Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD
This week I was talking to a friend and she said something that struck me hard. “Remember when my mum would say to us in high school, ‘Oh they’re just doing that because they are jealous of you or like you’. I don’t know about you but that really impacted me’.
We all have our own version of this story. So many of us growing up got ‘advice’ or ‘feedback’ from parents or family members like this. It may have been that uncle that said, “you don’t need another piece of that cake” at the family lunch. Or that cousin that shouted, “you can’t do that cos you’re just a girl”. Or the teacher that declared, “you aren’t good at that”. Whatever it was the chances are that this off-the-cuff remark stuck with you. Like forever.
The things about the preteens and teen years is that our kids are hard at work trying to figure out a lot of stuff. About themselves. Their social world. The larger world. They are hyper aware and thirsty to know and understand it all. As part of this journey of discovery, our girls look to us and to the adults in their lives … so, what comes out of our mouths matters and is likely to shape what she thinks about herself – for good or bad.
As parents right now in the preteens – it is a great moment to stop, reflect and refresh our approach of how we interact and give feedback to our girls!
So let’s look at some areas where our words can matter most:
You know the scenario. Your daughter brings home a friend and she isn’t exactly what you imagined or may seem like a bad influence. What do we do? Or say?
Here are some tips:
- Give her friend a chance. Try and learn more about her. Often looks can be deceiving and less ‘perfect’ girls give our girls more support and belonging than some of the seemingly perfect girls. Sometimes her friend is struggling and needs support. Always look beneath the surface!
- What is your fear? What are you worried about? How realistic is the risk? Usually our own internal reaction comes from this place; affected by our own childhood and experience.
- Have important conversations with her. In the preteens it is so important to start, in small, organic ways to talk with her about important topics. Bit by bit. Sex-ed. Drugs. Porn. Online Safety.
- Help her make lots of friends. Research shows that it helps girls to have more than one friendship group. It helps her learn about diversity in friendships and gives her friends to lean on if there is ever a fall out with one.
- Stay close to her and carve out 1:1 time. To deepen your relationship and build trust. To understand her better. To have fun.
- And finally, if you see her friendship is problematic sit her down and talk about specific examples. Give her a chance to talk and share. Listen deeply. Bring empathy to the table.
As our girls move into the preteens they begin to want to style themselves. And sometimes what they want to put on can come as a shock! eg. hoodies on hot days, emo style, crop tops.
To add to this as her body changes through puberty, some parents worry about whether or not she is changing as she should? Too fast, too slow? Too much gain? Too little? These can be really tricky to navigate as parents – how do we respond to these things?
What we know is that body confidence is a huge issue for kids – especially girls. According to research reported by the Embrace Collective, 3 in 4 young people in Australia report some level of body image distress.
Hearing body related comments affects our kids and negative feedback can have a significant long term impact, depending how our girls perceive it.
So the best advice?
- Keep in mind, clothes are more than just looks. It is a way to express herself and can be deeply related to belonging and connecting with others. Two important developmental needs of preadolescence.
- Ask her what kind of clothes she likes. Try to stay open and interested. Remember it may change over time but opening up to her likes can be bonding and help our relationship with her.
- Give her some space to experiment with clothes. Remember those moments when our girls wanted to wear their Frozen dress to the supermarket? When they were little it was easy to be flexible because it was cute. Now let’s create some space for her to express herself, with some built in/logical limits.
- Explain the why behind any limits. For example, if she wants to wear a hoodie in 35 degree heat, explain that she needs to drink more water and keep hydrated.
- It is normal for our girls to put on up to 5kg in the preteens as her body prepares for the huge change that is puberty. We need to normalise this with girls and help them understand their bodies.
- No judgment about her body ever helps. So, let’s keep the focus off what her body looks like and shift our comments to highlighting the amazing things her body does. It may sound like, “wow, you are getting so much more flexible” or “isn’t it crazy how our body communicates with us to tell us when we are hungry or tired”.
- Help her stay healthy by setting up a routine that supports sleep and movement and provide her with lots of nutritious snacks and meals that give her body what it needs to grow!
Right now, in a media heavy world, our girls are hearing a lot of information about the world around them. And a large majority of it is negative. So it’s no wonder this generation is feeling down and concerned about the state of the world.
As they grow we will need to slowly begin to share more with our girls about the world around them. And help educate them.
But HOW we open that up matters.
- Let’s give her the good and the bad. Global hunger? Economic crisis? Politics? Share the issue but also share what people are doing to help.
- Let’s include diversity. Share your thoughts, sure. But let’s also help her see that different perspectives exist. And that that’s okay. Part of helping cultivate more kindness in this world means opening up a space for difference and a sense of common humanity.
- Give her a chance to make a difference. There is nothing more depressing about things we can’t do anything about. We feel deeply sad and often stuck over these things. So help her know that if everyone did something small it would add up to something big. Help her find those small things. Help her do them.
It’s so easy to throw out ‘don’t be lazy’ when your daughter hasn’t cleaned her room in a week. The problem with hearing this too much is that it can become easy for her to start to think she is lazy and lacks motivation – as a character trait.
So let’s spin this and give her direct feedback on WHAT WE NEED and WHAT WE SEE. “I’ve noticed you haven’t cleaned your room in a week. I really need you to do that before the end of today because I need to vacuum”.
Or another great way to request something is to use the “WHEN, THEN” strategy. What is something she wants? What is something she needs to do (but maybe isn’t very motivated)? Connect the two. This can sound like, “When you (pick up your clothes and hang them up), then we can leave for Sarah’s house”.
The feedback our girls DO need to hear is on her deeper qualities and virtues. This is what builds a healthy self-perception and self-esteem.
And to really get her listening – we need to use REAL LIFE EXAMPLES.
Our girls start to think more concretely in the preteens – and can be exceptionally practical. The “you’re amazing” sometimes doesn’t cut it and you may hear something like, “yeah you’re my mum you have to say that” in response!
So when she shows kindness by staying back to help her friend pack her bag or calling her friend because she had a rough day, notice it and point it out. It may sound like, “hey that was such a kind thing you did back there, your friend really needed some support and you showed up”.
When she shows determination, by working every day to master that backbend for gymnastics tell her. “Wow, I’m so impressed how hard you’re practicing to nail that. That’s some serious determination you’ve got. I love it!”
It’s so easy for our girls to think they are less than, not enough. But hearing these things during their week can shift things significantly for our girls!
A great bonus tip is to keep a journal for these things! It can be wonderful to read back later with her or give it to her as a gift later in life.
You matter mama!
The truth is we can’t protect our girls from the comments of others – that is out of our control – but we can choose our own words and given how much time we spend with our girls – that adds up and matters!
You’ve got this mama.
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