the trip. Hand them a calculator and put them in charge of keeping tally as you go.
5. How to create
We are all creators, born with inventive spirits. Encourage them in this in every way. Foster the artist and problem-solver within them. Make “I wonder. . .” your catch phrase, and invite them to use their imagination with you. “I wonder what we can make with these ingredients!” “I wonder why this phone is not charging. Let’s see if the switch is on. . . Let’s see what happens with this outlet. . .”
6. How to share
One of the first words little kids learn is “mine.” And so, our attachments begin. Daughters need to know the cycle of giving and receiving. Hoarding stifles this important process. Sharing their things will convert into sharing their time, sharing their space, sharing their gifts, and sharing their love. Teach them the beauty in this, and teach them how to graciously receive, as well.
7. How to receive a compliment
It is amazing how hard it is for girls to receive compliments. They will quickly throw it back like a hot potato or ignore it, deflect it, dismiss it, or deny it. Why? In my case, it’s a misunderstanding of humility. They must understand that half of the cycle of giving and receiving is to receive. This does not mean girls should derive their value from their environment, nor should they spend a conversation elaborating on all of their wonderful skills and talents. However, compliments are a gift, meant to be appreciated as much as any tangible gift, and your daughters are completely deserving. Teach them to take in the compliment, to fully receive it. They may later take the opportunity to pass the gift along to somebody else.
8. They can “fix it.”
If you think you’re helping your little girls by fixing all of their problems for them — think again! Who will change the lightbulb when when they move out? What will they do when they gets a flat tire, and you’re two states away? Be their teacher outside of school. Allow them to help you as much as they are safely able, and explain and model the rest (even if means having them listen to that call to the plumber!).
9. The Home Ec. stuff
Notice I put this after the “fix it” section so that I wouldn’t get pelted by eggs and tomatoes. (Boys need to learn this, too!) Our daughters need to be able to cook, to complete household chores, and to complete some basic sewing. This will save them money and health problems later. So many adults resort to fast food and quick-fix dinners. Clothing is thrown away because of untreated stains, missing buttons, and holes in the pockets or knees. Here’s another great chance for both creativity and a “fix-it”! And your daughters will know that they’re helping the planet by skipping the landfill.
10. How to defend themselves
Martial arts are an easy match for this, but some basic moves can be enough to help them get away from a stranger and find safety. Make sure to teach them what’s ok and not ok to accept from others, including inappropriate words, actions, and touch. We don’t want to frighten them, but we don’t want them to be blind to potential danger either. Teach them how to stay safe, what to watch out for in their environment, and how to trust their instincts.
So many adults struggle with this, imagine how much easier it can be for children — they start with much less responsibility! Discipline/willpower carries over into every part of our lives — food, money our job, and any commitments. First and foremost, be a model for them. Be decisive and stand by your decisions (as much as possible). Make commitments and follow-through on them. Then, encourage them to do the same. Start small. If they make plans with friends, make sure they keeps their commitments. If they promise to complete something, don’t let them off the hook. This will make them strong and build character.
12. Taking responsibility for their actions
For some reason lying drove me absolutely crazy as a teacher, more than almost any other disciplinary problem. It’s a very natural defense mechanism for anyone. We fear the consequences, so we protect ourselves any way we can. Our daughters need to know that trust is one of the most important qualities we have, and they need to know the incredible damage dishonesty can cause. There are great books out there on the importance of honesty. One of my favorites is The Berenstain Bears and the Truth. However, the best way to encourage your daughters in this is to be a model of truth yourself and to provide a trusting environment that fosters this important character trait. Create logical, consistent consequences for incidents and rule-breaking. Take some deep breaths and make sure you are calm and centered before you address them. And do not make excuses for their behavior. Testing will happen and accidents will happen. They need to learn the natural process of cause and effect. The best you can do for your daughters is identify the situation, allow them to take responsibility, administer the consequence, and allow them to move on. Discipline the action but praise them for their honesty. Explain to them that incidents will be forgotten, but trust and character is not forgotten.
The earlier they can get organized, the better! Help them organize for school by creating a specific homework space, and help them create an organizational system for their supplies. (Their future home office will thank you!) Create a calendar to help them plan their homework projects and study for tests. Add their weekly routine, including chores and extracurriculars.
14. Time management
If they’re adventurers and a go-getters, they’ll want to do it all! This is a good time to help them start working on goals and proper perspective. What is it they want and need to accomplish? What activities will fulfill that? Do they love music AND softball AND dance? Which can they comfortably fit in this year, and which can they keep for next year? Are they already taking a long time on schoolwork? Talk with their teacher on how they might modify their work. (For example, doing 10 math problems instead of 20.) I speak from experience when I say a perfectionistic, workaholic young girl becomes a perfectionistic workaholic woman! Help them work through this before it becomes a solidified habit.
15. Making healthy choices
Educate them on the many parts of themselves. What will nourish their bodies? Their minds? Their spirits? Educate them and yourself on a proper balanced diet and proper supplementation. Besides having them tally up the prices at the supermarket, explain why you choose the foods you do. What nutrients do they have? How will they affect their bodies? (“There are lots of great vitamins in this broccoli! It will keep your bones strong!”) Educate them on the different options out there — organic, grass-fed, free range, vitamins added, etc. Help them find fun ways to stay active. Encourage them to play outside. Perhaps they enjoys a particular sport. Finally, be someone who they can trust, someone who they can cry in front of, and someone to share in their joys and frustrations. Our emotions are our teachers and will do them no good when bottled up inside.
16. How to communicate
Have them write their own “Thank You”s. Be sure they are present when you make phonecalls for service needs. Help them participate in fundraisers, and encourage them to ask questions at the doctor and dentist. No matter what they decide to do as an adult, they will benefit from developing an ease in conversation.
17. How to be still
Communication is important, but silence is golden. Teach them to be comfortable in silence and that listening is more important than speaking. So many people just want to be heard, but many do not know how to listen. It’s never too early to start yoga and meditation. Some preschools include yoga in their curriculum. Be sure to educate yourself on the appropriate poses for children. The purpose of yoga is not becoming a human pretzel; it’s about connecting with the body and with the spirit. Also, start early with meditation. Keep it short and be a model for them. Warm yourselves up with some soothing music. They may develop their own routine over time.
18. Knowing their bodies
They need to know their bodies are unique, and they need to be connected with them. “One-size-fits-all” doesn’t actually exist, and it’s ok that their arms and legs may be a little shorter than “normal” or that the same pants that fit Susie don’t fit them, or vice versa. Point out that everybody’s toes are different, and feet can be flat, narrow, “average”, or wide. Women have many, many different types and shades of skin and hair — and take care of it in very different ways. Women have different body shapes and constructions. Teach them the reality about models, that the marketers who place them in the ads, TV, and movies are looking for a very specific, unusual body type. Limit the exposure to commercials and ads, and keep your ears open to what they’re receiving from school and their friends. Nip any misconceptions in the bud before those judgements about themselves and others become ingrained their psyches.
Model, model, model, and then let them try it themselves. Gradually ease them into completing the whole thing themselves. Encourage your daughters’ independence in everything, even independence in being the one to ask for help when they see they need it. Doing everything for your daughters is not being a giving parent. It is taking away their ability to be fully-functional adults later. My dad got my sister and I started on our own laundry and other household chores at an early age. Have your daughters help as they can with cooking, errands, and yardwork, too. Whatever they do not learn from you now for free, they may be paying someone to help them with later.
This is perhaps one of the most important of all of their life lessons. Self-respect isn’t just honoring themselves. It is being able to objectively take a look at themselves, at where they actually are, and where they want to go. Through their experiences with stillness, with play, with socialization, and through their reactions to life experiences, your daughters will come to learn who they really are. Encourage them in this discovery. Encourage them to learn from experience and identify how they are changing and growing.
21. Respect for all others
Children are not born with racism and classicism. It is environmental conditioning. Much of it is unconscious, and all of it is due to misunderstandings. The best thing you can do for your daughters is to give them as many experiences as possible with as many different people as possible. Find communities and schools with mixed races and ethnicities. If you can, travel outside the state with them, and even outside the country. They will see their country in a whole new way when they’re on the outside looking in. Be sure that you, yourself are a perfect model of friendship and fairness. (Watch your own body language, thoughts, and expressions!) Expose them to many different viewpoints, beliefs and causes. Be open and compassionate toward others. They will model you.
22. Respect for the Earth
Sometimes we made a big deal about Earth Day in school. Other years we completely skipped over it. Make every day an Earth Day in your own home. I learned to recycle because my dad always did it. I learned about “organic” from my mom. As an adult, I find there’s a lot more to the whole picture, and there are many ways to make a difference. Start talking with your daughters about these things. Watch age-appropriate documentaries with them and encourage them to find their passions in the areas of preservation and sustainability. Join a cleanup group with them or bring them on a tour of a recycling plant. Encourage them to find out where materials come from, and educate them on the options.
23. Their passions
Often your daughters share your passions — but not always! Pay close attention to what excites them –what animates them — and give them as many opportunities as you are able (without getting ridiculous). Children are born with innate talents and interests, so be alert as they begin to to reveal them, and keep an open mind. Your soccer stars may also secretly be artists. Your quiet little bookworms may be bursting to play that brassy trumpet! It’s never too late to start, but starting young can lead to true proficiency in an area of their choice.
24. They are successful.
Why do so many children begin to hate school? Because they believe they will fail. Teach your daughters early on that there is no failure. Every experience is a learning experience, no matter how devastating it may feel. Again, model model, model! Show them by laughing at your own mishaps. Show them how you immediately work on correcting your “mistakes”. And teach your daughters early on to acknowledge their successes, no matter how small they may seem. Show them how to break down those big tasks into manageable steps, so that they can build those little successes into that cumulative, fantastic accomplishment. Instill in them that life is about growth; help them to always strive for improvement and to be satisfied that they are doing their best.
25. Their thoughts and words are powerful.
We create our own reality. Help them to start recognizing their thoughts before their brains gets cluttered with them! At the end of elementary school I decided I wasn’t going to have any sick days; I made it all the way to the end of my junior year in high school! What we believe and say about ourselves will come to pass. What we believe and say about others will become who they are to us (and will reveal to others who we think we are.) Watch what comes out of your daughters’ mouths and help them to frame it. “I can’t do this!” can become “This feels hard right now, but I know I can get this as I keep working on it!” “That person is a jerk!” becomes “That person seems to be having a bad day/some misunderstandings. I wonder what happened to them today and what is going on in his/her life.” “This cookie will make me fat!” can become “I am going to really enjoy this delicious, cookie!” or “Actually, I think I will really enjoy these strawberries today.”
26. They are not alone, and they are loved.
Why do some young people want to end it all? Because they feel misunderstood, unloved, and alone. The best you can do for your daughters is to unconditionally love them and unconditionally love yourself. Meeting these 27 needs will help them reach the ultimate goal of unconditionally loving themselves. But they may need some support along the way. Make sure they know that they can always talk to you, and get them involved in activities, community groups, and organizations that will foster healthy communication throughout their development. Always ask them about their day, and teach them about bullying and about their options. Make sure they know that they can be empowered and can choose not to be the victim. You may want to practice role-playing with them and walk them through the problem-solving process with different scenarios. Also, encourage them to be a support for others; they will be empowered through empowering others.
27. They are teachers.
Confucious said: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” The next step beyond this is to teach! You will know you’ve done your job as a parent when your daughters begin to teach these ideas and skills to others. Encourage them in this if they are not already doing it naturally. Not only will they be demonstrating their understanding and helping make the world a better place, they will better understand how to teach themselves — a skill that will help them later in life when they go off to explore the world that you have prepared for them!