Five Things to Stop Saying to Girls

Five Things to Stop Saying to Girls

I often find myself reflecting on things I need to change about myself. These “things” are typically mindset issues. Years and years of childhood lessons that contradict how I need to think in order to be successful. As I go through this personal life dilemma, I catch myself saying things to my daughters that cause me to stop in my own tracks and ask the question, ‘Why am I saying this?’.

I want to pass on wisdom to my daughters, as it is my job as their mother to nurture them and prepare them for their future. However, I am undergoing a retraining of sorts. Throwing out old files from my brain that I deem ‘no longer valid’. Removing the spam files maliciously filed under the educational category, ‘things said to girls but never said to boys’. I am approaching my daughters with a refreshing perspective that I hope will be useful to other parents.

If you feel bogged down with files of spam in your brain, downloaded by generations of skewed parenting advise, this post if for you.

1. “The only thing that matters is what’s on the inside.”

Although I agree with the sentiment behind this statement, young girls internalize this in ways that can be unhelpful. Also, it’s not true. For many people in this world, it is not the only thing that matters. Blanket statements like this one leave big, confusing gaps left open to interpretation.

If my daughter comes to me discouraged, if she is feeling self-conscious and down about her looks or how she is perceived, I aim to provide her with concise feedback. I first ask questions to draw out her “why’s”. I then use statements that are TRUE about her character, talent, AND looks.

“Let’s talk about what is true about you: you are a talented dancer. You work so hard and practice every day.” “I see how you’ve improved on your turns.” “You are compassionate and think about others [insert specific instance of compassion]”. “You balance school, dance, and friendships so well, I’m so proud of your ability to handle these things with such care.”

The truth is that the things that matter are defined by each individual person. We can do our best to impose our values on our children, but they are exposed to a whole world mixed up with differing worldviews. Unless you keep your daughter in a bubble, and trust me, I wish I could do that too, you need to address the fact that people do value what’s on the outside too.

Our daughter’s do not benefit from using blanket statements or lies. They do benefit from honest discussion.

The law of attraction becomes a relevant topic earlier than us parents want to believe. I never wanted to shave my legs nor did I worry about the fact that I had hairy legs until a classmate of mine declared, ‘ewwww, you need to shave your legs!’ during a round of kickball when I was in the 6th grade. I remember exactly where I was standing, where he was crouched down, the heat moving up my face, and the conversation I had immediately when I got home from school that day. My exterior mattered that day. Luckily, I had a parent that valued my emotions and decided I was old enough to learn how to shave my legs.

I believe in the importance of teaching our daughters to value inner beauty above outer beauty.  I make a point to draw the correlation between inner beauty and how this trait will attract good, healthy people into your life.  The conversation doesn’t stop there. I also teach them how to properly care for their bodies: good hygiene, how to apply make up, skin care tips, hair care tips, the importance of exercise and staying active, eating healthy, drink enough water, and most importantly: I am their biggest advocate and fan.

2. “Don’t be full of yourself.”

I can hear it now. Well-meaning adult women in my life, making this, and other similar statements, in hopes that I would not grow up to be a self-absorbed diva. The biggest issue with this particular statement, is that it is almost never followed by statements that empower little girls.

Generations of adults have cycled a concept that little girls should be the most humble, proper little beings. Smile for the camera, but don’t think your all that and a bag of chips. Wear this cute little dress, but don’t show off.

I recall an instance of two adult women talking when I was a teenager. These women were discussing a female cousin of mine; retelling a story from when she was a toddler. The toddler approached the two women and declared, “I’m cute!”. They both looked at her, and one recalls the other women stating, “No you’re not!”.  The women giggled as they shared this story, but it made me sad and confused as a teenager. I thought of my little cousin, all dressed up, feeling pretty, and it made a connection for me between that story, and what I knew then of her low self-esteem. A misguided attempt to keep a little girl from being too full of herself. Words that made wound, that would later become a woman’s scar and inner obstacle.

Why do we value young boys acting and speaking with certainty and confidence when talking about themselves, yet discourage it with girls?

If we focus on building up strong, confident girls; we will get strong, confident women. Let’s focus on BUILDING. Let’s stop breaking girls down.

3. “Don’t act vain/cocky.”

Of the items on my list, this ranks at the top of the list for things we do not systemically say to boys, yet say to girls. I find myself struggling to navigate this with my own teenage daughter.

This topic overlaps a bit with statement #2. The distinction is that this statement is more about performance and less about looks or physical identity.

As a mother of three, I have observed different approaches to motivating good performance. Some coaches use fear. Some use strict rules and guidelines. Some use only positive reinforcement. Regardless of the approach to mentor, coach, teach; please stop saying things like, “Don’t be cocky, just because we won the competition last week, does not mean we will win this week.” “Do not get out there and be over-confident, just focus and do your best.” I have heard so many “Just because … doesn’t mean..” statements lately, that it was a key motivator to write this.

These statements do NOTHING to prepare a young girl for battle. If she is stepping out into a field, arena, or onto a stage, the LAST thing she needs to hear is, “Don’t be over-confident”. How many movies include this statement as part of a motivational speech? Could you imagine Denzel saying, ‘Don’t be too cocky!” before his football team entered the arena for the playoff game? What if instead Braveheart shouted, “Just because we won the battle last week, does not mean we shall win today!!”, then shows scene of bloody battle? You simply do not hear men saying these types of statements to other men.

I have heard these statements by coaches and team captains. I have heard them said right before a performance at a dance competition. And guess what? The results suck.

If you are trying to discourage your girls, or get in their heads to screw them up, then by all means, keep using that technique. Or maybe, just MAYBE, you try something new.

Let’s try doing the opposite. “Okay girls, I want you to visualize success. You WILL win, you will perform each move to perfection”. “You ARE the talented dancers and have worked so hard for this very day, get out there and show them what champions look like.” “Be confident! Be cocky!” I believe their ability to visualize success may actually be a success.

You can teach girls to be confident without it being at the expense of others. You can build them up to be champions and good sports. They have a better chance of success if you hype them up once you’ve given them the training they need, and they put in the hard work required to succeed. Give girls permission to be GREAT. This is not a gender-specific concept. Everyone should be inspired to greatness if they are willing to do the work, and practice, practice, practice. Oh, and there is the talent thing too. Not everyone was born to be an opera singer. So, refer to #1, and speak honestly with your girl about her talents.

4. “You don’t need a man to be happy.”

While women do not require a significant other, they may want, or even yearn for love and companionship one day.

Humans, from infancy, need touch and nurturing. The very touch of a mother has a direct correlation to an infant’s growth and development. It’s an innate need, love.

Instead of harping on girls to be strong, independent women who don’t need a man. Let’s first raise them and build them up as strong, self-aware girls. Engage in open communication with our strong, young girls to discuss the types of things they value in a partner. Model healthy relationships and give them something to aspire to.

Whether we (parents) like it or not, our girls will eventually discover “love”. We cannot swipe it away with a blanket statement that undervalues human connection. Wanting a life partner does not make you weak. Opening your heart to love is characteristic of one who has strength and courage. I want my daughters to know themselves, value themselves, and in doing so, find the person in this world that values exactly that.

I’ve been through divorce. It was the worst experience, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy.  I worried, and still worry, about the impacts of the divorce on my children. I’ve witnessed the fallout. It’s been many years now, so most of it is behind us. My children had a front-row seat to ‘what happens when love goes bad’.

Through open communication and years of healing, I’m happy to say they all have a healthy perspective on love. I have witnessed evidence of that in each of them. I spent years as a single mother. I felt a pull and need to have companionship and love, but I did not rush into another marriage. When I did get re-married, it was done thoughtfully, and my children were just as happy and excited for the new chapter as I was. Now my children can observe a healthy marriage, and I am so grateful.

Let us not make the desire for companionship or love, a weakness.

Our girls can have it all.

5. “You need to learn how to love yourself” (too little, too late)

How exactly do I do that? All I have heard throughout my entire life is that I need to be humble, quiet, kind, meek, not cocky, not full of myself, not too loud, don’t laugh like that, don’t stand like this, don’t talk about that, and the list goes on.

Pop culture teaches girls the reverse of this statement. Marketing campaigns splash ideal images of women absolutely everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without seeing a magazine, billboard, poster, or screen of any sort with the image of an airbrushed model sporting the ‘look of the week’. Young girls see, “look at this, buy this, copy that, this is the look you must aspire to, but don’t worry, next week it will be different, and you’ll never catch up.”

Then there are the fad diets. A new diet craze pops up every month.  Young girls are filled with junk, processed foods made readily available at a bargain price, and then brainwashed on the latest and greatest way to lose 10 lbs.

And then after all of that, the life coaches and gurus come out of the woodwork. “Self love, y’all!” “All you need do is love… yourself!”. They are feeding off the abundance of unhappiness and discontent that our culture perpetuates.

It is a symptom of a broken world, with a select elite calling the shots and making the rules. We adults need to re-program our minds in order to prepare our girls for this crazy world. We need to stop uttering words and statements thoughtlessly. Let us be mindful about each thing we teach our girls. If we do this, they will never need to be trained to love themselves, they will do so naturally.

We can all take part in breaking the cycle. This blog post barely scratches the surface on a much greater problem. Women are systematically undervalued in most of the world. They are marginalized, objectified, and abused. The statistics are out there: do your research, and please be sure to check your sources. You can help by starting in your home. Keep open communication; initiate conversations and ask her questions. And those things that your mother told you? Take five to reflect before you regurgitate those same words to your young.  It is not a perfect process, and we will still make those parental blunders we will pay for later. The fact that you are trying is that thing that makes a different. It will take us that much closer to empowering young girls in the same manner we empower our young boys.

Please subscribe to follow my blog! Please also share in the comments: What are statements you received as a children that stuck with you? Have you said something that stopped you in your tracks, and forced you to reflect? I would love to hear from you!

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30 thoughts on “Five Things to Stop Saying to Girls”

  1. This is a great topic for a post and I agree with you, there is a lot of out to date “advice” out there.

  2. I never looked at things from this point of view. I’ve heard all of the things you’ve posted but now I see things as you do.

  3. I really love this! Wish I knew all these things when I was younger especially loving yourself and that you don’t need a man to be happy. I’m definitely going to keep these in mind if I have a daughter in the future.

  4. Insightful post. Some of these I would say these to myself (especially I don’t need a man because I don’t want relationships). But, I feel like what you said for No. 5 is extremely powerful. How can we teach girls to love each other if we just keep on saying “Love youself”.

    1. It’s really hard for us to love ourselves or each other when we are told things that completely contradict those messages as children. They hard wire us one way, then wonder why women struggle with self-esteem.

  5. I think timing matters a lot when this things are said. I think because I heard the second one a lot, I ended up being shy in public. I mean, my boyfriend proposed to me on Friday,and luckily he did it privately. But when we went to the restaurant he wanted a photo of me to send it to his mother. And I couldn’t pose, I was all flushed from the idea of posing in public and showing off my ring, though I was very happy about getting engaged, I love the ring..

    1. That makes so much sense! I have been in that scenario- where I felt almost like I was flaunting it or bragging, when I should have just been able to enjoy my sweet moment. It’s amazing how much we take that on as women!

  6. These are very insightful post. Also giving realistic guidance to girls will give them more positive views.

  7. I was raised by a single dad with help from his parents and grandparents. I don’t remember my bio mother entering the picture til I was n 4th grade and she had a new man and wanted to invoke her right to the every other weekend visitation that she had thrown away since I was 2. She got me once when she was with her 2nd husband. She left to go to work and he babysat. I was molested by him. She never told me. She even went on to have a child with him. She said it was my father’s responsibility since I lived with him. He never told me and said he didn’t think I needed to know. I was sitting in that monster’s house when I was 18 and I was told i needed to leave for safety and then he told me.

    During visitations, mother and her new man (this would b husband #3) got to know my likes, dislikes, and asked about how life was at dad’s quite frequently. They gave me everything they thought a child would want (everything i didn’t have at dad’s). I got my own room (I shared with soon to b stepbrother at my dad’s.) I got a tv n the room. I had every Littlest Pet Shop and Polly Pocket. I never liked Barbies or baby dolls but they bought those too. And told me to keep n the box and they’d b worth money one day. My brother and I had every board game: Monopoly, Monopoly Jr, mouse trap, operation, and i can’t even remember the rest. I got clothes from the mall, not Walmart or hand me downs like at dad’s. I became my mother and stepfather’s free weekend babysitter so they could spend time together. Then when I was almost 13, the finally had their own child. I was from mother’s first marriage, oldest brother who was 4 yrs younger was from her second marriage, and now this child from her third marriage. Incidentally, they got married the Sunday before Christmas of 1997. And my new brother was born the day before Christmas a few days later. Me and my oldest brother became their free babysitters so they could run his business. I gratefully went home to dad after the weekend. But then there was my bratty soon to b stepbrother there so I never got a break. When I went to my grandparents for the weekends in between, I was the babysitter for my younger cousin who was 7 yrs younger than me. I felt as though I basically raised my brothers and cousin. I wasn’t smart enough at mother’s. My brother 4 yrs younger made principal’s list and honor roll while I had the occasional c or d. I wasn’t pretty enough at Granny’s. My little cousin loved Barbies, baby dolls, shopping, make up, all the girl stuff I hated. I wasn’t good enough at dad’s. “If u would just do it the way I told u to…” When I wanted to wear make up as a little girl I was too little but by the time i was old enough, and had acne, I was forced to wear make up and not allowed out the door without it and told it was “to enhance my beauty.”

    My ex husband told me I was dumb, and stupid and worthless and could do nothing right and would never find a man who truly loved me for me. And I deserved to b abused by him.
    My Papa (my dad’s dad) and his mother (my great-grandmother) thought I was pretty and beautiful regardless. I lost one in 2004 to a blood clot to the heart and one in 2009 to cancer.
    I was abused mentally, physically, socially, emotionally, sexually, spiritually by my ex husband. He was God and he told me and my oldest son that regularly to remind us in case we forgot. Years later we had another boy. By then my oldest is out of control with his behavior, I’m an at my wit’s end stay at home homeschool mom, my family’s version of “help” was to tell my oldest to disobey n any and every way. Including telling him that homeschool wasn’t real.

    I was a failure as a daughter, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a wife, a mother. I tried my best to protect my son from the abuse all the while I had become verbally and physically abusive to him myself. I would get so angry I was blacking out (although I didnt know that’s what it was at the time).

    My oldest has become a juvenile delinquent, just no juvi time (yet). My ex has protected him to make sure he doesn’t go to jail. The child he begged me to abort, now he’s grooming to b abusive and lazy and my worst nightmare, a child molester.

    My second pregnancy hadn’t been announced to family and we went to see them one day and my dad asked if I had “put on a little weight, hadn’t I?” And when we told everyone, my dad and grandma asked, “well, what did u wanna go and do that for?” They lavished the oldest with everything he was told no.

    My oldest has Oppositional defiant disorder (although we didn’t know that’s what it was called yet.) We just knew he needed strict structure and if u didn’t ,he was out of control. My oldest wet the bed on purpose, stole anything and everything that he could get his hands on and wasn’t nailed down. Cell phones, wallets, keys, money, food, drink, toys… he was 4 yrs old on a second grade level n homeschool but it was like pulling hair to get it done most days, especially when my ex had joined the “don’t go to homeschool, it’s not real” bandwagon. “Mom’s a b*tch, i wouldn’t listen to her either.”

    But then later on when my ex wanted to b intimate, he loved me. He was sorry. He was sorry he slammed me against the wall when I was pregnant with the oldest, sorry for ____(u fill n the blanks) but then kept doing it.

    Every church we went to knew, offered marital counseling, which he made false promises that he never kept and then gave me hell for telling when we got home. Eventually, ranting, raving, yelling, cussing, screaming became a way of life for me and all the neighbors heard me not him so i had to b the problem.

    DSS would get called, investigation for 45 days, he’d make us fake it, lie, not allowed to tell what’s REALLY going on or else he’d hurt us. And life would go back to what we knew as “normal” but it was anything but.

    Child #2 grew up to b mild and sensitive. And 2 yrs later, my silly child was born, another boy. I knew if I didn’t have my tubes tied, he’d keep impregnating me. Raping me. Forcing me to have sex or he’d threaten to cheat on me. Threaten to Leave and take the kids from me.

    So now I’ve got 3 boys n an abusive, hostile environment. By the time my third child was 4 mths old, we moved into address #13 (all in less than 8 yrs.). Almost 2-1/2 yrs later at the new address (a new record, we’d never stayed at an address for more than 6 mths except 1 other time) my oldest and i go thru our daily “u wet the bed on purpose, refuse to take a shower, brush your teeth, comb your hair, so i shout at u, u ignore me and refuse to do schoolwork routine, Lie to me, flip me off, curse at me until dad gets home and says “here’s your treat for not doing your schoolwork son”. Well Feb 2 is etched my mind forever and i wished it wasn’t. Ex goes to work. Little two r playing, oldest refuses to do schoolwork, I yell, scream and b the monster I’d become. It finally dawned on me, “someone’s hurt u.” And I named grandparents, neighbors, aunt, uncle, (I didn’t like them letting him break rules, but i knew it wasn’t them, but i had to b fair because he had been with them when I wasn’t around), I named myself (I had said and did horrible things but not this, but again, to b fair) finally I named his father, my then husband, and he refused to say anything. Why? Why didn’t u tell me? “B/c he threatened to hurt u and the little ones”. We already had an open DSS case because oldest son jumped out the window ans disappeared and we called cops and everyone n the middle of the night to find him. My son said it happened then and that’s y he jumped out the window and when he went to steal a snack out his father’s truck, his father was up and checked his room and my son outside saw the light and hid next door under the neighbor’s car. So that was 2 yrs ago. 2 mths n a domestic violence shelter for me and Little two. Oldest got kicked out after 20 days for putting shelter on lockdown. He didn’t want to do school work then either so he attacked me and the little ones physically and ran and his n a dryer downstairs n the basement while everyone else thought he’d ran out the shelter. 2 mths with his precious grandparents who thought he did no harm and they couldn’t handle him either. They saw his true colors of what I’d been telling them about but they never saw. He didn’t do schoolwork in public school either. 2 mths at my other grandma’s and he got us all kicked out and they went back to their father before the investigation was over. He has since threatened to shoot up his school (supposed to get expelled, he got suspended. Threatened to rape my grown stepdaughter (he said this at school) he was supposed to get expelled for this too. His father is friends with the district and school and tells everyone that I’m not involved and I’m the problem so my son keep getting breaks. I get criticized for tough love. I want my son locked up. I believe It’s the only way. And even then he may go back. He has a long road of therapy that is court ordered that my ex is FINALLY keeping him in. At least another year.

    The silver lining is that I met a great guy in 2015 on Facebook thru poetry and in 2016 he asked me to marry him. He has been with me thru this entire thing. My divorce from abusive ex was final April 11, 2018. And on March 9 this year, we made it official and got married. My ex has since been accused by my little 2 that he molested them and they also accused my oldest son as well. The spent 6 weeks in foster care because my oldest son doesn’t like to b punished or have consequences for his actions so he went and told whatever he told to get out. My ex had them back for 2 days before anyone told me although we have joint custody but no one has followed the rules this entire journey. I have been court ordered and DSs ordered for all kinds of therapy (and went voluntarily before that). Moral of the story is I’ll probably never tell the truth again. Because my ex never does and blames everything on me. I always lose my rights when I do the right thing but he never does the right thing and keeps his rights. The boys never told anyone other than me about what their father and oldest brother did. We still go back n October and we could still lose our rights but for now, I FINALLY get to c the boys even if it is supervised by my ex. He’s had like 15 women n their lives and told them this is their new mom. They just moved n with the current one. But she’s “just a friend.”
    If and when my husband and I get our own place we’re going for full custody of the boys. They won’t b sent to school dirty, stinking, smelling of urine or wearing dirty clothes, they won’t miss therapy, and the little 2 won’t b ignored and the oldest lavished with gifts. My awesome amazing husband calls me his beautiful rose. Although I see fat rolls and no beauty. He sees my heart. I see an awesome amazing husband who is my knight in shining armor, he claims he is “just a man.” We don’t have much but we have love for each other, God and our kids. I have acquired 3 stepchildren who love me. My stepdaughters r 24&18. My stepson is 23. I also have. 3 yr old grandson and 2 yr old granddaughter. Together we have 6 kids and 2 grandchildren. He loves my kids as if they were his own. And i love his the same. I truly have found true love. And k hope that those n an abusive situation find their way out and find true love as well.

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