Last night my two-year old daughter Shoshanna was blowing some bubbles in the yard, and she kept yelling, “POWER!” every time she waved the bubble wand around. Sho’s auntie and I started laughing: power bubbles? Really? But that word totally sums up a lot of her approach to the world, running so fast her body can’t keep up and flinging herself from tall surfaces and yelling at the top of her lungs.
There are a couple things I keep in mind during our day-to-day adventures to encourage that sense of power in my tiny girl.
Animals are girls, too
Whether narrating the pictures of a story we’re “reading” about a whale or a worm, or pointing out a squirrel doing something crazy, I am often taken aback by my initial impulse to calling everything a “him.” Dude, this impulse sucks. Really, the only creatures of interest are boy-creatures? I am embarrassed to admit that I really have to fight against it sometimes. I hope that Shoshi will always discover that her imaginary friends of the tiger variety are, naturally, female badass tigers. RAWR.
Let her trust her instincts
When I was pregnant, a few peeps recommended The Continuum Concept which (as you may know) is a book written in the 1970s by an anthropologist who lived with the Yequana tribe in South America. She was fascinated by how blissfully happy everyone in the culture was, from the tiny babes to the elders. A lot of what she wrote about is pretty well-known attachment parenting stuff, but the lesser-known parts of the book discuss the almost total lack of injuries among the children — even though they were allowed to play with sharp knives, near open pits and rushing rivers, in an Amazonian jungle to boot.
Kiddos were given the space and respect to discover their world on their own, therefore their instincts about that world were honed from a super-young age. Groovy! And: nearly impossible in our baby-proofing, fast-cars, overprotective culture! Still, I let her take a lot of risks, and play in a lot of dirt. How will she learn how high she can climb, if I don’t let her try? Whenever I can, I try to give my girl the space to explore her own abilities, to climb and reach and (occasionally) fall.
Listen to her (within reason) if she says “no” or “stop”
Obviously I can’t always do this because the kid would never sleep (ever) or wear shoes in public places. But if she says NO to me putting pigtails in her hair, I listen. A girl should always feel like she has the power to say no and be listened to.
Tell her she’s brave
I remember hearing once that boys are usually praised for their abilities, while girls are more often complimented on their outfits or appearance. This is so true when you start being aware of it. So I’ve been on a mission to tell my daughter how brave, tough, and smart she is way more often than I tell her what an insane little cutie she is, or even how awesome her stripes-and-plaids-with-pink-boots ensembles are. Just yesterday she scraped her knee, then looked up at me and said shakily, “Shoshi brave girl.” It was amazing to realize that my words haven’t just been bouncing off her this whole time, but have instead been nurturing in her a feeling of really being that brave, tough girl I say she is. That she could draw on those compliments during a time when she really needed them was pretty awesome for me to see.
A white dress shouldn’t get in the way of a girl playing in the dirt
Our old neighbors had a daughter about Shoshanna’s age, and they were always yelling, “Don’t play on the ground, you’re gonna get your dress dirty!” Man, I felt bad for that kid. Maybe I’m just not fancy enough (very possible), but I can’t think of an occasion that’s so important that it should require clothing that actually restricts the wearer’s interactions with the world around her. I love a darlin’ little sundress at least as much as the next mama, but I try not to freak out when I notice that my girl has just poured an entire bucket of mud and worms all over it.
Which brings me to mud and worms: I’m introducing her to them
Some kids just aren’t into bugs and dirt and fishing and guts, and I totally feel them on that, but I do wish more people would give girls the opportunity to check ’em out without automatically assuming they’ll be disgusted. Kids are social animals, and if you expect them to be grossed out by a spider, they will be happy to oblige. But if you take the time to show them the web the spider is spinning, really look carefully at what it’s doing, and talk about how many pesky insects it gobbles up for us, at least you’re giving that girl a fair shot at not running shrieking from the room every time she sees one.
Shoshi knows that “ewww,” in reference to any kind of insect (or person, for that matter) she hasn’t taken the time to have a good look at, just doesn’t fly with me (so to speak). She drops to her belly every time she sees an interesting bug on the ground, to better inspect it. I hope that throughout her long life, my daughter carries with her that enthusiasm for the smaller, potentially misunderstood creatures who walk this world with us.
Isn’t that what raising powerful girls (and boys) all about? Imagine a world full of women — our daughters — who are strong enough to get dirty and climb high, brave enough to look closely at their surroundings, and smart enough to recognize just how awesome they really are.