The Taliban, Afghanistan’s fundamentalist Islamic militia, had carried out the attack on Malala, who survived the attempted assassination. Since age 11, the young girl had been blogging for the BBC about living in Pakistan when girls were being denied an education.
Today, the courageous young woman, who has just turned 21, is pursuing a degree at Oxford University in the UK, even as she continues to be an activist for women’s rights and education.
The youngest person to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at age 17, Malala has taken her campaign around the globe, meeting with head of states such as former US president Barack and his wife Michelle Obama, speaking at youth empowerment events and establishing the Malala Fund to provide grants for girls’ education.
While Malala’s story is inspiring, more importantly, it’s an aspirational one for young girls today.
“We live in a very competitive world which often delineates between clear gender stereotypes and emphasises unrealistic beauty, fame, glamour, and social status,” notes Dr Vanessa von Auer, a clinical psychologist and director of VA Psychology Center.
“It is essential for girls to learn to always love themselves first, believe in their ideas and opinions, have a strong ‘go-getter attitude’, pursue their own passions and freely make healthy choices.”
“It is essential for girls to learn to always love themselves first, believe in their ideas and opinions, have a strong ‘go-getter attitude’, pursue their own passions and freely making healthy choices.”
Why raise a trailblazing daughter?
So, how does one go about raising a fearless daughter who leads the way? The first step is treat her like you would your son. If you notice, boys are naturally more confident than girls because they are raised with “less caution”, says von Auer, who is a mother of two young girls. “Boys are encouraged to take risks and to be ‘strong’ while girls are often taught to be more cautious.”
When you break down such sub-conscious gender barriers, you’ll encourage your daughters to stand out as well as inspire them to engage in a variety of interests. In TED Talks, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father and an education activist, addressed how he and his wife raised a bold daughter in a society that works hard to repress women. He said, “Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that's all.”
Ready to raise the next Malala? Incorporate these parenting tips into your daily life, starting today.
1. Teach them to be independent
Shut down your helicopter parenting style ASAP. As tempting as it is to shelter your little girl from life’s ups and downs, it’s even more important to encourage them to try new experiences.
Allow them to make mistakes, to fail and then teach them to reflect on them positively, von Auer advises. It’s the only way they’ll learn about their own capabilities and sense of worth. She adds, “Independence is a powerful tool for all girls as it provides them with inner strength and propels them to pursue their passion, even in the face of adversity.”
So, instead of going to her daughters’ “rescue” the minute they fail, von Auer lets her girls make mistakes ― it is the greatest gift a parent can give their child and the best way to learn and grow. She notes. “In our household, we celebrate mistakes and the rich learning that results from them.”
2. Encourage them to seek out strong women mentors
Introduce your daughters to strong women who exhibit inner and outer strength within your community or at social events. This will give them an opportunity to emulate the traits they admire in these role models and develop their own unique personalities.
By the way, you don’t have to look too far for a mentor for your little girl. A study done by Keds Brave Life Project and Girls Leadership Institute ― a collaborative platform that equips young women with resources to build their self-esteem ― notes that 63 per cent of girls consider their mums to be their role model. So, the best thing is to be the trailblazing woman you want your daughter to grow up to be.
3. Encourage them to set aside their doubts and go for what they want
Because they’re so afraid of failing, self-doubt is one of the biggest obstacles in a girl’s journey to success. Start off by encouraging your little one to “just try” an activity or experience, without putting pressure or focus on the end result, von Auer suggests. Get them to figure out if they liked or disliked it and decide if they’ll do it again.
“This will make them brave enough to try things they are not familiar with, allowing them to gain confidence in their skills and becoming more self-aware,” she adds. “In turn, help them with social interactions, maintaining boundaries and being comfortable in their own skin.”
4. Teach them to focus on the positive
The unfortunate truth about growing up as a woman today is that they’ll face many societal pressures and gender stereotypical discrimination. So, teach your little girl to remain positive when they encounter complex situations. “While teaching girls to accept feedback is important, be aware to not criticise daughters out of frustration,” von Auer says. “When girls are being hard on themselves, have them think about ways they could ‘improve’ or change the situation without immediately negatively labelling their skills.”
This will help them to prevent and manage things like self-doubt, negative self-talk, anxiety and depression. Most importantly, learning to focus on the positive will help your daughters continue to fight for their beliefs and foster a trailblazing attitude.
Learning to focus on the positive will help your daughters continue to fight for their beliefs and foster a trailblazing attitude.
5. Help them to find their passion
If you know your little girl is keen on something, be her biggest supporter. If she’s not quite sure about where her passion lies, expose her to meaningful experiences such as charity work or fund raising to help her find one that appeals to her. But remember not to stick to gender stereotypical activities, von Auer cautions ― your daughter might just be a sports enthusiast, for all you know! “By finding their passion, it will give them a sense of pride, purpose and love for their own identity.”
6. Instil in them a love for education
Knowledge is power and it’s vital our daughters understand the importance of getting a good education, especially since many girls are still denied this basic human right in many parts of the world. A well-educated girl will also be more likely to educate her own offspring in the future.
“From an early age, establish story time to encourage bonding and a desire for adventure,” von Auer suggests. Ask your kiddo what her favourite toys, movies or TV shows are, then look for books that expand on these topics and characters. There are also plenty of life lessons to be learnt from fairy tales and storybooks.
7. Teach them how to turn a deaf ear to criticism
“This is a vital skill ― especially for girls who will turn into young women who will be judged on very superficial things like how they dress, talk and look,” von Auer points out. Getting judged or shamed, as a young woman, and later on, as career-driven individuals or even as mothers, will be part and parcel of your girl’s life. They will constantly come up against negative criticism, so as parents, you need to be there to be their biggest cheerleaders and ensure that they can succeed ― they only have to believe in themselves.
8. Cultivate a growth mindset
Listen up folks, because this is important for girls as it is for boys. Developing a mindset that focuses on hard work and learning from others is key to encouraging kids, and adults, to always move forward, and not get stuck in whatever they do.
How do you do this? By teaching them not to sweat the small stuff, learn from their mistakes and turn failures into successes. von Auer points out, “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress. Also, emphasise the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalising on setbacks to move forward effectively.”
If you think about it, trailblazing is defined as change-making. To raise a woman confident enough to do so, we first have to give our girls a positive space to grow up in, and these tools will come in very handy.
Eventually, they will blossom into women who are able to stand up for themselves, tackle life’s ups and downs successfully, and most importantly, live a happy and fulfilling life.
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