How to raise a strong, independent woman by being both tough and loving
As mothers of little girls, it is our job to raise strong, independent women who will contribute to society. But how do we create independence without pushing our children away? The urge to hold my little girl and never let go is so strong that I sometimes forget she needs time to explore on her own. This list serves to remind me of what I can do to ensure my daughter thrives in the world when I can no longer carry her through it.
Encourage independent play
Does anyone else find it hard to let their children play without constantly getting involved? My preplanned arts and crafts, letter and number games and "workbooks" are often over the top. I find it easier to teach than to sit, and most of the time my daughter loves it. Except sometimes she just wants to put on her tutu and play in her pretend kitchen. In those moments, I am learning to let her be and get something else done, like clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, make dinner — whatever is on the list. I know independent play promotes imagination, builds self-confidence and allows her to practice new developmental skills, but the mommy guilt is still there. This generation (myself included) needs to take a step away from Pinterest and remind ourselves what being a kid is all about.
Lead by example
There is no better way to raise a strong, independent woman than to practice being one yourself. Stop belittling yourself. If you think your daughter doesn't notice, you're wrong. Every time you call yourself fat, ugly, weak or not smart enough, it sets a precedent for who your daughter will believe she is. After all, you are her hero, and if you aren't good enough, then neither is she.
Let them fail, but support them when they do
A little competition never hurt anyone. In fact, I strongly believe it's important in teaching determination, perseverance, goal-setting and working hard for what you want. However, not all psychologists agree with this way of thinking. Some studies show the importance of competition, while others show no benefit at all. What we all can agree on is that winning and losing are a part of life that you can't shelter your child from forever, so why even try? Taking competition out of the mix will only serve as culture shock for them when they grow up and don't always succeed. It's how you deal with the competition that matters. Instead of focusing on winning, focus on what is important — their effort. Teach them to respect the process by always giving it their best and trying hard. If they win, it's just a bonus. If they lose, then you'll still be there to offer hugs and kisses and kind words.
Teach them early the tools to cope with their emotions
As a physician in student health at a university, this one really hits home for me, as many young adults do not have the coping skills they so desperately need. Emotional intelligence — or understanding one's emotions — is something children should be taught at a young age. Anxious? This is what it looks like, and this is how you cope with it. Sad? It's OK to feel this way sometimes, but here are ways to boost your mood.
How this begins is by first keeping your own emotions in check. If your child sees you always scream when you're angry or sob uncontrollably when you're sad, don't expect any different from them. Temper tantrums are actually just children trying to deal with their big, scary emotions. Expressing emotions is an important part of emotional intelligence, but our children need to learn the correct way to express them. Put a word to what they're feeling, speak softly, and give hugs, but still set very firm limits. Teach them that yelling and screaming when they're angry is not a way to cope. Try to dig more deeply into why they are angry. "I know you're sad because you were having fun playing and you don't want to go, but it's time to head home where we can play some more. Maybe we can come back to play here another day. Would that be fun?"
Check out this site from Caring for Kids on nurturing your child's mental health. If you are concerned your child has a mental health problem, then speak with your physician.
Be there for them when they truly need it
Remember, even strong, independent adults need a support system to be at their best. Show your children that you're there for them, you support them and you believe in them. A child should never feel like they aren't good enough. Your love should be unconditional, and they should not have to question it. Independence is created by letting your child climb high without having to look back to make sure you're there if they miss a step.
I remember being in university when it hit me — everyone around me was worried their parents would be angry if they didn't do well. However, if I did poorly, I would not disappoint anyone except myself. It was not that my parents didn't care; in fact, it was the exact opposite. I was never worried I wouldn't do well enough for them, and yet I aimed for the top anyway. I was my biggest critic, and my parents were my biggest supporters. They believed I could, and they comforted, not scolded, when I fell short. This is what I want for my daughter: for her to know I will love her no matter what and to aim for success anyway.