Back to school time is rough on everyone: From you, who has to resume your duties as a preteen Uber driver, to teachers who have to come home from vacation, to the lunch lady who dourly makes those Sloppy Joes extra sloppy. But those who often have it the worst are girls; research has found they often have a harder time than boys trying tasks that are either a) difficult or b) they think they may fail at. And they also feel more marginalized in places like the classroom. So, now that school’s about to start, how are you going to narrow that gap?
It is the job of Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Chief Girl And Parent Expert for the Girl Scouts, to empower girls to be in-control badasses — both in and out of a badge sash and beret. “We hold women and girls up to realistic expectations around perfection,” she says. “What we are doing in Girl Scouts is giving them the foundation for leadership skills that carry them through their lives.” Here’s what she says you can be doing to help — other than packing your trunk with more Thin Mints.
They Need A Safe Place To Fail
Dr. Bastiani Archibald says that girls routinely take risks for the first time when they’re surrounded by other girls that they don’t necessarily take in co-ed groups. That doesn’t mean you have to make your house a boy-free environment (particularly if you have a son, too), just that you should help your daughter identify opportunities to take on new challenges with other girls. Yes, she thinks the Girl Scouts are a great example.
“The idea is to teach them that failure and anxiety is normal,” she says. “They’re more willing to open a door to something that could be a lot harder to them, and find it more exciting as opposed to daunting. And there’s always safety and numbers — especially when there are others who haven’t experienced that same thing either.”
Tell Them You’re Scared Too
You may not feel high anxiety when you head off to work every morning (unless the coffee maker is broken, then all bets are off), but for a kid who heads to a brand new room full of new people every September, it’s palpable. Your job is to recognize that and validate it.
“I often feel parents get stuck in this idea that we have to share how perfect and strong we are in front of our kids and not show weakness,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “When kids are nervous about something like going back to school, sometimes we as parents just think it’s better to avoid the anxiety we had. Instead bring it up. Tell them you understand why they’re nervous, and that you were, too, when you were at school.”
Failure Is Step 1. Trying Again Is Step 2
Dr. Bastiani Archibald says that instilling grit in your kid (ie. developing perseverance with focus and passion — not that dish you eat in the South with shrimp) can help counteract the peer pressure that often occurs in the classroom. And to learn that, they’re going to need to fail.
“Failure is a normal part of life,” she says, “but it’s the grit and a willingness to try new things that matters.” First, let them know that it’s not always easy to put yourself out there, especially if nobody else is. What matters more is they made a decision (“I know the answer”), made a move (“I’m going to raise my hand”), and will try again even when they’re not correct (“What do you mean the capital of Nebraska isn’t Omaha?!”). Putting their head down on the desk for the next 10 months isn’t a viable option.
“Failure is a normal part of life. But it’s the grit and a willingness to try new things that matters.”
Do Something Challenging In Front Of Them
Having a girl means that you’re probably embarrassing yourself on the regular (although those sparkly high heels are damn flattering), but putting yourself out there in public can be a real game changer. If your kid is nervous to join the soccer team, sign up to be the assistant coach. If they’re afraid to take swim lessons, you jump in the pool first. “By getting involved, dads are demonstrating what they value about their daughter — her grit, her determination,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “And a dad can even talk about how he’s nervous to help make his daughter know it’s okay to feel that way.”
And, just like joining the Girl Scouts is a good example of how she can surround herself with other challenge-seeking girls, you becoming a Scout Leader is a good example of doing something challenging in front of them. Don’t try to hide that flop sweat when 8-year-olds start to ask about Shopkins.