Daddy’s Little Girl and Mama’s Boy: Bonding with your Opposite Gendered Kid

father and daughter

Dr. Robyn Silverman

As I’m writing my body image book, due out in October of 2010, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. Powerful Parenting certainly must deal with more than just same-sex relationships within the family structure.

We often hear about the special relationship between parents and their same sex child. Who hasn’t heard of a daughter trying on her Mommy’s high heels and a son mirroring his Dad while he shaves? Our sons and daughters are figuring out how they are supposed to act and who they are supposed to be like. While children are able to connect with emotionally available parents of either gender, it’s only natural for children to identify with their same sex parent whose “femaleness” or “maleness” is a commonality they both share.

mother and son

But while a child might identify with a same-sex parent, as Powerful Parents know, that doesn’t mean that the child is any less bonded with the opposite gendered parent. In fact, between ages 3 and 5 years old, the opposite sex parent often becomes a focus for a young boy or girl. It’s common for a daughter to become “Daddy’s Little Girl” and a son to become “Mama’s Boy.” This powerful attachment doesn’t replace the same sex relationship but rather helps the child to learn that s/he doesn’t have to reject anyone to love both parents. This healthy resolution helps to set the foundation for resolving feelings and establishing relationships as s/he grows.

The opposite sex parent-child relationship provides a template for opposite-sex relationships as adults. What can a mother teach a son? Aside from the unique qualities the mother might have personally, such as an artistic flair or an athletic predisposition, a mother shows her son how to treat a girl and the special qualities and nuances of the opposite sex. What does a father teach a daughter? Studies repeatedly show that girls who have a strong relationship with their Dads are more confident, self-reliant, and successful overall compared to those who have distant or absentee fathers.

So how can we foster these bonds within the family?

  1. Take the cultural labels with a grain of salt: While we might not like it much, society often shames a boy who has a strong attachment to his mom. Girls relationships with their Dads are typically viewed in a more positive light yet still branded with labels such as “tomboy.” Be aware of these cultural messages and don’t let anyone taint your special relationship with your opposite sex child. A strong mother-son and father-daughter relationship is not only acceptable but beneficial to your child and to the family.
  2. Open up communication: Just because you might not understand some of the things your opposite-sex child is interested in doesn’t mean you can’t. If you don’t know something, ask questions. Even if something might seem goofy, silly, or so “not you” it’s vital that you validate your child so that s/he knows what he says and does concerns you. Never trivialize or make your opposite sex children feel strange and be sure to answer their questions.
  3. Spend the time: It’s been shown that fathers tend to spend more time with their sons and mothers spend more time with their daughters. Take interest in your opposite-sex child and find something that both of you like to do together. For those of you who have sons and daughters in a Powerful Words Member School that teaches martial arts, gymnastics, dance, swimming, or another activity be certain that both parents are part of their opposite sex child’s experience. Maybe you can even take classes with them! Outside of these activities, find other ways to connect even if you find activities that are new to you and perhaps a little out of your comfort zone.
  4. Be fully present: Give your opposite-sex children your full attention when they’re talking to you. Look them in the eyes. Shut off the cell phone, the ipod, FaceBook, and your email. Your actions will always speak louder than words. Your children want to know that nothing is more important than the time you spend with them.
  5. Treat your child with kindness and expect the same back: Parents sometimes get caught up with messages like “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” and use these stereotypes to explain away rude behavior. This is especially true when it comes to sons—warning mothers not to “sissy-up” their boys by putting a stop to aggressive conduct. As powerful parents, we know that character does not need to be sacrificed in lieu of self expression. Be kind to your sons and daughters and expect the same in return.
  6. Give them a great example: A mother can be a wonderful model to her son just as a father can be an important model to his daughter. How do you act towards others? Everything you do and say is absorbed by your children. In the same vein, what are you watching on TV or looking at on the internet? When a father is saying negative comments about women on the internet or a mother is watching aggressive men on TV, it sends messages to your opposite-sex child about how to view him or herself.
  7. Provide your perspective: As a woman, mothers can provide their sons with a glimpse into how women like to be treated as well as how women and girls think. Similarly, a father can help a girl understand the “male perspective.” These can be valuable insights as your children enter their preteen, teen, and adult years.

A mother is the first woman in her son’s life. A father is the first male in his daughter’s life. That means they set the precedent. How do you want your child to be treated by the opposite sex during their teen years? What do you want them to look for in a spouse? The mother-son attachment and the father-daughter bond may need to overcome some differences but in the end, coming to terms with these differences helps your child learn how to create healthy relationships with others. These healthy relationships are the foundation of happy, powerful families.

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Creating Powerful Girls: For Parents Who Want to Raise Confident Daughters; Volume 2

happygirl.jpg
How can we build up our daughters’ self confidence?

Parents can do so much to help our daughters’ thrive. You’ve read volume 1. Here’s volume 2 of raising strong, confident daughters:

(6) Catch your child “being good:” We often are quick to jump when our child is exhibiting poor behavior, however, when our child is making good choices, we “let sleeping dogs lie” and refrain from making a comment. When you praise your child when she doesn’t even know you were looking, two things happen. She becomes more apt to repeat the positive behavior and she feels good about the choices she is making independently of you.

(7) Be a positive role model: How is your self esteem? If you look in the mirror and say negative things about yourself or your body, your child will absorb those actions. Your children are like little sponges! Even your subtle, unspoken negative reactions to how you have performed or how you look (as you believe it reflects on you as a person) can be read by your children. This negativity can filter down to your children and lead them to question if they are good enough.

(8) Love is unwavering: My friend Kathleen Hassan used to tell her young children, “nothing you can do or say will make me take my love away.” When your children know that even when they make mistakes you will still love them, they will become more self assured and more understanding of how many childhood mistakes can be fixed with some purposeful effort and perhaps a few heartfelt apologies.

(9) Enroll your child is an activity that fosters confidence: There are many activities that can make your child feel successful. What are her talents? What are her interests? Some programs provide a character development component into their lesson plans which help children put a positive name to their positive behavior. For example, many martial arts academies are using a systemized character education program that is formulated to build children’s sense of values and self worth. Choose an activity with positive role models and a positive curriculum.

(10) Talk with your child: When you talk with your child, ask powerful questions, and really listen. Let her know that she is valued and that her opinions matter. Many parents find themselves “talking at” their child which, as we know, isn’t always well received. Spend time talking with your child about things that matter to the whole family and the things that matter to her.

Until next time (and the next ways to help your daughters!),

drrobynsig170.jpg

Creating Powerful Girls: For Parents Who Want to Raise Confident Daughters; Volume 1

girl_mirror.jpg

What does your daughter see when she looks in the mirror?
Creating Powerful Girls (Volume 1)

The diet commercials are in full force which can only mean two things; bathing suit season is right around the corner and nationwide body image is getting ready to plummet. Many parents worry that between all the talk about buff bodies and diet plans, their young daughters will slip into a self esteem slump. How can we elevate our daughters’ self worth without needing to go on and on about loving your body?

Confidence and self worth, both positive and negative, can influence how a person feels, thinks, and acts throughout childhood and adulthood. Those who have strong feelings of confidence and high self worth will feel more positive about themselves, think more positively, and act and behave more positively than those who have low self confidence and low self worth. In addition, someone with strong feelings of confidence and high self worth will like who they see in the mirror each day and know that they are worthy of love.

Here are the first 5 tips to strengthening your child’s confidence and feelings of self worth:

(1) Help your child realize her unique gifts: Everyone is talented or special in some way. While we are not all little Einsteins or mini- Monets, everyone has something to offer. Let your child know that you appreciate their gifts. Allow your child to show you what she can do—without doing it for her! She will get better with time. Hang up artwork, projects, or awards that exhibit these gifts so that your child knows that you value her special talents. Creating a Wall of Fame will allow her to see all of her accomplishments.

(2) Be present: When your child is sharing new knowledge or new gifts, pay attention! This is the time to shut off the TV and the cell phone. When you do this, your child will know that they are important and worthy of your undivided attention.

(3) Don’t over-praise: While letting your child know that their gifts are special, don’t over-praise to the point of being phony. Not every art project and assignment is worthy of the Wall of Fame. Not everything your child does is super, perfect and fantastic. When you praise your child when praise is due, your child will know you are being genuine and that she has really done a good job.

(4) Be a RAD parent (Reliable, Accountable, and Dependable): While you may not always be available when your child needs you, create a pattern of responsiveness and responsibility. Be on time, be reliable, and follow through with what you say you are going to do. When you are a RAD parent, your child will know that they can count on you and that they are worthy of your follow through.

(5) Praise effort: It may be easy to focus on a high mark on a paper or a gold medal, but it is really important to praise effort instead of results. When your child knows that she has worked hard and that hard work is praised, she will likely keep putting in the effort to make the accomplishment. When we are results driven, failure can stop us in our tracks and make us give up for fear of failing once again.

When we take the time to instill confidence in our children, they become a little bit stronger. Then they can call upon that strength when they are feeling low or bombarded with negative, body-bashing messages. The strength of positive parents carries on even when they are not around!

Until next time (and the next 5 tips)–

drrobynsig.jpg

happygirl.jpg
How can we build up our daughters’ self confidence?

Parents can do so much to help our daughters’ thrive. You’ve read volume 1. Here’s volume 2 of raising strong, confident daughters:

(6) Catch your child “being good:” We often are quick to jump when our child is exhibiting poor behavior, however, when our child is making good choices, we “let sleeping dogs lie” and refrain from making a comment. When you praise your child when she doesn’t even know you were looking, two things happen. She becomes more apt to repeat the positive behavior and she feels good about the choices she is making independently of you.

(7) Be a positive role model: How is your self esteem? If you look in the mirror and say negative things about yourself or your body, your child will absorb those actions. Your children are like little sponges! Even your subtle, unspoken negative reactions to how you have performed or how you look (as you believe it reflects on you as a person) can be read by your children. This negativity can filter down to your children and lead them to question if they are good enough.

(8) Love is unwavering: My friend used to tell her young children, “nothing you can do or say will make me take my love away.” When your children know that even when they make mistakes you will still love them, they will become more self assured and more understanding of how many childhood mistakes can be fixed with some purposeful effort and perhaps a few heartfelt apologies.

(9) Enroll your child is an activity that fosters confidence: There are many activities that can make your child feel successful. What are her talents? What are her interests? Some programs provide a character development component into their lesson plans which help children put a positive name to their positive behavior. For example, many martial arts academies are using a systemized character education program that is formulated to build children’s sense of values and self worth. Choose an activity with positive role models and a positive curriculum.

(10) Talk with your child: When you talk with your child, ask powerful questions, and really listen. Let her know that she is valued and that her opinions matter. Many parents find themselves “talking at” their child which, as we know, isn’t always well received. Spend time talking with your child about things that matter to the whole family and the things that matter to her.

Until next time (and the next ways to help your daughters!),

drrobynsig170.jpg