If little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” at what point do they transform into resilient and formidable powerhouses?
While it doesn’t happen overnight, it does start early in life. We can start by asking ourselves what we’re really saying when we hand our little girls baby dolls that mimic bowel movements (yuck!) but offer boys construction sets. This early form of socialization is partly to blame when, as adults, society burdens women with outrageous expectations and shortchanges them with a wage gap. If you’re of the ilk who recognizes these social disparities and wants to raise a strong woman who will respond to these inequities with grit, then here’s some straightforward advice.
It’s never too early to encourage your daughter to become a strong woman.
What does it mean to be a strong woman? That depends on you. Take time to figure out what qualities you value and those you feel it would be important for your daughter to adopt. This isn’t an exercise solely relegated to a mother, either. The whole family can contribute to the idea of strong womanhood, plus it can evolve over time. The important thing is to beware of false equations. For example, being mean doesn’t equal confidence. Nor is success a free pass to be disrespectful or unkind. So while you nurture the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg, do your absolute best to steer her back in the right direction if she starts acting like a Regina George.
Thinking through your own values and how you define strong womanhood can’t be done without addressing the gender binary. No matter how you feel about the gender spectrum, one thing is certain. Strong womanhood doesn’t mean an approximation to act like a boy or a man. It simply means that little girls deserve the same encouragement and opportunities that boys often receive. This equitable course of development can’t begin too soon, either. If you think your 2-year-old daughter is too young to join the “Who run the world? Girls!” chorus, think again. This is actually the perfect age to get started. Here’s how.
This piece of advice may seem a bit daunting at first, but hear me out. Before you give your daughter a toy, think about how this object will contribute to her development. Lisa Dinella, associate professor at Monmouth University and principal investigator of the Gender Development Laboratory, says, “Dolls and pretend kitchens are good at teaching kids cognitive sequencing of events and early language skills. Building blocks like Lego and puzzles teach spatial skills, which help set the groundwork for learning math principals down the line.” This doesn’t mean you need to dismiss dolls altogether, but if the doll is wearing high heels and a skirt that very nearly shows her underpants, just take a second to ask yourself whether this toy aligns with your values. And if pretend kitchens enable early language skills, do you equally value math and spatial skills?
If you do value math, and the STEM fields in general, then encouraging your daughter early in her development is important. It’s common knowledge that women are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, and research has shown a variety of reasons for this. From having parents underestimate their capabilities to seeing far fewer female role models championed in the media, young girls face huge hurdles in the STEM fields. Succeeding in these fields requires resilience and confidence.
You don’t need to wait until your little girl enrolls in her first science class to start encouraging her. Fostering a love of STEM can start as early as toddlerhood. All it takes is a bit of redefining what STEM looks like as it applies to children. Here’s an example. Have your daughter play with regular sand, then introduce colorful kinetic sand into the session. Together, you can explore the different ways both types of sand feel and move. That’s science right there!
There has been no greater time to feel inspired and empowered by women in sports. Women of varying race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation are inspiring young girls to work hard and dream big. While there’s no doubt these strong women are a source of empowerment for many, you may be thinking your 3-year-old kid is too young for all the hype. Not true. If you watch sports at home, tuning in to women’s sporting events could be very encouraging for your daughter. And obviously play! Offer your daughter an environment where she can run, jump, climb, swim, and swing. Show her how to play catch and ride a scooter, and maybe even introduce a mini skateboard in the picture.
No, I’m not talking about the runway. I’m talking about modeling the values you find in strong women. While mothers can demonstrate strong womanhood, fathers can demonstrate support and encouragement of these values too.
Your daughter was born with all the natural ability she needs to be a strong woman. So show her a reflection of her own strength, too. In addition to offering your toddler books that include strong female leads, it’s also worth looking into personalized books as well. It’s as simple as submitting your child’s name and guiding the publisher toward creating your daughter’s likeness. These stories place your child at the center of the adventure. Your daughter is the hero — she saves the day! Whether the character reflects your daughter’s curly hair or gap-toothed smile, your toddler can see herself in a position of greatness. This gesture is even more important for toddlers of backgrounds or circumstances who often don’t see themselves reflected in cartoons, books, or toys.
“You had the power all along my dear.” — Glinda the Good Witch
Raising a strong woman offers endless opportunities for creativity and bonding. The important thing is to strike the right balance between encouragement and expectation. A strong woman forges her own path. Embarking on this journey will mean that you have to trust your toddler’s ability, nurture her curiosity, and champion her independence. And if you’re lucky enough to see her flourish as a strong woman, then relish in the fact that you may have positively impacted not only your daughter’s life but that of everyone she has inspired along the way.