“If you ever want to see heaven, watch a bunch of young girls play. They are all sweat and skinned knees. Energy and open faces.” ― Amy Poehler
Girls are really having a moment. Have you noticed? Everyone is worried about societal pressures and girls’ levels of anxiety; how to focus our energies on today’s girls to make up ongoing gender gaps in science, technology and leadership; even big brands are picking up on renewed interest in “Girl Power,” and running with it in ad campaigns and new products. But this isn’t an article about the mores of mass media and its negative influence of on self-esteem, nor an analysis of trends in advertising, nothing of the sort. As the world got interested in girls, I got to thinking about the everyday interactions that could make a difference in advancing the case for girls, and, namely, how differences in how we talk to little girls could impact their self-image.
So I went to an expert. Megan Hedderick works with and talks to little girls all day long. She is a teacher and principal at a local all-girls independent school --- a school she attended herself as a student back in the day, but that is a story for another time.
According to Megan, there is definitely a tendency to gravitate to superficial conversation topics when talking to children – but particularly when talking to girls. She believes strongly in the power of communications (how we talk and what we say) to girls to forge stronger relationships between adults and children, and to instill strong values and a sense of self-worth.
Megan shared with me the following Top Five Tips for Talking to Girls:
1. Go deep.
While it is oh-so tempting to compliment a little cutie’s appearance, try to avoid the superficial and try asking questions about their interests instead. Megan admits that she still catches herself sometimes – who could resist?
Lisa Bloom wrote about this in her
great article on this very same topic: “What's wrong with that? It's our
culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it? And why not
give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem?”
“What’s wrong with that” is that girls have great ideas, so why not ask them about their interests and accomplishments to show them you value their brain, not just their appearance.
Lisa Bloom has this suggestion: why not ask her about what books she likes instead.
“Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.”
But if you really can’t resist giving a compliment, why not make it about an action or behaviour you’ve observed. Say, if they spoke up and introduced themselves, why not compliment them on being brave or confident!
2. Join them at their level.Kneel, crouch or sit down beside a girl so that you can look them in the eye. The first step to real engagement is eye contact and how are you going to manage that while towering over them. To go one step further, try to use language that includes them in your world, and you in theirs. Like using “we” and “us” and “ours.” “I wonder what we could do about this...” Girls in particular tend to thrive on inclusiveness and a sense of belonging.
3. Use language that reflects the values that are important to you.Megan pointed out that she is really careful to use intentional language to help reinforce and develop future values. “I was impressed by how brave you were when...” “You were really thinking creatively when you…” “That was very generous of you when you shared with…”
4. Take time to listen.
Megan fears that even with the best intentions, adults have a tendency to steam roll over kids’ ideas to a certain extent. Adults are often busy, or stressed, or think they guess what the child is trying to say so try to help them get there faster, or simply think they know better. But if you really slow down and take time to listen and understand and ask big questions, kids have really wonderful ideas and love to share them if we open up. Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., co-author of
“When we talk to girls, they often experience it as us talking at them, and they not only stop listening, they stop thinking and reflecting. But when we listen to them, they have to think about what they are saying, and they tend to reflect more. And we need to keep an open dialogue — we can’t dismiss their chatter about ups and downs of friendship as trivial, and then expect them to talk to us about the important stuff.”
5. Get real.
Kids have incredible natural instincts. Little girls can read you like a book and can tell when you’re being superficial or fake. That means first impressions are key. By being genuine, not making assumptions, and making a good first impression, you’re set to build connections based on trust that girls will remember from one interaction to the next.
Helping parents understand the power of communication
is an important topic, reinforces Dr Allison Rees, a local parenting coach and
therapist --- who recently presented on the topic of self-esteem at St. Margaret’s School. She says that the language we use with our kids gives girls a sense of
self-worth and confidence that sets them up for all future interactions and
challenges. Put quite simply, Dr. Rees explains: “Healthy self-esteem is the
basis for her ability to respond to future failure.”
What do you think? Are you good at talking to kids? Do
you notice tendencies to talk to girls differently than boys?
Related links / References:
Raising Powerful girls from PBS Parents
How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom
St. Margaret’s School will host a Kindergarten Orientation for parents interested in early learning (preschool, JK, kindergarten, grade 1) on Thursday, January 21 at 4pm. Details and RSVP
“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized.” ― Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye