By: Joanne Stern, PhD.
One of the most important jobs of parenting is to teach your daughters to become self-reliant, responsible adults. If you’re too inflexible and controlling, your girls will spend their efforts figuring out ways to rebel instead of making good decisions. If you’re too uninvolved or permissive, they’ll become overwhelmed with the opportunities and not be able to choose wisely.
I always believed in the motto of leading my daughters by following one step behind. That way, when they started going astray, I noticed before they got too far a field. It required us to maintain a close, trusting and respectful relationship so that I knew what issues they were facing and they felt comfortable talking with me about them. Obviously, they didn’t always make the best decision, but I was always by their side helping them pick up the pieces and discussing how to do better next time.
We want to teach our daughters to think-to become leaders, not followers. That means we have to begin to let go gradually-beginning when they’re young-so that when they grow into their teen years they’ve already had the experience necessary to develop maturity and wisdom. It’s all about teaching them to choose wisely. So give them plenty of opportunities to make their own
decisions-in very age appropriate ways and when the consequences of their choices don’t really matter in the big picture. Then gradually give them more responsibilities to decide for themselves. Continually talk with them about options along with the consequences for each choice.
Letting go can be confusing and even scary. We want them to have the self-confidence of knowing we trust them to take care of themselves, but we don’t want them to screw up and dig themselves into a hole that will have lasting consequences.
Tips on what to do at each age range:
Ages 0 – 3:
Already when your daughters are very young, you can give them small choices which begin to develop their sense of pride and self-respect. Don’t overwhelm them with options, but you can give them two choices, both of which would be ok. They can go to the pool or to the park. Before their nap, they can color or read a book.
When my girls were little, they both had distinct notions on what they wanted to wear. Unless they picked a sundress on a snowy day, I encouraged them to select their outfits. And if they had their heart set on that special sundress, we put a turtleneck under it.
Ages 4 – 7:
At these ages girls are offered so many activities. Swimming, gymnastics, softball or ballet? They may not have time or energy for all of them, so talk about each one-what they would learn, why it would be important, how much fun it would be. Then let them decide. But once they’ve chosen, tell them they can’t quit two sessions into an eight session class. They also need to learn follow-through.
You can let them choose the vegetable for dinner, but they need to eat a small amount or they get no dessert. They can choose to go to bed at the designated time or not. But if they don’t, they won’t get to stay up later on the weekend. Each time they decide, it teaches them to think about the consequences of their decision.
These are the ages your girls are determining whether or not you’re safe to talk to. If you treat them with respect and create an environment where you let them know how much you love to hear their thoughts and ideas, they’ll continue to share with you when they’re older.
Ages 8 – 11:
Now, their personalities are really coming out. Let them decorate their rooms. Whether it’s new furniture, new paint or new pictures on the wall, listen to their ideas with an open mind and discuss the options-considering cost, cleaning and comfort. If you don’t like what they choose, it’s an opportunity to negotiate and compromise-skills that will help them as they grow older.
When my daughter was young we negotiated an agreement in which she was allowed to “wallpaper” her ceiling with posters in return for making her bed every day. It was a win-win because she got a bedroom she loved and I got the comfort of knowing she was learning the tools necessary to take care of herself when she was on her own.
Ages 12 – 15:
Peers and technology are beginning to deluge their lives. They’ll be asking to go out more often with friends and stay out later. They may want to spend too much time plugged into their video games. If you’ve already created a trusting relationship, your girls will know that you listen attentively, you try to see the situation from their perspective and you’re fair.
After you’ve discussed their request and your concerns, give them the opportunity to make their own decision. But if they get too far off base, say no. Remember, they need an external structure to hold them up while they’re developing their own internal structure. If you give up and let them have their own way when they nag or please just because it’s easier for you or because
you’re tired of hearing them yip about it, you’re doing both you and your girls a disservice. You’ll be bypassing your opportunity to talk with them and giving away their opportunity to learn to think.
Ages 16 and Older:
Your daughters will soon be away from home and on their own, so now is the time to make sure both they and you are becoming more confident of their decisions. They’ll want to go to parties-and there will likely be alcohol and/or drugs. They’ll want to go away for weekends with friends. You’ll be glad you created a strong relationship with them when they were very young so you can talk over possible scenarios and how they can respond-before they happen.
When my girls were teens, my husband and I went away for the weekend. They asked to stay alone-without a chaperone. We trusted that we had taught them to think for themselves and to handle the responsibility, so we let go and granted them their wish. Before we left, we reviewed the parameters and talked over the potential problems. When we returned, they told us they had discussed having a party at the house but decided against because it would have destroyed our trust in them. They thought about staying out too late but chose to come home at the agreed upon time so they could get their homework done the next day. They did, however, eat ice cream for dinner-a small infraction for the huge responsibility we had given them. We were proud of them.
Will your girls get into trouble and make stupid mistakes? Sure. All kids do. But you need to learn to honor those mistakes because that’s when kids learn. And that’s when they need your support and influence the most.
It’s difficult to let go because you’re always on the edge of trying to figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not. In addition, your daughters are most likely pushing for too much too soon. But if you teach them small lessons at each age level and let go gradually, you’ll feel more confident that they can handle the challenges. So take your time. Don’t make rush decisions, and maintain your balance. Learning to let go and watching your daughters blossom into mature young women is one of the mot rewarding aspects of parenthood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Author of “Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids For Life.” To learn more about Dr. Joanne Stern’s work, please go to www.ParentingIsAContactSport.com. You may purchase a copy of her book at Amazon.com.
- Parenting Your Daughters to Have a Voice
- The Perfect Prom Dress Helps Her Look Beautiful, Not Objectified
- Is Your Daughter ‘Making the Grade?’
- Following in His Footsteps. New studies show daughters learn by dad’s example.
- Preparing for your Daughter’s First Gynological Exam