Six rules for raising happy girls: From finding her spark to teaching her about sex

How do you protect your daughter from the pressure to score top grades - and look like a supermodel? Tanith Carey, author of a new book on the subject, has some advice

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Teach her to love her body

From an early age, our girls feel locked in a constant beauty contest they feel they can never win, particularly on social networks where everything is rated according to the number of "likes" they get for their photographs.

Train your daughter how to look in the mirror and concentrate on the good – how her body works and serves her – not just how it looks to others. Make a point of valuing character over appearance, in both the people you know and in your daughter. Show her that looks are just a small part of who she is. Remind her that, in the words of the late Anita Roddick, there are more than three billion women who don't look supermodels, and eight who do.

 

Don't let her turn into Little Miss Perfect

Little Miss Perfect's exam results are as glossy as her appearance. She is polite, responsible, loved by teachers and with a social life to match.

This public veneer of "good girl" can come at a high cost to a girl's real self. If she is obsessed with how she appears to the world, she has no space to work out her own wants or needs. So stop reinforcing by praising her for being "good". Tell her that you'd rather see her authentic, imperfect self than an image constructed to please others. Point out that by seeking perfection in everything, she will always feel like a failure.

 

Find your girl's spark

A spark is something a child is naturally good at and does without being prompted. It can be musical, athletic, intellectual, academic or relational – anything from helping animals to growing and making things. But it is always linked to an innate talent, because kids like to do things that come easily to them. To discover it, all you have to do is ask your daughter what she loves to do. Once she is allowed to pursue it freely, that feeling of competence will carry over into other areas where she is less confident – and give her a sense of fulfilment that will sustain her from childhood to adulthood.

 

Work at staying connected

As the pace of life speeds up, children process our constant distraction and "busyness" as rejection. If the most common conversations you have is to grill them about schoolwork, they can quickly become hyper-sensitive and defensive. They become less chatty and more secretive.

In a challenging world where children can be led down paths they are not emotionally ready for, it's more important than ever to maintain our connection with our children . Set aside times when it's just the two of you. Without pressure, give your child opportunities to say things she might not otherwise have the time to say.

Children need to be allowed to say the things that frighten and concern them – even if they are inconvenient to us as adults. Otherwise their fears get driven underground, where they will only resurface in the form of eating disorders, anxiety or self-harm.

 

Dads are needed more than ever

In an era where girls are encouraged by our culture to please men with the way they look and act, the security of a father's unconditional love is a powerful reinforcement. Indeed, overall, researchers believe that a father may have even more of a role in building a girl's self-worth than her mother. As a father, remember your part in helping our girls grow into women who seek out healthy relationships with men. Show her that you want to spend time with her for no other reason than that you love her unconditionally.

 

Teach her about sex – before porn does

It's not a question of "if" our children will see porn, it's a question of when. It's not uptight or moralistic to say that porn is wrecking childhoods. In the latest studies, it's young people themselves who testify to that.

Even in the last few years, there has been a noticeable step up in the amount of violence and degradation against women in this material. No one who has seen women being used and abused, or called sluts and bitches, can claim females are empowered by this.

Porn is now the most widespread form of sex education. So get in there first before the porn industry does. Tell your daughter that this is fiction. Porn is not sex in the way that a thriller or action movie is not what happens in real life.

Girls, Uninterrupted: Steps for Building Stronger Girls in a Challenging World by Tanith Carey (Icon, £7.99) is out now

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