Tag: parenting

Celebrate her for what she does, not what she looks like

Picture a girl who is 12 years old. A girl with short, spiky, gelled hair. And braces. A girl who stands already at 6 feet tall, a head above most of her teachers. A girl described as “gangly” by others and as “ugly” by her own words. A girl who has less than a drop of self-confidence, desperately looking for validation.

That girl was me.


If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would think, “I don’t really care as long as I’m pretty.” I truly believed that the worth of a woman was dependent on her level of attractiveness. I got so much attention when I was younger. I was so cute before, but now, at 12, my cuteness abandoned me. No more “awwwws.” No more pinched cheeks. No more attention.

I felt worthless.

How many hours did I spend glaring at the mirror and naming my flaws? Nose too big. Thighs too wide. Too damn tall. And what if I added that to how many days I spent comparing myself to airbrushed images? Her skin so perfect. Her curves just right. What if we multiply that by every girl in our society who has responded in kind to the pressure to be physically beautiful? The self-harm. The isolation. The plastic surgery. I can’t even begin doing the math for that equation.

We all know the mainstream media deserves a lot of the blame. Thin, beautiful, white women grace magazine covers. The movies I grew up with depicted women as the love interest for the leading man with no real story of her own. Songs on the radio told the story of heartbroken girls, doomed to unhappiness because they lost their man. That’s old news. But how are we, as everyday people, reinforcing these messages? I believe it’s in how we praise our girls.

I was sitting on a park bench in Berkeley when I saw a little girl, no more than 5, in a bright yellow dress skip-walking down the path, wildly swinging the hand of her grown up. She yell-sang a song about “froggies” on a log. Every time she sang the words “hop-hop” it was accompanied by, you guessed it, two big jumps and an eruption of giggles.

I heard a lady a few benches before me say to her, “Well, aren’t you the cutest girl I ever did see?” I watched as a couple passing the girl stopped to tell her, “You look so pretty in your yellow dress!” She beamed at the compliments and flitted her hand as she sang, “Thank youuuuuuuuu!”

In my years of working with youth, I learned that young people (and all people, really) respond best to positive reinforcement. Celebrating behavior tends to make kids want to repeat that behavior. So, when the majority of celebrations girls hear directly correlate to their appearance, it can have devastating effects. It strengthens the idea that for a girl to be valued, she must look a certain way. So. Much. Pressure. Pressure to be something you cannot control. Pressure that manifests in self-harm, self-hatred, and unhealthy competitive behavior between girls.

At Go Girls! Camp, we work with awareness to celebrate our girls for what she can DO! What she can MAKE! What she can DISCOVER! So when the yellow-clad girl passed my bench I made a point to take another route.

“Did you make up that amazing song you’re singing?” I asked.

She gave a little nod and smile as she twisted the hem of her dress.

“That is one of the coolest songs I ever heard. I love froggies!” (The last part was yell-sung in the same tune she had made up.)

“Thank you! Me too!” she squealed and went hop-hopping away.

I know that the lady on the bench and the couple in the park who praised that little girl were only trying to be nice. To make her feel good. I get it. The truth is… she was cute. She oozed with adorable-ness. It can be hard not to celebrate that.

Appearance, to an extent, is luck of the draw. You can’t control your hair type. The shape of your nose. The fullness of your lips. Your bone structure. These things are not ACCOMPLISHMENTS, they are something you HAVE. Where is the power in finding validation through that? Is it not more empowering to be validated about something you CAN control? Like what you do? What you think? What you imagine? And no matter how much outward beauty one possesses, it will fade. Our society pushes women to find worth in something that will inevitably fail them in the future. It makes me heart-sick how we set up our girls to grow into women full of emotional turmoil. With time, youthful beauty may fade, but knowledge grows. Skills strengthen. Discoveries deepen.

I am not suggesting we never praise girls for their appearance. I am suggesting that we validate them for other things more often, especially the first time we meet them.

I spent so much time as a girl hating myself for looking a certain way. Imagine if I had used that time to learn. To grow. To try new things. To build skills. I wish I could hold 12 year old Hannah and tell her these things. I wish I could whisper to her that she is just right as she is. I wish I could praise her for what an amazing athlete she is. How fun and adventurous she is. How easily she can make people laugh. How much power she has within her.

I know these things now. How did I learn to love myself? Through a lot of suffering and mistakes. Like hurting myself. Like starving my body. Like a nose job at 16. Like addiction. I punished myself because I couldn’t DO anything to be pretty. I didn’t understand I was just right already. That I was worthy of my own love.

This is why I do what I do. I dedicate my time, my energy, and my gifts to help girls love themselves. The funny thing is, I don’t have the power to just hand them self-love. All girls have that love inside them already. I just work to help them unlock it. And never lose the key.


Give a girl in your life a compliment on something other than how she looks. Ask her what she is proud of that she can do or that she can accomplish. Take one small, easy step to help unlock her personal power. How did she respond? Share with us!

What They’ll Remember

Jennifer Blackberry Photos - 2013 244I try to remind myself that my children are having their childhood now. Does that sound kind of obvious?! It does to me, too. What I mean is that at some point in the last few years it really struck me how much our individual childhoods influence, mold, and inform us—and that we get only one! For my kids, that time is now.

We each have the version of our childhood that we stick to and repeat. It’s the version of life as we knew it, independent of our parents’ perspectives of how we experienced life with them, in our families of origin.  Our story of growing up can make sense of our successes and our challenges, and of our idiosyncrasies and uniqueness. And most parents hope that–whether what they are doing is it’s right, wrong, or good enough–their children grow up remembering parents at least tried to give them all they could. Life’s not all Disneyland and dessert, but we need our kids to cherish memories of togetherness, joy, support, and unconditional love as much as possible.

According to author, David Willis, children will remember a short, but important list, “The 5 Things Your Kids Will Remember About You”:

  1. The times you made them feel safe
  2. The times you gave them your undivided attention
  3. The way you interacted with your spouse/partner
  4. Your words of affirmation AND your words of criticism
  5. Your family traditions

I have put this small but hugely important list on my family’s fridge to remind my husband and me that what is important now, through the years of raising our kids and all that brings, is what they will likely take with them. It’s probably not the organic breakfasts or help with Common Core Math (what the?!) or all the driving to ballet or Taekwondo or the regular dental appointments or the Star Wars sheets or the number of things to fill the spaces.

Summer-Fall 2013 515What they’ll probably look back to the moments in time, like sleeping together on the family room floor after the early morning earthquake stopped shaking the house; or the “tell me more” moments of attention that didn’t include checking texts or business emails; or how often they saw their parents express their love to each other; and before bed pep talks, and words of encouragement through their tears about social stress or friend drama or the death of a beloved grandparent; and all the holiday dinners and extended family memories of being together and sharing life. These are what will likely inform them in their own possible journeys of parenthood.

And these are the moments they will likely remember and hold close. And these are the moments that are still in my and my husband’s control to create. John Bradshaw famously wrote that “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood…” And I know it’s never too late to start making it even happier for our children.


Got Calm?

August 2014 115I have taught a lot of kids and teens in my seven year position as an instructor with the personal safety organization, Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International. And I’ve talked to as many concerned parents.

Parents usually have two big worries: how to keep their children healthy and how to keep them safe. I remember—as a new mother with my first baby, a girl—wondering how in the world I’d manage to keep her alive, let alone safe, thriving, and happy! The responsibility was vast and overwhelming. The thirty pregnancy books I’d read, the myriad holistic modalities I’d practiced, the prenatal and couples’ yoga classes, the three very different pre-birth classes my husband and I had taken; None of these would ever prepare me for the hugeness of becoming a mother, let alone the birth that led up to it.

And I’ll admit the thought of having a girl first, instead of that testosterone-buffer of a boy that I’d dreamt about as my firstborn, never crossed my mind, until the ultrasound appointment. When the technician announced in a singsong way that she didn’t “see anything down there!”…my motherhood with a girl began. And any calm I had went out the nearest window.

And I was scared! I wanted to ease into the scariness of parenting with a boy, and not a girl. I had seen girls as more fragile, harder to protect, and more of a safety liability. How could I keep my girl secure in a world that had been a scary place for me as a child and teen? I was one of the parents who I now regularly give safety skills to during Kidpower and Teenpower workshops. I was that mother who worried about the multitude of unanswered questions I had about how to teach my daughter to stay safe, not only in childhood but beyond and into adulthood.

But not anymore! Kidpower answers those questions and provides teachable, easy to remember skills for most any questionable or dangerous situation we parents dream up, witness on the news or hear about in social media. Kidpower makes safety doable; it takes the fear out of parenting by replacing it with safety skills that make sense and that work.

And now, as part of the Go Girls! organization my daughter is not only a Kidpower girl, but she also benefits from the compassion revolution that is Go Girls! My double-threat, safe, empowered daughter…for this I am so grateful! (And so much more calm!)

Ranging and Roaming

two young boys walking together down a path towards the setting sunOne of my favorite Facebook friends is a guy I went to grammar school with. Favorite because he’s a kind and sensitive soul, and favorite because he is one of the best “post-ers” I know. This is what caught my eye today:

“I shudder to think of what I would have missed were I not told to ‘go out and play’ and be back for dinner. How many fewer friends, interesting and caring adults, and even the random ‘job.’ I also learned how to read and handle people…It’s a sad thing to go through a residential neighborhood these days, with tricycles in the driveways but not a single kid in the street.”

Some parents have recently been arrested for letting their kids roam freely, or be “free-range,” as it has been termed. The only sort-of equivalent I can think of from my own childhood was being a latchkey kid. That meant I wore a key around my neck on a string. Both my parents worked, and I would be able to let myself into our apartment when they weren’t there. But that was not separate from roaming the neighborhood and the city. Roaming was a given. In fact, most of us felt a little sorry for the kids who were kept at home “for safety.” As if they were in prison, and missing out on all the life that was to be had outside: fort-building, hide-and-seek, riding the bus to see a double feature, roller-skating to a friends house, hiking to the creek, walking to buy an ice cream cone or check out books from the library.

We didn’t feel afraid, and the things we felt afraid about we knew how to handle, such as strangers offering candy or rides and crossing streets at crosswalks and with traffic signals. And we knew we could ask people for help if we needed. Doug is so right. Being out in the world taught us how to read people, it made us part of a wide community filled with all different kinds of people, it required that we learn first-hand how to navigate streets and situations. It was better than being coddled like infants, protected like precious objects. Being a citizen is what it meant, with agency and standing, and the means to travel.

Statistics seem to bear out that our communities are no more dangerous than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago. And yet parents’ concern for their children’s safety has increased, along with a sense that children need scheduled, organized enrichment, in order to get ahead and experience a fulfilling childhood. Yet I wouldn’t trade my ability to walk by myself to Doug’s house for anything, when we were both 9 years old. The enrichment discovered in those several blocks was limitless, and I feel it still.

Create a Culture of Peace

Any good story, good drama, is driven by what the main character wants.  Building a story around what a character doesn’t want, is pretty boring.  Just imagine it.  What if, instead of working so hard to find the Wizard because she so desperately wanted to get back to Kansas, Dorothy’s whole journey was based on simply not wanting to get caught by the witch.  It’s just not how adventures are driven forward.  I believe that, if we want to change something, we must frame our actions in the positive.  We must ask ourselves, “what do I WANT?” and focus on that want, not on the opposite.  There is a great post on Dr. Christine Carter’s blog called “Teach Peace Instead of Anti-Bullying.”  I love this title.  This is what it’s all about.  We spend so much time talking about eliminating bullying – the thing we don’t want – when we should be talking about what we actually want – more peaceful homes, schools, and communities.

Naomi Drew is an author, speaker, and leading thinker on this topic.  In her book, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids, she lays out the 17 Keys to Peaceful Parenting.  I adore these.  What do you think?

Key #1:Peace begins with me.
Key #2:I have made my home a place of kind words.
Key #3:I catch my children in the act of positive behaviors and praise them immediately, specifically and sincerely.
Key #4:I spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day with each child, listening, interacting, and giving my full attention.
Key #5:I am clear on the standards of behavior I expect of my children. I honor those standards and expect my children to do the same.
Key #6:I provide my children with empty spaces of time during which they can just “be kids.”
Key #7:I hold regularly scheduled family meetings where my children have a voice in the workings of our family.
Key #8:I have set a foundation for peacefulness in our home by creating with my children “Guidelines for a Peaceful family.”
Key #9:I always remember that I am the parent and deserve to be listened to.
Key #10:I have fair, reasonable consequences for negative behaviors which I only use when necessary.
Key #ll:I listen with all my heart to what my children have to say, and teach them to be good listeners for others.
Key #12:I teach my children how to handle anger in nondestructive ways and I model this consistently.
Key #13:I resolve conflicts peacefully and teach my children to do the same.
Key #14:I find ways to help my children succeed.
Key #15:All my actions are guided by love, compassion, fairness, respect, and integrity. I nurture these attributes in my children.
Key #16:I live my commitment to peaceful parenting; my commitment guides all my actions.
Key#17:I remember daily that we each have an impact on the world around us and I teach this to my children.

This post is #24 of 25 Tips to Teach Your Daughter to Respect Herself, Command Respect, and Respect Others.  Wanna make sure you get all 25 Tips for Bullying Awareness Month?  CLICK HERE and we’ll send ‘em right to your email!

For more incredible Go Girls! resources for helping your girl stay safe, happy, and healthy in her relationships, check out Kidpower and get your copy of Starring Celia.

Spark! What Summer Reading Should Be + 110 Ideas for More Successful Parenting

Photo Mar 01, 12 51 40 PM*How do the girls in your life handle summer reading assignments? Do these assignments cause stress in your household? If so, do you agree find yourself nodding along with this English teacher? (Like we do):

“Summer reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag.” Check out the rest of her smart post — which includes some possible solutions! — on The Millions.

*We love lists! Check out Dr. Sally Goldberg’s 100 Insights for Raising Successful Children on Early Childhood News and Resources includes lots of great reminders, such as “Use the R, S and T of parenting. Read, Sing, and Talk to your child as much as possible.” Which one do you like best?

*And, while we’re listing lists, here’s another great one for parents and caregivers of little ones: 10 Cheap And Easy Ways To Entertain A Toddler Who Is Driving You Crazy from the Mommyish blog. These are great ideas! Our personal fave: Using masking tape to set up a Hot Wheels race course!

*ONE LAST THING: Feel like you’re always rushing your children out the door? Sometimes the hurrying is necessary — especially in the morning as everyone gets ready to face their days — but it’s still worth checking out  what Hands Free Mama writes about what she noticed since The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry Up.” 

“When my daughter and I took walks or went to the store, I allowed her to set the pace. And when she stopped to admire something, I would push thoughts of my agenda out of my head and simply observe her.  I witnessed expressions on her face that I’d never seen before. I studied dimples on her hands and the way her eyes crinkled up when she smiled. I saw the way other people responded to her stopping to take time to talk to them. I saw the way she spotted the interesting bugs and pretty flowers. She was a Noticer, and I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That’s when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.”

What do you think of her take? Post your comments below!

Spark! Beating Summer Boredom

kids-running-at-beach-stockbyte*What do you do when your kids tell you they are bored?

Here’s our advice: Sometimes you should let them be. After all, boredom is a great way to spark the imagination. Sometimes, though, you should reach for this smart list from Common Sense Media: 100+ Ideas to Keep Kids Busy This Summer: From beach reads to road-trip tunes to essential car games, we’ve rounded up this summer’s best boredom busters. Lots of ideas for what you can do on those looonnnnggg summer road trips. 

*Want your kids to improve their social media savvy? Check out this NPR post that reveals the results of a fascinating study on Facebook and regret:  “This part probably didn’t require an academic study, but research confirms that the most common Facebook regrets revolve around sensitive topics like alcohol, sex, politics, religion or ’emotional content.’ That includes posts about relationships, with profanity and/or negative comments.” May be a good time to review those privacy settings with the girls in your life!

*All parents can use support to help them raise strong, confident girls. That’s why we’re excited that A Mighty Girl has launched a parenting section, “featuring over 150 carefully-selected books about a wide variety of parenting issues.” Check out their list — and tell us if there are any more you would add?

*ONE LAST THING: Here’s a great idea to keep your kids reading this summer! On the iTwixie Book Club, tweens can not only post reviews of their favorite books, but also participate in a Summer Books Battle! Fun!

Spark! Making Time for Family Meals

family_dinner*On the dotcomplicated blog, author Carol Archambeault writes such a smart reminder about the power of unplugging  In “Why You Should Dine Tech Free,” she promotes the idea of turning off devices during shared meals with friends and family. She writes, “I offer that we all need meaningful interaction every day with another person to offset the sometimes isolating effects of our digital world.” We couldn’t agree more. Read her advice for establishing great ground rules for mealtimes, then tell us: What other ideas do you have for creating memorable meals with loved ones?

*If you worry you helicopter too much, check out this article about how to stop overparenting, which was recently reprinted on StressFreeKids: According to the article, a new study conducted by psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein “found that parental concern is not a good indicator of a child’s happiness or how good a parent-child relationship will be. What does affect satisfaction and well-being? ‘Teaching autonomy and independence, using positive reinforcement instead of punishment, and being loving and attentive,’ Epstein explains.”

*And speaking of independence…. are your kids spending time at sleep-away camp — or on another adventure away from you this summer? You might want to check out KidsHealth‘s article on homesickness, which includes lots of great tips for kids about how to deal with feeling down. We love that it concludes with this sweet reminder: “Remember that there’s a good side to homesickness, too: It means you have family and friends worth missing and a place you want to return to when your adventure away from home is over.”

ONE LAST THING: Summertime is often when moms and other women start doing a lot of “fat talk,” complaining about the body flaws they perceive. ITwixie’s Rebecca gives us a good reason to hold back,”Want your tween to be confident in her appearance? Stop talking negatively about your body. She’s listening.”