What has your daughter got to say?

Adolescent using a megaphone to amplify her voice
Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

There is a global trend happening for our pre-teen girls right now. Research is showing that around the age of 10, girls specifically begin to lose confidence in speaking up. This doesn’t seem to be happening in the same way for boys.

You may have started recognising this in your own daughter. As a sense of belonging becomes more and more important to her, she may begin to sacrifice her own personal opinion in order to uphold the opinions of her peer group. She may start to feel as though it is weird or embarrassing to have a different view or opinion and is scared of being labelled as “bossy” of being ostracised by her peers. Bit by bit she is learning a new norm – to keep silent and focus on being “good” and likeable.

Over time this pattern can form a belief that she will take into adulthood and can inform how she shows up in the world. It also influences the future risks she is willing to take at school, work and in her relationships.

At Mothering Girls we believe that, as parents, we can challenge this societal trend and begin early to teach our girls that their voice matters and how to use it.

So how can we do that? Here are some tips on how you can begin today to support this development:

Help her first discover her voice.
In pre-adolescence our girls are still learning about the world and themselves. Every day brings new knowledge and facts that they didn’t know before. As parents we can help cultivate an environment where our girls have space and information to continuously add to what they know.

As adults we know how slowing down can help us assimilate new information, reflect and think clearer. The same goes for our girls. Time away from technology, investing in activities where they can switch pace, build up their knowledge about the world and learn new perspectives are invaluable for them.

Reading is an excellent way for them to do this. In our house I occasionally drop the hint (usually on the weekends) that I am excited to make a tea and sit on the couch to read my book – and invite them to do it with me. If she sees you loving the process of reading she is more likely to be more interested in the same.

But other activities can also do the same – watching documentaries or interesting movies together, going to events and festivals or travelling are some examples. Anywhere where they are have time to see the world in a more complex way and reflect will be a rich addition to their brains that will help them later form their own opinions.

Help her build trust in her voice.
The other day my 10 year old came up to me with two $2 bills and said, “mum, here is $4. There is an app called Share the Meal and it costs $0.80c to feed a child for a day. This will feed 4 kids. Can you donate it for me?” In that small gesture her voice was loud and clear. It gave me a window into what is on her mind. She thinks about poverty. And she cares enough to do something about it. She wants to make a difference.

In these moments when my girls put their opinions forward at home they are actually testing the waters. If she can’t share them safely at home in a safe environment would she be confident enough to share them with her peer group? Probably not. By giving our girls that moment of our attention and listening with interest we are saying, “Yes! Trust your voice!”

Give her opportunity to use her voice.
One of the greatest things we can do for our daughter is to make a space in our home for her to practice expressing her opinions. Ask her questions – what do you think? and then wait for her answer, listening openly without interjecting. And involve her in decision making where you can. This could be on something small like getting her to help you plan the menu or research what you will do over the school break. Or bigger things – like choosing a new house or selecting subjects for high school.

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Help her acknowledge that using your voice isn’t an easy thing to do.

Have an open, honest dialogue with her about the difficulties of sharing our thoughts and opinions. Ask her when she finds it is easier and when she finds it harder to speak up. Share your own experiences with her of times you found it hard but found a way.

It is really important that she knows that sometimes we will face criticism or will not convince someone of our viewpoint but that this shouldn’t deter us from trying. Sometimes she may also see an injustice and need to stand up to that with her voice. (Bullying being a good example).

It is also valuable to explore how we can share our opinions in a way that is inclusive and open to other people’s opinions too.

Use family time to practice.

Don’t be afraid to have family discussions that give different sides to an argument and include the kids. In our house we often do that at the dinner table (not always consciously) – discussing how our days were as well as talking about things that are going on in the world. Sometimes we will ask the girls – What do you think? What would you do? This is an excellent way for girls to build their empathy, problem solving and critical thinking skills too.

Help her see the many different ways we can use our voice to say something.

This week a book arrived that I had ordered a while back and forgotten about. Say Something, by Peter Reynolds. When I read it last night with my girls they loved it! Their favourite part was when they talk about all the many different ways we can say something – with art, poetry, kindness etc. It doesn’t always have to be by talking. As they flicked through the pages we had the best conversation about which ways they have tried and which they haven’t or want to.

Help her find advocates and role models.

When our girls are encouraged to express their views with different people in their lives their confidence grows. And this includes with people from all backgrounds. Encourage others in the family, including her dad and brothers for example, to listen to what she has to say.

Finding positive role models for her can be really powerful and there are many young role models today with positive messages. This year for ‘International Day of the Girl’ the UN shared the stories of 8 inspiring young girls who have stood up and advocated for something they are passionate about. Here is a TED talk of 10-year old Hannah Alper that I watched with my 10-year old recently.

Use your voice
Perhaps one of the most powerful ways she can gain confidence in her voice is to see you use yours.

So take a moment and think from the eyes of your daughter:

How do you use your voice?

What does she see day to day?

What do you value and advocate for?

And how do you deal with push-back and criticism?

All of these steps are an excellent starting point in helping your daughter begin to find her voice.

If you are interested in digging deeper and setting a plan on how to help your daughter thrive in the pre-teen years, check out my 3-day online Mothering Tween Girls Workshop. It is a small investment that can make a big difference!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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