As we celebrate our mothers this month, it’s hard to overstate the influence they have on the lives of their daughters. A strong and open relationship can nurture and empower a young girl and serve as a springboard to a healthy adulthood. But this can be tricky road to navigate, particularly during the teen years when girls seem to be assaulted by a host of stressors such as:
—Body image issues, including body dysmorphic thoughts;
—Struggles in their relationship with food;
—Dealing with friends and cliques;
—Insecurity: i.e.comparing themselves with the ‘popular’ girls;
—Questions about sex and sexuality
Hardly a short list. But, if a mom is able to watch out for red flag behaviors and make herself available to discuss things openly and honestly, she can not only thwart future problems but can also set the stage for a wonderfully strong and lasting relationship with her daughter.
Here are some things to consider when communicating during these delicate years:
Put her at ease. It’s best to present yourself as open and approachable when it comes to sticky subjects. If your daughter begins a discussion and senses discomfort on your part, she won’t bring it up again. Not a good outcome, especially if you want to guide her toward making good choices in the face of peer pressure. If you avoid a discussion about drugs or sex, for example, she might be left unsure how to deal with these issues when they arise. Put her at ease, even if you’re not. Then you’ll help her build confidence about her ability to make smart decisions.
Model self-esteem. If you’re shopping for clothes with your daughter and you make faces at yourself in the dressing room mirror and mutter about how big your hips are, you’re asking for trouble. Model self-esteem and teach her to accept herself as she is. If you judge yourself harshly, she might just follow suit.
Encourage healthy habits by example. Invite your daughter to take a walk, a hike, or a yoga class with you. Make healthy food choices for yourself, and chances are she will also. Show her that taking care of her body is easy and fun and, most importantly, provides strength and confidence.
Use guilt as a parenting tool. Nothing good comes from making your daughter feel guilty about a behavior or decision. Guilt equals self-loathing, which leads to problems down the road. If you have an argument or your daughter disappoints you in some way, let her know how you feel about it and talk about how she can do things differently next time. Focus your comments on how you felt about what she did or said– without passing judgement on her.
Be prescriptive about food. You’re not doing your daughter any favors at all by telling her how to eat. On the contrary, this approach can backfire big time. Eating disorders run rampant in teenage girls, so help your daughter develop strategies to guard against this. If you don’t have a morsel of junk food in your house, she won’t learn how to self-regulate and eat treats in moderation. As a result, these types of foods will gain traction as “forbidden fruit” and could trigger problematic eating patterns. If you model healthy habits (as discussed above), she’ll learn to make good choices when you’re not around.
Try to fix everything. As mothers, we want to help our daughters in any way we can, but swooping in to fix every problem does just the opposite. When she faces the inevitable difficulties that life will present, encourage her to problem solve by discussing options and strategies–and then let her take the wheel. She’ll feel empowered if she figures out a way to get through a tough time, and this will only serve her well as she enters adulthood.
Parenting styles vary widely from person to person, and the same strategies and approaches that work for one child may be a disaster for another. While these suggestions may not work for you and your daughter, they might raise awareness of potential trouble spots and provide some ideas for working through them. A healthy mother-daughter relationship builds a lasting and loving bond, and is well worth the effort!