Thursday 13 March 2014

How to Nurture Your Assertive Daughter

This morning, my toddler and I watched some Beyonce videos in bed. Ebony, the toddler, has some quite innovative dance moves, and loves nothing more than showing them off. As we were singing and shaking around to Single Ladies, Ebony was telling she liked Beyonce’s shoes. I started thinking about Beyonce, and how she is actually quite awesome. Growing up, I was always a Britney fan. I loved her. A lot.

More than that.

Over the past two years, I have been asked by a couple of old friends whether Ebony likes Britney. The truth is, I don’t know. I haven’t played her any Britney. We don’t watch the videos, because she’s too sexualised and it would be a weird thing to thrust in the face of a child. So we watch Beyonce instead.

I hadn’t realised that Beyonce was involved in the Ban Bossy campaign, but knowing this has cemented my love of her more. The Ban Bossy campaign is calling for an end to the use of the word bossy. That might sound a bit ridiculous, but read on.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the word bossy, until my friend Alys came to visit a few months ago. She mentioned that she hated the word bossy, because it was only ever used to describe women. Now, I don’t have a son, so I can’t be sure that it’s not used to describe boys, but I’ve certainly never heard it used in that way.

Ebony is strong-willed, she knows her own mind and she will not compromise. I have heard people describe her as a bossy boots. It is only ever said in a playful way, but that doesn’t make it any better. If every time my daughter tries to make clear her opinion, she is dismissed playfully as being ‘bossy’, then what message does this send?

I love that Ebony knows what she wants. I love that she pursues her own interests. And I love that she will not be easily persuaded to another way of thinking. Sure, these qualities make my job harder now. But I’m in this for the long game. I’m not worried about getting her to leave the park when I want, wear the clothes I choose, or do the activity I have planned. I’m worried about the future. I’m worried about her having the confidence to follow her dreams, say no to people, and believe in her own abilities.

Little boys are encouraged to lead, and little girls are encouraged to simply go along with things. I remember at school that the girls who took charge of situations were the ones described as bossy. I have never heard a boy described as bossy. It’s just not a word used to describe anyone with a penis.

We don’t use the word bossy in my house. I don’t want to do anything that might force my assertive toddler into compliance. Here are five things we do to try and encourage confidence and leadership in our toddler:
  1. Speak carefully - it’s hard to analyse every word that comes out of your mouth, but in many ways it’s one of the most important things you can do. I am with my daughter almost every hour of every day, so it figures that I am one of her greatest influencers. If I was constantly putting her down for asserting herself, she would soon learn that was an undesirable quality. I try instead to reinforce that speaking out is good, by explaining that stating her wants has helped to work towards a happy outcome, so it was good she made it clear she didn’t want to wear blue knickers (or whatever) today.
  2. Listen even more carefully - if children’s attempts at communications are ignored, they may think it pointless to attempt similar communications in future. I try to take the time to listen my daughter, to work out what she is trying to tell me, even when she is getting frustrated and cannot communicate very well. I think spending this time listening to her (rather than rushing her into whatever I want to do), reinforces that her opinions are valid, valued and equal to mine.
  3. Let her problem solve - since Ebony was very young, I have always prefered to let her discover things herself. From leaving toys within her vision, but allowing her to grab them herself, to leaving her to work out how new toys work. I want her to own her experiences, and this means letting her try things herself, with me present for if she needs me. At the moment, she is very into jigsaws. If we pick up a new one at the charity shop, I let her do it herself. Most of the time she will put it together with no help. I think by exploring things by herself she is learning how to problem solve, trust her abilities and is also developing confidence. I have noticed that if her grandparents try to help her with a new jigsaw, she will request their help the whole way through, and I have put this down to a lack of confidence because it was implied the initial help was needed.
  4. Seek out new experiences - climbing, running, building, jumping, tumbling, falling and exploring are an essential part of any childhood. I take Ebony out to the woods, to parks and to open spaces so she can explore at will. I think time spent in the great outdoors helps to build confidence, and exposes her to new experiences that she wouldn’t have if she was sat at home.
  5. Equality at home - as Ebony’s family, we are her first lesson in what family life should be. She is learning about relationships, disagreements, and roles within the family. Our family is not particularly modern, in that Laurie goes out to work all day and I stay home with Ebony. I work from home though, and Ebony knows this. Being home during the day means that I do most of the cleaning, simply because otherwise the house would always be messy, and this is a real bugbear for me because I do feel it a little unfair at times. Laurie’s job is cleaning the kitchen, though looking at the kitchen now, I would say he views this as an optional task, rather than a clearly defined role. Maybe that’s something we need to discuss, eh?

Do you have any tips for nurturing assertiveness and leadership in little girls?

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