As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. But inspiring a young girl to try out for the football team, sign up for chess club, or take the advanced physics class isn’t as easy as just doing it too. So here are some ways to encourage girls to grasp at all the opportunities that may come her way — and dream big.
Teach her to question the rules
Parenting is tricky: on the one hand you want an obedient, well-behaved child you can bring out in public (and to restaurants); on the other, you want a daughter who isn’t afraid to push boundaries, ask questions and demand answers from authority. Most of the female trailblazers we read about — Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzaim to name a few — didn’t change things by being followers. They disobeyed — and made history doing so. Teach your girl about the inspiring women who came before her, who heard the word no and chose to ignore it until they got a yes. And then remind them that having ice-cream for breakfast doesn’t count as the first step in a girl power revolution…
Give her a book (or 12)
Instilling a love of reading into your child is one of the best gifts you can give. Not only will it inspire your daughter by introducing her to amazing women (and men) in history, as well as kick-ass fictional characters, but reading will have her discovering new countries, professions, activities and the endless possibilities of imagination. Reading for pleasure is so different than reading something you have to — and when a child discovers that, it can be magical.
Encourage her to take up sport
Participating in sports has proven, according to researchers, to have many benefits for girls including better health, higher self-esteem, increased emotional well-being, improved grades and more. There are plenty of role models in just about every sport, even those in which women are underrepresented like boxing (see the amazing Nicola Adams), so no sport should feel closed off to them or like a boy’s club. Start getting them interested by throwing a ball around the park. And yes, get them to play with boys, too — it can improve their confidence in their own abilities.
Compliment her on something other than her appearance
In general, boys receive more praise for their skills and interests, while girls are complimented more often on their clothing and appearance. When speaking to impressionable young women, try to find something different to point out because it could impact their self-worth and ambitions in so many ways. This isn’t to say you can’t ever tell your daughter or niece she’s gorgeous — just make sure she’s hearing other stuff (like good work on that science project or great goal at the football match) too.
Research says that boys are three times more likely to get a science-related toy than girls. Pervasive stereotypes about girls being less intellectually capable (which girls start to internalise from as young as five) are still partly to blame for why they’re less likely to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) degrees and careers. However, there are simple ways to shift the narrative and change the future: buy dolls that aid in STEM-related play, provide examples and role models of women with cool jobs and tell stories of friends and peers achieving their goals and dreams. Additionally, make science and maths a fun part of their day by spending 10 minutes extra coming up with fun maths problems to solve together or play a coding game on the computer.
Teach her it’s more than OK to fail
Girls often set unrealistic expectations for themselves, including the pressure to be perfect — in every aspect. Change their narrative by emphasising how important it is to try and that it’s OK to fail. Praise them for effort and enthusiasm over success and how perfectly something was executed. Role modelling works here: if they see a grown-up being candid about something they are struggling with but are trying to overcome, or see you coping with failures in a healthy way, it will show them how they can put a positive spin on a bad situation. One of life’s most crucial skills, we’d argue.