On Raising Girls

This is my daughter.

She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s funny, she’s spirited, she’s strong. She’s loved.

She’s also confident. As she got ready for her school program in December, she looked in the mirror and said “I think I’m going to be the prettiest polar bear on stage.” My husband cringed at the lack of humility; I silently thanked God for her self-assurance. And I prayed that confidence would remain in her always.

Last week, a little girl – younger than Kate, I’d guess around six – stopped Kate in the hallway and said, “Kate, have you gotten fatter?”

I don’t know what Kate’s response was at the time, but I do know that when I got home that evening, she met me at the door and told me what had happened. She was brokenhearted.

“I don’t think I’m fat,” she said. “But the other girls on my basketball team have skinnier legs than I do.”

Then she demonstrated to me how the circumference of her legs increased when she sat down on a chair.

She cried. I wanted to cry and/or bang some six-year-old heads together.

I assured her she wasn’t fat (and even if she was, so effing what?), that she was perfect and that her body was strong and functional and did all the things she wanted it to do. She can run and jump and swim and dance.

Eventually she calmed down, and while she hasn’t brought it up again, I worry that a seed of doubt was planted in her mind, that a piece of the confidence I admire so much was chipped away.

We, as parents, have the responsibility not only to know how to respond to our children when harsh words are thrown their way, but also to make sure that they’re not the ones making comments on the appearance or abilities of others.

How do we do that?

Beats me.

But I’m going to try to figure it out, so that I’m better prepared when (because really, it’s not an if) it happens again.

If you’re interested in this topic and free today at noon, join me in a chat at TheMotherhood.com, to learn about empowering girls. I’ll be back to tell you what I learned – and then maybe we’ll all have a better way to deal than to bang six-year-old heads together.

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  1. Ask my parents – they got it right. AND YET, I still have no idea exactly how to replicate this!
    Also, I want to cut that little girl that said that. ARGH! Well, I probably want to cut her mother. Just guessing.

  2. We are dealing with “friends” telling my girls that they look better/prettier withOUT their glasses. Obviously my girls NEED their glasses, and they can not just go without them. It’s frustrating. Kids can be so mean. I just pray that it isn’t MY kids saying those things….I try to point out their feelings about such comments. I want my kids to be the ones who say kind words to others or just keep their mouth shut!

  3. Damn Cheerleaders!


  4. So scary! I imagine you’re doing a great job. I think the words that come out of our mouths as moms play a big role in this. My mother never talks badly about herself or her body. Her body is something she uses to get the job done and as a child I remember mostly thinking of my mother as strong, rather than pretty (not that she isn’t pretty!). This is one of those things I’m trying to pass on to Molly.

  5. I am with Mackenzie on this one although my first impulse was to tell Kate that that just meant she was stronger than the other girl and could whip her a_ _ on a moment’s notice.

  6. Great topic and well-written post. You are doing so well in teaching Kate how important it is to be kind. I don’t think that little kids like the 6 yr. old have the ability to understand the long-term consequences of their remarks but they do have the ability to learn to be kind. It is a big job for the parents, school and church to teach kids to care about each other and to do nice things for each other. You make a really good point in saying that you have to teach your child how to respond and feel when someone makes remarks about her body. You gave Kate some great tools to help her think about her body and how it works .

    I taught 4 and 5 year olds and their cutting remarks were more along the line of ,”You can’t come to my birthday party.” In most cases, I knew their parents and they were good parents. It is just a matter of it coming naturally for kids to be self-centered. It is a long teaching and learning process.

  7. Lisa Bloom has some interesting perspectives on going the extra mile to praise girls for their achievements instead of how they look. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html

  8. Haven’t read the Lisa bloom article yet but will add that effort should be praised because even when we don’t achieve exactly what we hoped, the effort is still important.

  9. It sounds like you did a great job in pointing out all her abilities and how her body serves her well daily – I think that’s a great point to make! I worry about this with my own daughters… I still remember the day on the bus when I was in third grade and I was called fat for the first time. I totally hid it and never even told my mom about it so I think the fact that your daughter is initiating dialogue on these things is a great start even! That’s something I’m trying to work on right now with my 7 year old.

    Great post. I’ll be interested in what you bring back from the chat!

  10. I struggled with the same thing for a long time. I am now a coach for an organization called Girls on the Run. It is for 3rd-5th grade girls, and teaches how to love and appreciate themselves and others–and also gives strategies for how to deal with difficult situations in life. I know it’s something that I’ll never be able to completely get over, but I am glad I get the chance to share with other girls, and hopefully give them the empowerment that I didn’t get when I was younger. Sounds like you’re doing that for Kate, too.

  11. Aw. Just found your site and I can totally relate to this post, and a few others. Well said. Hope that was the last time it happened.

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