How I'm Raising Strong Daughters

Raising Strong DaughtersJen Mueller, for SparkPeople

Grade school was tough for me. I got picked on a lot, mostly because I got good grades and didn't like to get in trouble. I think a lot of my insecurities as an adult began on the school playground as a 9-year-old who just wanted to fit in. Because of those experiences, I've become super-sensitive to how I'm raising my daughters. I want them to be strong young women who don't let the opinions of others determine their self-worth. I know some of that is inevitable (I see it already in preschool when my daughter gets her feelings hurt because a girl in her class doesn't want to play with her), but hopefully they will be able to avoid at least some of the negativity that I experienced so long ago.

The other day I was flipping channels and a story on the Today Show caught my eye. It was about a new book called "The Drama Years," which tells the true stories of middle-school girls dealing with issues like self-esteem and bullying. As I listened to these young girls talk, I could feel my anxiety level rising. My heart broke for some of them, as they talked about feeling invisible at school or being called names because of how they looked or what they were wearing. Most surprising was some of them saying their parents had no idea what was going on or how they were feeling.

I know the middle school years can be an awkward and difficult period of time. Girls in particular start focusing so much on what others think of them instead of what they think of themselves. The pressure to fit in becomes intense, even more so now than it was when I was growing up. So how do we teach young women to be kind to each other and feel good about themselves? How do we teach them that what matters is what's on the inside, not what designer's jeans they are wearing?

So far I'm trying to teach by example. My oldest daughter knows that I don't focus much on outward appearances. I tell her every day that she's beautiful, not because of how she looks but because of her kind and caring heart. I ask her questions about her day and try to get her to open up to me about how she's feeling. I'm doing my best to establish a very open relationship with her from the very beginning, so that in 5 years, she's not one of the girls saying her parents have no idea what's going on. If she's being bullied or feeling down, I want to know about it so that I can help her work through it. Same goes for my son and for my youngest daughter (who's 7 months old) when the time comes.

What do you think? If you are raising daughters, how do you teach them to be kind to others and feel good about the person they are becoming?

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