Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

May we raise them?

How do I raise a strong daughter? How do I teach her the leadership skills that she’ll need to thrive in the world today? How can I help to build my daughter’s self-esteem in the small amount of time that I have with her each day?

If you’re anything like us, these are very familiar questions that can be difficult to answer.

We met with Shannon Schmidt, Academic Resource Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist and Lauren Anderson, Dean of Students from Garrison Forest School to learn from their expertise in working with young ladies and developing great leaders.

Conversations with Our Daughters: How To Raise a Leader

Their definitions of great leaders may differ from what you’ve thought of in the past, but are eye-opening and refreshing reminders that leaders are all around us, each day.

“Great leaders aren’t always what you’ve envisioned. Global leaders and political figures are only one part of the pie,” shared Lauren. “We also need to look at our everyday leaders- the ones starting from grassroots and helping to build a better world. Great leaders can assemble strong teams, are able to balance input and values. They know what they believe in and stand by and put that forward to the group instead of building consensus out of people pleasing. They are able to ask for help and show vulnerability, even when it’s not easy and value the input from the group.”

Shannon defined a great leader as “someone who is willing to step outside of their comfort zone, and is willing to grow and model great things for their team.” “I have this amazing book, (Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You, by Julie Foudy,) that says “Leadership is personal, not positional,” and I feel that it’s so interesting and important to share this with young girls. It IS personal, and we should always be looking for strong women in our every day, instead of only looking only at people that have won different versions of popularity contests.”

When Shannon asked her daughter on the way home from school one day who her favorite female leaders were, she was surprised to not hear her list people like Malala Yousafzai, or Oprah Winfrey. She instead listed her second grade teacher, whose famous line was “Say it loud, say it proud!” and her mom, for always encouraging her to always “Give it a go!” even when things seem tough. Needless to say, her mama heart swelled that day!

Conversations with Our Daughters: How To Raise a Leader

Find role models in everyday life.

From the mom who is supporting her child on the sports field, to the activist who is working to better the lives of others, to celebrities and politicians, every person has the potential to be great — and let their light shine if given the right guidance and support.

Help your daughter identify role models in everyday life.

Lauren and Shannon suggest creating dialogue with your daughter during a quiet moment, such as on the car ride home, at the dinner table or before bed, to identify the character traits of each person that they want to emulate, and perhaps the character traits that are less desirable- to look less at leaders as deities and more as human beings with strengths and flaws, and to understand that everyone has potential leadership qualities.

Listen to your daughter without judgment. (This is important.)

“We sometimes project our own insecurities and vulnerability on our kids, unintentionally,” said Lauren. “When we keep our child from trying out for the sports team or the school play because we know it’s not where their strengths lie, it can create unnecessary anxiety or place unnecessary limits on our daughters, when they may be able to really shine and learn leadership skills in supporting roles.”

Listen to your daughter when she wants to do something that seems outside of her comfort zone. Allow her to take risks and try new things.

“Even if she’s not the star of the show, the supporting roles and learning curves she may encounter will help to build strong character,” explained Shannon.

Know that it takes a village.

Both Lauren and Shannon believe that creating a strong “village” around your daughter can also help her to appreciate different perspectives and gain support from multiple people.

“The working relationship between immediate families, extended families, friends and school professionals is so important in the lives of young women. Parents have the gift of creating these safety nets around their daughters, to allow them to make mistakes and have multiple people support them, guide them and work together to help them grow,” said Lauren.

When you give your daughter the freedom to make mistakes, and work as a team to help your daughter build a growth mindset, the sky is the limit as to what she can do. The love and support that friends, family, and school can provide are invaluable.

Conversations with Our Daughters: How To Raise a Leader

Start the Conversation with Your Daughter

Want a few resources and activities to try with your daughter? Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Browse through the book “Strong is the New Pretty” by Kate T. Parker. Have your daughter and her friends take pictures of each other doing things that make them feel strong. Create a slideshow, create prints or photo book of these prints to remind your daughter of what makes her strong and to appreciate the strengths of others.
  • If your daughter is struggling with anxiety over something that she feels that she can’t do, take advice from Rachel Simmons’ book “Enough as She Is” and ask her “What evidence do you have that you can’t do this?” Have your daughter list facts that she feels are holding her back, and talk about ways to overcome them, one by one.
  • Read books where the protagonist is a female leader and have your daughter visualize herself in that position and discuss things that she would or would not do in that position.
  • Keep a journal with your daughter. Grab a fancy notebook and write a letter to your daughter and leave it on her pillow and wait for a response. Sometimes writing is easier than talking, and you may be surprised by her thoughts and responses. It can be a fun way to bond with your daughter and help her find her own voice, while also developing a wonderful keepsake for the future!

Here are a few suggestions for additional reading:

Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You by Julie Foudy
Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons
Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker
The Confidence Code for Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

Have a younger girl? Try one of these books:

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

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Editor’s Note: Links to suggested reading are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them, (cool) progeny may receive a small advertising revenue. All photos are by Laura Black.