By Trish Allison
While your daughter is gradually defining ‘respect,’ ‘self-respect,’ and ‘boundaries’ in her own head, she needs someone she can emulate. Here are suggestions for what you can do and say that will give her someone (you!) whom she loves and trusts, to mimic:
- Keep your cool. Instead of yelling ‘Don’t you say that to me, it’s disrespectful!’ calmly respond with words like ‘You know, we don’t talk to each other like that in our family. We treat each other with respect.’
- Practice kind and firm discipline. Discipline means to teach, not to punish. It’s not about shaming her. Discipline is a lot more effective when not using punitive strategies.
- Reiterate that everyone is different. If she has a different way of doing things, respect that difference by saying things like ‘I’ve never seen anyone do it that way before, but I like it!’ Say ‘everybody’s different’ frequently.
- Don’t be disrespectful of others. If you’re sarcastic, dismissive, and talk behind others’ backs, she’ll try it too. If she thinks it’s OK to be disrespectful of others and to herself, she’ll mimic your behavior.
- Model positive personal ethics. Whether it’s obvious or not, she’s observing your behavior. She’s watching things like whether you pay your bills on time, if you help others, if you’re generous with tips, and if you participate in charitable giving.
- Say you’re sorry if you screw up. Mature, respectful adults accept responsibility and apologize when they make mistakes. Let her see and hear you apologizing if you’re wrong.
- Share your own story. This will help her feel like you’re accessible and she has a starting point for a conversation about self-respect. For example, she might say something like ‘Remember when you told me xxx, well something similar happened to me and I need your opinion.’
- Show respect to your partner. This will go a long way toward setting an example of how two people should treat each other. Even things like whether it’s OK to take/use the other person’s belongings are something she’ll learn from you.
- Be a good listener. Give her your undivided attention when she is speaking to you. Listening to others’ opinions is an enormous part of learning how to respect others.
- Be trustworthy. Keep her feelings and experiences private, show her that you can be a trusted adult who cares about her feelings and her self-respect.
- Date night. Dads? Trusted friends? Consider taking your daughter on a ‘date’ to show her how she should expect to be treated. She needs to feel empowered and know that a healthy relationship is free from hurt (emotionally and physically) and behaviors like that are unacceptable.
Granted, the modeling suggestions above are extremely hard to accomplish, especially when you’re in the heat of the moment. But if you can at least strive to accomplish some of the suggestions, it will help your daughter define ‘respect’ in her own head and will also help her recognize when disrespect is occurring among her peers.
As she grows…
It’s so important to know that helping your daughter understand consent is not a ‘once-and-done’ conversation. It doesn’t have to be a one-time, sit-down, formal discussion. It can and should be an ongoing, casual, back-and-forth exchange of ideas.
Equally important, while she’s a pre-teen, sex doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the conversation. The subject of ‘consent’ can be anything related to how two people treat each other.
Modify the subject as she grows. When she’s 9, your ‘consent’ conversation might be about a friend who borrowed something of hers without asking. As she gets older, the ‘consent’ subject can slowly wind its way into lots of more mature conversation topics.
Even if all she hears from your ongoing conversations is ‘blah blah consent blah blah self-respect blah blah’ you’ve given her two words (‘self-respect’ and ‘consent’) she can use as a takeaway.
Hopefully, none of your conversations will sound like ‘blah blah blah,’ but at least you have a Plan B to fall back on if Plan A doesn’t work. If she comes back to you a few days later and says ‘what’s consent again?’ you’ve done your job.
The decisions that she makes as she grows through adolescence and early adulthood are informed by her understanding of what you teach her in your ongoing conversations. Be proud of that. n
Trish Allison is the writer of P.I.N.K. Backpack gender-equality pocket guides for parents. Visit her website at http://www.pink-backpack.com.