How to Raise Happy and Healthy Girls


Do you have a daughter? Do you worry about all the outside influences on her from the media as well as peers? Do you want her to grow up with good self-esteem and good body image?

As regular readers are aware I have a daughter, and even though she’s only 4 now, I’d like to think I can help her grow into a confident woman who doesn’t suffer from these issues.
Yesterday whilst listening to ABC Radio Melbourne, there was a fascinating discussion about bringing up girls, – you can listen to it here.
One of the guests was Danielle Miller who has just published a book call The Butterfly Effect which is full of tips and techniques to help bring up your girl. I haven’t read it yet – but I’m keen to. Danielle comes from a teaching background and works with girls in schools, you can see more about it on this video.
The other guest is Melinda Tankard-Reist who has just written Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls – I’m sure another worthwhile read.
What worries you most about bringing up your daughters? What strategies have you used to get your girls to womanhood unscathed? If you moan about your body in front of your daughter what do you think she’s picking up about her body and what a woman’s body should look like?
How much of what you do rubs off on your daughters? If you don’t take care of yourself how will that affect her too?


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More from Imogen


  • Often I think, that I have failed totally raising my daughters ( 32 and 20 ). The worst thing I have done, is probably, that I have not let them take the responsibility for their behavior, I have been too protective, and have always taken the blame of everything, just like in my childhood, where I was the beginning and the end of all misery. Looking back now, I think that the fact, that both girls have shared a passion for dressage riding; a hobby, has kept them away from the street ( as we say over here ), was the best thing I ever showed an example on. I was more strict with my first one, and she has many times afterwards expressed her gratefulness for that . With my younger one ( I was dealing my bad relationship with my own mother in a long psychoanalysis at that time ), I was not as strong as I should have been as a mother. Naturally each child is different, and you can´t treat them in the same way, even if you wanted to. I have never made an issue about their height or weight ( as my own mother did ) , I have expressed my compliments on how beautiful they are ( cause they are), nor have I craved for achievements in their studies ( both are very intelligent ). My biggest fault as a parent has been, that I have been too`soft´.

  • Metscan – I'd love to know in what ways do you think you've been too 'soft' – and what things in particular does your eldest thank you for by being more strict?

  • Ok Imogen, I´ll try to explain. My daughter 32, was the only child for 12 years before her sister was born ( same father ), and from the very beginning she has been envious of her little sister. This has been vice versa also. Because of the big age gap, I have been very protective towards the younger one. I have felt that it has been my fault that they don´t get along well. When the eldest grew, I expected her to take her part in the everyday chores at home. There are horsemanship rules, which I expected from her at the stables. These are rules ages old and are meant for the safety of the horses and the people. She had to participate in taking care of the stable, mainly in the evenings and weekends. I also wanted her to behave decently in and out of home. Everyday stuff. But mainly I think, that the work and discipline with the horses gave her tools to manage on her own in her later life. Many times she has expressed her gratitude later on. With the younger one, I guess, I just did not have the strength anymore. I received criticism from everyone, and my therapy and what was going on at that time with my mother and me, just kind of pulled me to a state of depression. My husband has been absent both physically and emotionally just during the time he would have been most needed. Now my active analysis is over, and I´m aware of what and why things went the way they went. I can´t change the past, I can´t change anyone else. But I can change how I myself behave and react in the present and in the future. I hope that all this writing gave you some answers.

  • I worry about raising my daughter much the way I imagine I'd worry about raising a son. It's not specifically about her sex, more about the act of bringing a human being to adulthood. Esp. one who goes her own way and is so hot headed she will not listen to reason most of the time. I am an avowed feminist who was raised and educated to feel empowered. I can only imagine, since it's all I know, that I'm passing that along.

    I guess, only time will tell.

  • modesty and moderation were familiar words to our kids (1 of each). we avoided the transformer and batman t-shirts, the high school musical paraphernalia – or what ever the corresponding trends were at that time. does it fit, hang right?? does it suit?? do you like the way it looks?? my daughter has a distinct creative flow to her wardrobe. my son is a guy who surprises me from time to time with a turned up collar or turned back cuff under his sweater.
    we encouraged them to think for themselves and about others, to be responsible individuals.
    did we make mistakes?? no doubt. did/do we love them?? no question. time has given all of us a different perspective on some of our more intense episodes and we are currently rnjoying them as adults.

  • I am going through a very challenging time with my 12-year-old daughter at the moment. When I see life from he rpoint of view I realise how awful life is for a pre-teen.
    I heard a radio discussion yesterday which said when your child is at their worst that is when they need hugs the most. I realised she had been so awful over the past few months that I hadn't really shown much positive attention. i was too busy reacting to her negative behaviour. I am trying to walk in her shoes with the benefit of my experience.

  • My worries mainly center around peer pressure. Will my daughters fall in with the "wrong" crowd? Will they feel pressure to be thin and beautiful? Will they be able to resist experimenting with drugs and sex until they're old enough to make wise choices? I'm trying to instill a moral compass in them, having them listen to their internal voice about what's right and wrong. But it's hard! I'm trying to follow the tenets of Alfie Kohn ("Unconditional Parenting," "Punished by Rewards"), but that's also challenging.

    I think, at this time, everything I do rubs off on my girls. At 4 and 6, they're little sponges. I hear my words and inflections and attitudes coming out of their mouths. So I basically teach by example: Mommy cares about her appearance, but not to the point of unhealthy obsession. Mommy takes time out to take care of herself. Mommy has her own interests that she pursues. Etc.

    metscan — interesting about the horse thing. My girls are really into horses, and I've talked to other parents who have also mentioned that working with horses have kept their girls off the street (and away from being boy crazy!) and taught them responsibility. But that responsibility didn't necessarily transfer over into the home, unfortunately 🙂 It sounds like you did the best you could at the time, metscan.

  • K.Line – I had a client who works with 'troubled' kids and she said the most important thing to remember as a parent is consistency, and consequences fitting the crime. And of course, that you're not there to be your daughters best friend, but her parent. There was a fascinating program on teen brain development on the TV here recently that was all about why kids can't control their tempers and take risks – it was fascinating.

    Downthegardenpath – so glad you and your kids enjoy each other as adults now, and have made it out the other side!

    SmallFabric – jane – give your daughter those hugs. Catch her behaving how you would like her to behave and reward that whenever possible (we often ignore the good and only react to the bad). I hope she gets easier soon! Parenting is the hardest job isn't it?

    cciele – you're so right – kids pick upon everything we do – being a great example is important. Your kids are similar ages to mine (4 and 7) so I can understand where you are right now! We have friends whose kids are into running, and that keeps them clean, healthy and off the streets- I hope my kids find an activity they really enjoy too so those teenage years are less fraught.

  • I have 3 little girls all pretty much still in their baby stage (the oldest just turned 2) but it's already something I think about. My husband and I were Christmas shopping last year and SHOCKED to find that Barbie has become a tramp! I hadn't been Barbie shopping since I played with my own and I can tell you, my Barbies never would have been mistaken for hookers. Bratz? No way!
    We won't be having any more children so I won't know the particular challenges of raising a boy, but their toys all seem to be astronauts, superheroes and firemen, none of whom look like street-walkers!
    I do catch myself bemoaning my weight in front of my oldest and I remind myself that while I am working hard to be healthy (for her as well as myself), I will be happy with who I am right now and do my best to show her that. With my girls I will do everything I can to impart the power feminINITY without all the anger of feminISM.
    Thanks again for a great post!

  • I so wanted a girl but had twin boys, 22 now. I'm heartnened by your awareness, Imogen, and by other commenters.

    Jesslyn, I applaud your take on the dolls. Re early feminists' anger, it resulted in earning (in my country) the right for women to vote, hold property or get a loan in their name, and enter a bar without an escort (that is, a MAN)- among other rights. I don't enjoy anger either, but I (and all women here) reap the benefits fruits of these women deciding enough was enough.

    metscan, your love for your daughters is evident. As others have said, we do the best we can. My bother is 15 years older, my sister was 13 years older. They had completely different parenting than I received.

  • This is something I think about a lot myself. My daughter will be 9 this month, and her brother is 12. He is academic and sporty – she is neither. What makes me really ANGRY (and this IS feminist anger) is when people say 'oh, she'll be fine, she's pretty', as though that is all it's necessary for a girl or woman to be. I have always worked, always been independent and have worked hard to have a positive body image – and I really hope that some of these things rub off on her.

  • Whle I'm not a mother, I am a daughter, and I feel I can say a few things to you mothers.
    1. Sometimes, your daughter really wants to just tell you something and cry- she doesn't want you to solve the problem or make it better. She just want you to make her hot cocoa and let her tell you everything. Just listen.

    2. I honestly think you have to set consequences and rules- even I as a 14 year old think that. I understand why I have those rules because my parents explained them to me.

    3. Compliment your daughter when she does well or does look nice, but don't give fake compliments. We can tell and then when you give us a real compliment- we might not believe you.

    I think raising a child is hard- but you all sound like you did a wonderful job!

  • Reviving Ophelia = best book I've read on this subject.

    A few lessons I learned on my own:
    – your daughter (son, too) doesn't need you to be a friend; she needs you to be a parent
    – sports are great: a clear way she can learn that her body is so much more than skinny/fat, pretty/ ugly, designed just to please men, etc.
    – volunteer work can start really young and teaches invaluable lessons that directly counter the selfish, materialistic messages that much of the rest of the world conveys. Going to a seniors home and helping mum give small potted plants to residents, for example (with staff permission, of course) can be done with a very little girl and you will be astounded by how much that smart wee mind will pick up, question and empathize.

  • To clarify my "feminist anger" comment – I LOVE a good battle, even a good argument. Between my husband and I, I'll be the first to get riled up about something. Tiffany – the "don't worry she's pretty" comment would have sent me through the roof! Duchesse – I will always applaud and hold as high examples all those women around the world who fought those battles and laid the groundwork for our female independence. My own line of grandmothers were some of those women. The anger I was talking about is the type that downplays the beautiful parts of being a woman. The type that says you have to get pissed off at the man who holds the door open for you, or says you look nice today. The type that says you don't need a stupid man in your life (or all men are stupid), you're better than men so you can do anything without them and do it better. There are a lot of those here in the states. And they send me through the roof too. I want my daughters to know they have tremendous power as women AND that I hope they find the love of their life to have adventures with and tackle challenges with. And that he always opens the door for them.

  • What a very important topic today.
    I am a grandmother. My own mother wanted to be my friend so I did not have a mother. She also has mental issues and would turn and slap us across the face for things very unexpected. There was much abuse in the family.
    Myself, I raised a boy and a girl as a single mother. It was very difficult and I feel much guilt for not having the time to be the parent I wanted to be or that they deserved. I also did not have the role models to know how to do the job of parenting.
    My daughter and her husband are keeping my grand daughter in soccer year around, and she takes her school work very seriously. They are teaching her modesty, honesty, accountability, and the joy of life. They are doing a fabulous job raising their daughter, and she is a delightful young lady in all respects. I am very proud of all of them.

  • What a great theme and great comments.
    My girl is now a 20months old and I feel very blessed for being able to stay home with her.
    I believe that the first 2 years of life are the most important ones when it comes to the creation of each ones personality and there is allot of work to be done before adolescence.
    I try to lead by example but I also try to adress more the dificulties that she has,like frustration when she cannot do something, for example.
    And I prefer to raise a kid with too much self confidence than one that has a poor image of herself and can be an easier catch for all the dangers in our society.
    With time, as many of you did, I hope we both can find an activity that she enjoys and can keep her,as you say, out of the street, because as a daughter I had that experience and it was very rewarding in itself.
    I enjoyed reading all the experiences.Thank you.

  • This is a wonderful thread. Metscan, let me just agree with others. I doubt you have failed. Do you know the study that confirms that those who question their abilities are usually the highest performers? This topic, bringing up a girl, warrants an entire post. An entire week of posts. But my daughter, now 22, probably wouldn't want me to put this on my own blog. Let me say here only that I have worried most about her finding a good man who loves her above all else.

  • My daughter is only 4 too. She frequently gets comments from grownups about how cute she is (so I know that's not just her mother's opinion!) – so my worry is that she is going to grow up to become one of those very annoying girls who can manipulate boys into doing their work for them. Okay maybe I was just jealous of those girls when I was growing up…

  • I thank all of you, who have written those wonderful notes for me ! I have lived in a very negative world and have been ready to take blame whole heartedly for everything possible. Receiving anything positive is very challenging, but I have begun to accept thanks too. I motivate myself by saying to myself, that it is also rude from my part, if I every time turn down the gift; the thanks. Please accept my sincere thanks !

  • LPC-
    Perhaps she will find a man who will love her above all else, and she will be happy. Perhaps she will find a woman to love her above all else, and she will be happy. Perhaps she will never settle down with one person, but will have a close circle of friends, and every day will wake with joy at what a new day has to offer.

    What is important is that she is happy.

  • I have 2 daughters aged 2 and 4. I often thin about the future and what it will hold for the, I'm sure that it will be very different in their teen years than it was for me.

    The one thing that I do, and will continue to do is go back and read my diaries from when I was a teen. It makes me remember how important things (which I now find quite trivial) were at the time. I'm hoping that it will put me in their shoes if and when they face a similar situation.

    I want to remember what it felt like to be 14, and how much I just wished that my mum would just sit and listen to me, and I could feel free to just b*#%h about stuff.

    But I need to be able to do that and remain a parent. I have no intention of being their friend, but I want them to feel comfortable talking to me.

    A huge ask? Absolutely. But I have a few years in front of me to work out how the heck I'm going to do it!! Haha!!


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