“Be kind! Quiet Down! Be polite! Don’t be so sassy! Stop yelling.”
We’ve all said things like this to our daughters. While we do want to raise thoughtful, polite children, our girls receive these messages more often than our boys, and often risk internalizing the idea that they must get along with others and avoid conflict at all costs. In a world in which girls and women are routinely harassed, exploited, and mistreated, it is imperative that we teach our girls to stand up for themselves.
Below are five tips for raising an assertive daughter:
Talk about boundaries
Talking about boundaries involves teaching our children about respect for themselves and respect for others. We must respect our daughters’ wishes around not being hugged or kissed (even if this embarrasses us with our in-laws). We can teach them through role-play and story-telling how to assert themselves if someone is in their personal space. Beyond just maintaining physical boundaries, it’s important to discuss emotional boundaries, too. If a friend is calling her names or making fun of her, your daughter is within her rights to speak up about how it makes her uncomfortable.
Respect and praise your daughter’s assertions
This does not mean our daughters always get what they want, or that they can speak to others rudely; it means that we respect their words and feelings through validation and empathy. We can teach our daughters that there is a time and a place to yell, kick, and scream should they feel unsafe. If you witness your daughter asserting herself in a positive way, such as saying ‘no’ to something she doesn’t want to do, or walking away from a child who is being unkind to her, make sure to praise her. Affirming and praising moments of assertiveness relay the message that this is a valued skill, and that we support them in doing this.
Respect your daughter’s privacy
This one can be tough for parents who are concerned about raising an entitled, spoiled kid. After all—I pay the mortgage, so her bedroom is actually my bedroom, right? However, when parents or other family members don’t respect a girl’s privacy, it can leave her feeling violated. Respecting our daughters’ space will likely lead to them being more open with us as they get older, rather than becoming secretive when they need us the most.
There is no better way to teach girls to be assertive than to do it yourself. Being polite but firm in interactions with others provides examples of how our girls can do this themselves. If you tell someone “no,” stick to your word.
Take care of yourself!
While all parents have to make sacrifices, routinely neglecting our own physical and social-emotional needs can send a powerful message that we’re not worthy, and others should be taken care of first. Prioritizing our own needs allows us to better care for our children, and is imperative in modeling self-respect to our daughters.
Girls have long been made to believe that they are inferior or less important than their male counterparts. We can help change this narrative for our daughters!
Alyse Clayman, LCSW, is the Clinical and Site Director of Parents Place, Marin. She specializes in working with youth and families who are experiencing significant life changes, such as divorce, death, and blended families, and with youth who are exhibiting acting-out behaviors. Alyse is also experienced in serving children with attention struggles, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder and youth who may be on the autism spectrum.