Educator and specialist in child and adolescent development Emma Gleadhill took the helm of GDST Talks this month, speaking how parents and carers can be proactive in supporting their daughters through adolescence, at an event which attracted over 1500 participants. Emma gave straight-talking but sensitive advice about how to tackle periods, body image and teenage rebellion – whilst managing our own emotional wellbeing. Here are Emma’s key pointers for parents supporting their daughters on the journey to adulthood.
Listen. Be a good listener and an attuned parent: don’t fall into the trap of minimising your child’s experiences or of always finding silver linings. Ask more than you tell. Rather than passing judgement or offering an opinion at the end of her account of something, ask her how it made her feel.
“Curiosity is your superpower as a parent: ask questions, listen, and get your child to reflect”
Be open. Be an open and trusted resource, the person your child will turn to. Avoid guilt, shame or fear by being as open as you can be with your daughter, especially about your own attitude to yourself. Our bodies should be a source of joy and wonder. Within your family set up, endorse body parts by using proper language: using correct terms will allow your daughter to name them without fear or shame.
“Help our children shine a light on what is going on by showing them we want to spend time with them. Stay connected, even when they are kicking us away. Be that trusted guide by their side.” So much great advice from #EmmaGleadhill on “Getting your daughter through puberty”
— GirlsDaySchoolTrust (@GDST) March 18, 2021
Give her information. Empower your daughter with information: give her a choice, allow her to have agency by being prepared. This might include getting ready for periods before they start, by exploring different period products, or buying a sports bra to help her feel confident in her changing body.
“Puberty is your daughter’s gateway to a healthy and happy relationship with herself and others”
Dads are female role models. Dads play a vital role in helping daughters to develop their physical and personal confidence. Daughters need compassionate, kind and open male role models in their lives. Indeed, research shows that where fathers are proactively involved in discussions about growing up, their daughters delay the decision to embark on sexual relationships until they feel more ready.
— Emma Pattison (@EmmaLPattison1) March 18, 2021
Don’t leave sex ed to school. When it comes to discussions around sex and sexuality, don’t just leave it to school. Parents and carers may need to reframe the way sex is talked about, to ensure they’re not avoidant. Bear in mind that once a child gets a mobile phone, a whole world of instant online information becomes available to her, so try to encourage her to address their questions to you rather than to Google. Similarly, the ubiquity of porn culture in everyday advertising and discourse means you may want to bring this up too: the average age at which a child first sees porn is 11, so broaching unrealistic body image and negative portrayals of female sexuality in the media could help to pre-empt confusion.
Don’t take things personally. Puberty is the beginning of separation and of your daughter’s emerging independence. As adults we forget how destabilising puberty can be – and how unpredictable a teenager can be in turn. The volatility and pushback you might encounter as a family is part of her healthy individuation.
Give her some independence and responsibility. Get out of her way: step back in order for her to step up. List all the things you do for your daughter every week. What can she begin to do herself? What can you stop doing? A starting point might be reframing who does what around the house’. Instead of chores, try calling it teamwork. In a family or a partnership, show your daughter what a healthy division of labour looks like.
Be optimistic and encouraging. Your instinct will be to protect and sometimes to shelter your daughter. But: be careful when teaching your daughters to be safe – they also need to learn about enjoyment and saying yes.
Emma’s talk is available to watch until 18th May.