How to raise brave girls.

As it turns out, the old adage is true: you lead by example.

On my 40th birthday my daughter Maddy, 10 at the time, gave me a handcrafted birthday voucher on which she wrote:

“This vowcher lets you be my gest at the Oscars when I am nomnated for best actres.”

(Probably more chance of that than winning the national spelling bee!)

I’ve tucked it away for safe keeping until that day arrives. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. I just love that she wasn’t afraid to dream big.

Too often though we turn down the dial on our ambitions as the realities of the ‘real’ world crush in on us. The hurdles are higher, the competition tougher and the setbacks bigger. Sticking with goals that don’t risk rejection and failure can seem like the smarter option.

margie warrell
Margie Warrell. Image via Twitter.

But it never is. And it never will be. And if you have a daughter, I don’t think there’s anything more important you can do to help you enjoy happiness in life than help her grow into the bravest version of the woman she has it in her to be. Here’s how.

  1. Encourage her to dream big

I was only a little older than Maddy, growing up on a dairy farm in rural victoria, when I told my parents I wanted to a journalist, like Jana Wendt on 60 Minutes. Mum said I didn’t read the newspaper enough. It was true; but didn’t get the paper.

Want more? Try: Father’s choice: Being a progressive dad or protecting ‘daddy’s little girl’?

While we each walk a different path to parenthood, we must all be careful not to let our own experiences, including our disappointments, hurts and unmet aspirations, dampen the ambitions of our daughters. Sure, not everyone will be the next Cate Blanchet, but better to to try and fall short than to have our daughters one day look back on their own lives and wonder ‘What if?’


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  1. Embolden her to take risks

Each of my three sons has had at least one broken bone (one of them has had three!) My daughter, like me, hasn’t had one. It’s a limited data set I know, but it’s a good a reflection of how boys and girls differ: boys are physically rougher and more comfortable with taking risks.

You could argue girls are simply ‘more sensible,’ sparing us the gray hairs we get watching our sons hurtle down hills on their skate boards and bikes – “Look mum, no hands!” But while boys are more partial to stiches and plaster castes, by adulthood they’re often also more resilient when knocked down, more comfortable exiting their comfort zone and more adept at taking risks – and not just physical risks, but psychological ones. This gives them a strong advantage because being too cautious can hold our daughters back.

how to raise brave girls
You could argue girls are simply ‘more sensible,’ but is this really the case? Image via istock.

Research validates this. Despite our daughters doing better at school and university relative to our sons, once they get into the workplace women are less likely to:

  • Pursue stretch roles
  • Challenge authority
  • Negotiate salary or conditions
  • Promote themselves, or ask for a promotion

All of these things require risk in some way – of risking rejection, criticism, looking foolish, falling short, or outright failure. Which is why we have to encourage our daughters to put themselves ‘out there’. Sometimes a gentle push outside their comfort zone is the most loving thing you can do because it helps them to realise they can do more than they think and builds self-confidence to handle life’s larger challenges. Protecting her from the pain of failure doesn’t set her up to succeed and thrive in the bigger game of life.

  1. Teach her to speak bravely, even if it risks being called bossy

Sheryl Sandberg may think we need to #BanBossy, but while I love her Lean In message, on this count, I think she has it wrong. We need to encourage our daughters to embrace bossy, not ban it.

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not advocating for bossiness (or any counter productive behavior that pulls people down.) Rather I think we need to encourage our daughters own their right to hold an opinion, to be confident in expressing it, stand their ground and take charge when the situations calls for it.

Related content: How to raise kind daughters.

The truth is that it takes guts to say something that may rock the boat. It’s why women, wired to forge connections but loathe to disrupt them, so often don’t. But whenever we stay silent for fear of rocking the boat, we implicitly teach those around us that we are okay with the status quo.

Starting in the schoolyard and continuing throughout her life – in the workplace, friendships, and at home – your daughter will encounter people who will to pressure her, intimidate her and devalue her. She needs to know that she has to responsibility for standing up for herself and, starting from the time she can talk, encouraged to practice doing just that. As I wrote in my book Brave, we build our bravery every time we act with it.

  1. Continually remind her she is lovable, worthy and deserving, no matter what

Of course it’s hard to be brave and stand up for ourselves when we don’t believe, truly believe, that we deserve better. Which is why, above all else, our daughters need to know, beyond any doubt, that they are deeply loved and infinitely lovable – even when they’re behaving anything but.

how to raise brave girls
“It’s hard to be brave and stand up for ourselves.” Image via istock.

Girls who don’t grow up knowing both often grow into women who spend their lives unconsciously searching for validation – from friends, strangers, lovers and losers alike. Setting your daughter up to forge genuinely loving, respectful and rewarding relationships begins by having her know that she is deserving of love, worthy of respect and that she should never settle for anyone treating her otherwise. Ever.

  1. Help her define herself beyond beauty, brands or brains

Right from the get go, there’s enormous pressure on anyone born with a vagina to conform to some idealized image created by marketers and reinforced by the media. Refusing to conform to that pressure is a life-long challenge.

We give our daughters a head start when actively nurture what makes them unique, accept them for who they are, and don’t pressure them to be someone they’re not!

We have to remind them not to measure their worth by how good they are at multiplication or sport, by their complexion or body shape, by how many followers they have on Instagram, the brands they wear or the party invites they receive. And certainly not by their ‘boyfriend’ status!

Read more: When you have sons instead of daughters.

Nothing can diminish our daughters fragile sense-of-self faster than believing she has to reach some external measure of success to be good enough; nothing can build courage more than knowing she is good enough just as she is. 

  1. Model the bravery you hope to inspire

Any time you tip toe around an awkward conversation, allow someone treat you poorly, avoid taking a risk for fear of failure, or let other people’s opinions matter more than your own, you’re missing an important opportunity to teach your daughter how to be brave.

As it turns out, the old adage is true: you lead by example.

So as you think about how to raise your daughter to be a confident and courageous woman – sure of herself and resilient under pressure – begin by considering where you need to practice a little more bravery yourself. Your daughter may not listen to what you say, but she notices everything you do. Nothing will teach her how to be brave better than what she learns each time she sees you being brave yourself.

Speaking of which, my daughter Maddy, now 15, is heading to LA next holidays to do an acting course. I’m sure Hollywood won’t look quite so glamourous up close. And while it’s brave of her to go, it’s also brave of me to watch her. One way or another, we’ll both grow from it.

Margie Warrell is a Forbes columnist, bestselling author and founder of RawCourage.TV. Learn more about her latest book Brave at You can follow her on Twitter at @MargieWarrell.

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