With International Day of the Girl approaching on October 11, the time is perfect to talk about how we can all work to develop resilience in the girls in our life.

Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from problems. It allows us to deal with life’s many challenges and to recover from trauma. Girls who lack resilience often have low self-esteem, are emotionally vulnerable and easily influenced by others, accept mistreatment, and find it difficult to cope with problems or to see that solutions are within their grasp.

Resilience helps girls improve their mental health, recover from crises more quickly, and reduce the likelihood of sexual exploitation. Parents can play a powerful role in helping their daughters to become more resilient.

Here are some DOs and DON’Ts that will help you to nurture resilience in girls.

DON’T bite your tongue.

If people say things you disagree with or treat you in a disrespectful way, speak up. She needs to know it’s okay to stand up for herself, even at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or causing disagreement.

DON’T talk about how fat you look.

Never criticize your appearance in front of her or make negative comments about the way she or other females look. Let her know you value people’s inner qualities – like curiosity and courage – more than outward appearance.

DON’T put yourself down.

Never make jokes about how incompetent you are, or make light of your own skills and abilities. She will learn to minimize her own accomplishments and may lower her future ambitions.

DO let her lead.

When choosing school or social activities, ask her opinion and provide genuine choice. Rather than saying, “Do you want to take dance or singing?” ask open-ended questions like, “What interests you these days?”

DO let her take risks.

Assuming her physical or mental health isn’t at stake, try not to be over-protective. Don’t rob her of the chance to be accountable for her own decisions and to learn from her own mistakes. If she fails, congratulate her for trying but don’t rescue her.

DO validate her experience.

If she has ‘negative’ feelings or is having problems with her friends, don’t say “It’s not that bad” or try to cheer her up. Listen with respect, acknowledge that things sound difficult, and ask if there is anything you can do. Don’t pressure her to talk when she doesn’t want to. Instead, find lighthearted ways to strengthen your connection with her, like going for a walk or bike ride. If she is having problems with friends, encourage her to think more critically about the situation; suggest she pretend she is watching the conflict on TV or in a movie; what motivations and solutions does she see? If she is in genuine distress, get outside help.

DO provide fair and consistent structure.

Presented in the spirit of love and caring, rules helps young people feel protected and connected. Adolescents are less
likely to engage in problem behaviours when adults know what they’re doing, and who they’re with. Set clear expectations for behaviour related to attending school, doing homework, sharing chores, and abiding by curfews.

Read more about Empowering Girls.