By Barbara Alvarez
It starts young. If we want our daughters to respect themselves – and for those they meet to respect them, we have to start teaching them very young how to communicate this to those they encounter. Speaking as one mom to another, begin as soon as your baby girl is born. Treat her with gentle love and respect so that she begins to pick up on the message that she is a worthy human being. Let’s go through this from infancy to teen years and beyond.
|Copyright Wilson Tai, used under a CC License|
As an Infant
Every time that you can, respond to her needs as she expresses them. When she cries, answer her right away. If you can’t get to her for a minute or two, don’t stress, but don’t let her go for too long without responding to her. She begins to pick up on whether she’s valued and loved. It’s in these critical earliest months that she begins to develop healthy attachments to attentive and loving parents and caregivers. If she isn’t taken care of – if she is allowed to cry without anyone feeding, holding, rocking or changing her, she’ll learn to distrust others around her. That message sticks lifelong.
Toddlerhood, Preschool and School Years
|Copyright Ava Lowery, used under CC License|
Moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles – teach the little girls in your lives just how much you treasure and love them. Watch over and protect them. At the same time, allow them to speak up and express their feelings and opinions. At times, they will do so in a way that’s not very respectful, so teach them in a loving way how to do so.
As young girls get older and develop better control over their speech, family and friends can sit down with them and explain just why it’s so important for them to expect respect. These lessons will slowly become clear over the years as these young girls, now in school, begin to encounter other girls and boys in their classes.
In the Critical Teen Years
This is one of the most critical times for young teens. They begin questioning their worth in the world. Those who have been identified as gifted – and those not identified as such – may decide they will be more popular if they “dumb themselves down.” Of course, they may succeed in becoming more popular, but at the same time, the respect they worked so hard to earn will slowly disappear as others encounter girls who don’t seem very smart.
Families of young teen girls need to encourage them to allow their natural intelligence to show through, especially if they and their female family members want to achieve their goals.
With the critical teen years past them, our young adult women still may not be out of danger.
During this “War on Women,” they need to know how to hold their own and face down those who would put them down and shortchange them just because of their gender.
|Copyright Richard Skoon, used under a CC License|
Too many people, both male and female, believe it’s nothing for a young woman to be raped or violated in any other way. Many of our elected officials believe young women shouldn’t complain or speak up when someone disrespects them or violates their rights. It is up to us, as parents and other caregivers of today’s young girls, to change this mindset. Starting today. Our girls are worthy of respect.
We want to hear from you: How have you been a positive influence on the young girls in your life?
Barbara Alvarez earned her journalism and mass communications degree in December, 2006 and has been writing professionally since that time.