If you have a daughter, you might find yourself wondering how best to encourage her to have stability, high self-esteem and a really solid sense of her own worth. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can say and do to help your daughter understand just how valuable she really is.
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Try these six approaches, and use them to inspire further ideas that will let her know she is an incredible, worthwhile person who always has a right to autonomy.
1. Explain That Value Goes Beyond Appearance
One of the most significant challenges for young girls is coping with all of the messages suggesting that a woman’s worth boils down to her looks (and that beauty only comes in one form).
Take every opportunity to explain and illustrate how a person’s value is more importantly connected to compassion, bravery, ambition and honesty, and make sure she knows that there’s no limit to what a woman can achieve.
Meanwhile, when it comes to her appearance itself, call her beautiful no matter how she looks, and encourage her to see a wide variety of forms as attractive.
2. Model Self-Worth To Your Daughter
It’s often said that actions speak louder than words, and this is a sentiment worth considering when you’re thinking about how to help your daughter see her own value. In particular, it’s important to realize that she learns a lot from watching and listening to you, so she may be confused if she notices that you tell her she’s worthwhile but put yourself down.
Be wary of criticizing your body, implying that your worth is defined by your appearance, or saying anything that denigrates the worth of women more broadly. Instead, show her that you accept yourself, and she will hopefully follow suit.
3. Respect Privacy
It can be challenging to respect your child’s privacy when you’re concerned about her future choices and you’re used to having constant access to her. However, if you honor her desire for privacy, she will go out into the world and expect others to hold that boundary as well.
In contrast, if you just walk into her room without knocking, explore her things without asking or otherwise deny her the right to reasonable levels of privacy, she may accept such treatment from others (such as friends, boyfriends and employers).
If she knows that others have their privacy respected while she does not, she may also draw negative conclusions about her worth.
4. Accept Her Feelings
Ideally, your daughter will grow up taking ownership of her feelings and will express them confidently. You can help to encourage this by accepting her feelings—even the difficult ones.
While it’s good to ask for tact and politeness in self-expression, you can seriously undermine your daughter’s sense of self-worth and encourage self-destructive behaviors if you act as though certain feelings (such as anger, fear or even love) are taboo to express.
You might also consider showing her creative ways to express emotion, such as through art, music or writing.
5. Give Her A Positive And Empowering View Of Sex
Many parents find sex education an especially tricky part of their child’s transformation into an adolescent. However, if handled well, it can be extremely empowering.
When you talk to your daughter about sex, there are a few key messages that are especially important. Firstly, make sure she knows she doesn’t need to be ashamed about wanting or enjoying responsible, safe sex—don’t try to guilt or shame her into abstaining, as this will only give her lifelong neuroses about sexuality.
Secondly, make sure she knows that engaging in sex should always be her choice. She doesn’t “owe” sex to a partner, no matter how long they have been together, and it certainly isn’t a form of “payback” she needs to provide anyone who takes her on a date.
6. Disconnect Value From Perfection
Finally, your daughter might worry that she needs to get it right every time if she’s going to be valuable—perfect grades, perfect hair, and flawless skills in every discipline. Talk to her about the worth of encountering struggles and even failing, perhaps by giving her some useful examples from her own life.
Help her to grow up believing that obstacles are a chance for rich learning, and that she has the power to transform every negative experience into something positive.