By: Delana H Stewart
Recently, a mom asked what parents can do to prevent their daughters from becoming anorexic or developing harmful or otherwise unhealthy patterns of behavior. To answer this and share general challenges of raising daughters, I want to give you some advice I gleaned from viewing two counseling videos from the AACC (American Association of Christian Counselors). Unless specifically noted otherwise (by credit given to another speaker or prefaced by “I believe”) all tips come from speaker Dr. Linda Mintle and her lecture titled: The Unique Challenges of Raising Girls (disk 12, lesson 23).
In an effort to show the differences between raising daughters and raising sons, Dr. Mintle expressed the following things about girls:
v They sense self through relationships.
v They are Multi-taskers and focus on process.
v They like to work together.
v They are primarily verbal.
v They establish relationship through play.
v They look to others for approval.
Girls, she says, need to learn how to make independent decisions and assert themselves. They also need to learn how to resolve conflict. Parents must give daughters realistic and predictable expectations and age appropriate consequences. I believe that this is also true for our sons. Girls need to be given challenges in order to develop confidence and a strong sense of self. Parents, particularly moms, need to find healthy ways to separate from their daughters and help them find independence while staying connected. Daughters push against mothers and sons push against fathers to express who they are and become independent. Moms need to allow for some distinct differences in likes, dreams, passions, and opinions—opinions about clothes, hairstyles, music, etc. Moms can allow for differences and independence while fostering a healthy sense of connectivity by listening more and asking questions. Find out what your daughter is passionate about. Let her–and help her–pursue her dreams rather than living out yours.
Another way to stay connected is by freely admitting when you make mistakes. Show her that you make mistakes and allow her to make mistakes without you coming unglued. Help your daughter know who she is in God and the importance of not allowing others to have the power to rule over God’s voice in her life. Encourage her to give herself permission to fail at things. Help her tolerate bad feelings. We are not perfect and we will not be good at everything.
Regarding the physical, Dr. Mintle implores moms to not speak negatively about our own bodies in front of our daughters. That means do not compare your body to the body of others (in negative or positive ways). It also means do not weigh yourself daily (emphasizing having to reach or maintain a certain weight). I believe that putting a picture on the fridge of what we wish our bodies looked like would also be a no-no. With regards to the birds and the bees, Dr. Mintle encourages us to not just have the one time sex talk with our kids, but to talk about body changes, sexuality, and relationships at age appropriate levels from birth onward.
All kids, but especially girls, need help from their parents in balancing time with friends and family. They may not say that they need more time with you, but they crave it. They also need plenty of down time. Unhealthy stress and pressure leads to eating disorders and other negative elements in the life of a girl. Help your daughter deal with stresses by assuring that:
- She gets adequate exercise and sleep.
- She eats healthy foods.
- She avoids excess caffeine.
- She learns relaxation techniques like prayer, deep breathing, and tension/relaxation exercises.
We must teach (and model to) our daughters the need to take a break from stressful situations by listening to music, playing, running, etc. Girls need guidance in stating their feelings and needs. Help your daughter ID her feelings and understand that feelings do not have to determine her behavior/actions. Role-play with her how to handle a variety of situations. Show her, also, how to break different tasks into small steps. Dr. Mintle points out that it is critical to reinforce the effort our daughters make, especially when doing a new or challenging task. Our daughters need help adjusting their expectations of themselves, their friends, and their family. One key thing in helping our daughters de-stress is to keep ourselves de-stressed.
According to Dr. Catherine Hart Weber (CCOU 305 Depression in Children and Adolescents) there are several signs of stressed-out kids.
- Fatigue, more tired than usual, moping;
- Irritability, outbursts of anger or crying;
- Fidgetiness, jumpy;
- Headaches, upset stomach, frequent illness;
- Difficulty getting to sleep, need more sleep;
- Self Medicate: cutting to relieve pain, drugs, alcohol, OTC meds, overeating, anorexia.
She points out that teens need 10-12 hours of sleep (especially when stressed or overloaded).
Dr. Mintle states that there are several preventions of risk-taking behaviors, such as:
- Assure her the NOT everyone is doing it.
- Speak frankly about addictions and problems like anorexia, bulimia, cutting, etc., and that you know that some teen girls deal with problems such as these.
- Discuss with teenage daughters date rape and drugs slipped into drinks. Even if this is unlikely to take place where you are now, it is a possible risk when she heads to college.
- Teach her to pray about her problems…and pray with her about difficulties she faces or decisions she is trying to make.
- Teach her to go to God and the Word with problems, crises, and decisions.
- Help her to know who she is in Christ.
- Bless her and encourage her through the use of Scripture.
- Speak (that means verbalize) a blessing over her every night (even through her teen years).
- Dr. Weber adds: Find her strengths and build on them. Laugh more. Give unconditional acceptance.
Here are some verses Dr. Mintle recommends for our daughters: Proverbs 31:30; Ps 139:13-16; Matthew 5:16; Colossians 3:10; I Timothy 2:9; Philippians 2:15-16; and Jeremiah 29:11. I would also recommend a book for mothers (and teenage daughters) to read—Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John Eldredge and Stasi Eldredge.