Steve Biddulph, author and retired psychologist, is best known for his book Raising Boys, but he’s also busy writing two books with a focus on girls.
Now he shares six things you should keep in mind as you raise your daughter.
1. Her risk factors are different to boys
In some ways, Steve says it’s important to treat raising boys and girls differently, as their risk factors are different.
“When we talk about gender today, we see it as a number of continuums,” Steve says. “There are kids all over that continuum. But still the generalisations work pretty well for 90 percent of kids.”
He explains that risks for girls are often tied up with stress, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and the tendency to implode and self-destructive behaviours, while boys tend to be more destructive externally.
Listen to Steve on Kinderling Conversation:
“That’s a very broad brush,” Steve acknowledges. “But [it's] girls we're very worried about now ... 20 years ago, girls were just taking off. And now there's this sudden downturn in girls' mental health. About one in five girls now is on anxiety medication.”
2. The first six years are crucial
When a child is born, their brain is still the same as long-ago homo sapiens. What’s changed is the world around them.
“We've made an insane world for them and that's really only come about in the last 20 years,” Steve says. “Parents are now much more frantic and hurried. They don't really connect as well with their littlies, the outside world puts pressures on mums and dads that are just inhumane.”
Steve says that kids start to show risk factors such an anxiety and panic attacks around the age of 14. And he says that it’s the early years under six that cause this.
3. Consider the woman you want her to be
While it can be easy to get lost in the immediate milestones and development that you see unfolding before you each day, Steve says it’s important to look at the bigger picture here.
You have twenty years to make a woman, and while those small things count, you have to hold the space to consider how you want to raise her into a woman.
“Her journey is kind of a quest where she is gathering the ingredients of her womanhood. So we need to have that in mind,” Steve advises.
4. ‘Success’ is toxic for girls
Many parents envision ‘success’ for their children. But it’s important to consider what success means for your family.
“I think success is probably the most toxic concept in our lives today, and [for] girls in particular, success just becomes a competition that makes them miserable,” Steve notes.
Research shows that some of the most stressed out girls have two university-educated parents, so they’ve got some pressure embedded in their upbringing that they also have to reach that standard.
5. Be calmer than her at all times
Kids are naturally flighty, and at a primary school age, can become quite angsty about things when they get home.
“The job of a parent is to be more relaxed than their children,” Steve explains. “What we have to do is become a stillness centre in their lives.”
When we are calm, they will talk to us when they’re stressed out. If we’re not settled, and always rushing about, our kids won’t feel like we’re approachable.
“The world is saying hurry and rush but what they actually need is adults who at least look like they've got all the time in the world, and that's a very counter-cultural message.”
6. Know that your daughter is a wild creature
There are two stages of learning and development that kids go through. In sweeping terms, there’s the 0-2 years age group, which is all about feeling loved and secure. Then from 2-5 years, they enter the explore phase.
"This is the one we mess up with girls,” Steve says. “This is why it's a gender thing. We tell little boys to explore, we tell little girls to be pretty, neat and do cutesy little things … Your daughter is a wild creature.”
Steve explains that girls need to run wild in nature, feel the textures of uneven ground, and squelch in the mud, just as boys are encouraged to do. Steve says that dads in particular are a good influence in this area for girls.
By building that emotional resilience, they will know that the world is also theirs, and they don’t have to be fearful to venture out.
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