Gone are the days where women were consigned solely to the kitchen. These days, women have amazing careers outside home. There is also a concerted effort to correct history and find women who are pioneers in their respective fields for young girls to emulate. Movies like Hidden Figures, which highlight the role black mathematicians played in sending a man to the moon are shattering box office records.
However, things are still skewed against women and girls who still question their abilities. A recent study published in Science earlier this month found that women are losing their belief in their brilliance from a shockingly young age.
“Six-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart.” Also at age 6, girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are “really, really smart.” it said.
There are a number of repercussions to these types of beliefs. The study titled Gender Stereotypes About Intellectual Ability, says these beliefs emerge early and influence children’s interests, they then associate high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance (such as physics and philosophy).
Parents who want their daughters to grow up without any hang ups about what they can achieve need to make an effort with their children’s self-esteem.
Here are a number of ways parents can ensure their young ones are not burdened with feelings of insecurity.
Don’t give your children gendered chores
Carmen De Vos, Senior Social Worker from The Parent Centre, says parents should be mindful of giving chores to boys and girls which could lead to stereotypes like “cleaning, washing up and caring for children is women’s work” or “teasing boys if they like cooking”!
Teach your daughter to read
This year, celebrated author and feminist Chimamanda Adichie, penned a fifteen-step manifesto on how to raise a feminist daughter. One of her tips is to let your child read a wide array of literature.
“Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become – a chef, a scientist, a singer all benefit from the skills that reading brings. I don’t mean school books. I mean books that have nothing to do with school, autobiographies and novels and histories.” she said.
Direct praise away from her body
Despite the emergence of body positive rhetoric in the mainstream media, women are still concerned with how they look. Anea Bogue, author of 9 Ways We Are Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop, wrote in The Child Mind Institute that parents need to be careful of how they complement their children.
“I think that we need to make a very conscious effort to balance our compliments about a girl’s appearance with compliments about who she is and what she DOES in the world,” says Bogue. “Challenge yourself to match every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance with at least two compliments about something non-appearance based,” she suggested.
Praise your children for the work that they do
While it might be tempting to tell your daughter that they are smart, the results might the opposite to what you are hoping to achieve.
Research published in the Scientific American Mind entitled The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, shows that children who are told they are smart don’t do as well as children who are praised for their hard work.
“We found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed mindset more often than a pat on the back for a good effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for example, shied away from a challenging assignment — they wanted an easy one instead — far more often than the kids applauded for their effort,” said the research.
– Additional reporting: Science, Child Mind Institute