As the mother of two girls who are almost 7 and 9, I’m constantly looking for ways to help them be confident and comfortable. Hand in hand with that comes the social challenges girls their age begin to face: doing the “right” thing, wearing the “right” clothes, friends, fitting in—for better or for worse, these issues are all important to them. I want to help them navigate it all without losing sight of themselves in the equation.
I want them to have the skills to handle conflicts with friends and classmates, ideally before the heavier stuff comes up as they head toward middle school. I want them to know I’m always in their corner, always here to talk. But I’m often at a loss for how to do all this, or how to communicate it effectively to them.
So I was thrilled when, last spring, I heard about a Girls Leadership Institute workshop for second- and third-grade girls and their moms that would meet at their South Orange elementary school. I signed up with my older daughter immediately, and encouraged friends as well.
I was familiar with GLI, an organization co-founded by Rachel Simmons, because I’d read her book The Curse of the Good Girl—and you should, too, if you’re the parent of a girl, you used to be a girl, or you’ve ever met one. It’s about how girls (and women) communicate (or fail to), how we often sabotage ourselves and our friendships by not expressing our feelings or even letting ourselves feel them, by not letting others know what we need and want.
The workshop met for a month, one evening a week. The girls came away excited about their new pals and empowered to communicate better with their friends, their siblings, and their parents. The workshop gave them concrete tools for standing up for themselves and being the wonderful, beautiful, authentic girls they are. When conflict comes up for any of them, they’ve got a plan ready to go—and it’s a starting place for me as a parent, as well, to talk about my daughters’ lives with them.
Through games, discussion and role-playing, they learned that their feelings are valuable and legitmate, and that it’s okay to ask for what they need; the importance of being honest and not making assumptions; how to speak clearly while maintaining eye contact; how to apologize; and the attributes of true friendship.
Instead of assuming a friend was “just kidding,” didn’t mean to hurt them, or that their hurt or sad feeling doesn’t matter—that they’re “too sensitive” or that they overreacted—they are now able to identify how something made them feel, talk about it, and do something about it.
“My daughter has more language now to describe her feelings and reactions,” said one mom who took the workshop with us. “She understands bettter the importance of eye contact and nonverbal language, and the experience also reinforced her ability to identify and express her feelings.” This mom also appreciated “the chance to spend focused time with my daughter and other parent-daughter pairs who were all working toward the same goals.”
The girls were no less happy with the results. “I loved that every time we got together, we began with one of us leading a funny greeting cheer,” said one of my daughter’s classmates. “Doing that myself made me confident that I can speak up and answer questions in school. I also liked how we did playacting, because it made me feel more comfortable about showing my feelings in front of other people.”
There’s a full range of workshops in South Orange-Maplewood for the fall, for various ages. And Rachel Simmons herself will be at Columbia High School on October 4, hosting a special workshop for parents and their girls fourth grade and up. I urge you to check it out.