Unless we've really studied and learned new ways of parenting, it's likely we will parent the same way we were raised. In generations past, the concept of self esteem wasn't really an issue, so we might not know how to give that to our daughter. We might not have much ourselves; plus, the constant barrage of the media on our girls gives them the repeated message that they have to measure up to standards that are pretty much impossible. After all, what kind of absurd ideals are presented to young girls if even the fashion magazines feel the need to airbrush photos of their size-two models?
Some of this pressure comes from marketing: "You're not good enough unless you buy product X," (hence the magazines); some comes from peer pressure; and some may come from immature assumptions on their part, as in: "If I were better, my parents would not be fighting." It's part of a child's nature to believe they are to blame for events they did not cause, for example, the death of someone they had a fight with, problems at home, etc.
In short, our daughters are surrounded on many sides with the message that they are not good enough, that they have to do better; look better; be better. And that's a shame.
So what can we, as parents, do to combat this relentless battle against our daughters' sense of being OK with themselves?
Well, there are several things we can do. Here are a few:
Spend time with them. Even if we are busy and stressed-out ourselves (and who isn't?), try to make time with our children a priority. Let the TV wait during bedtime; snuggle with them, read them stories, listen to them. This doesn't only go for little girls. Big girls need time too. Bedtime can be a great time for them to come and hang out on our beds, and open up about their day. If we've established this habit early on, it will be easy. If not, it's not too late to start. There are lots of things we can do: "girls' nights" with chick flicks and popcorn; a walk through the mall; a manicure; whatever helps us connect to them. This goes for dads as well as moms. Your girls need to spend time with you, whatever the activity. It's the time spent, not what you're doing during it.
Show an interest in what your daughter likes. Maybe ask her to show you her favorite iPod game, or try playing Wii Just Dance with her. Ask about what teachers she likes in school, and why. What books she's reading, who she's hanging around with... you get the idea.
When she is talking, try to really listen. Stop what you're doing, and make and maintain eye contact. She probably won't be able to tell you this, but she'll feel valued and cherished. And that's the goal here.
Talk to her about issues. Tell her she's beautiful, no matter what her weight and looks. Repeatedly tell her it's what's inside that counts, and that you love her for who she is, not what she looks like or what she achieves. Acknowledge the pressures she faces and help her to resist those voices that tell her she's not good enough by naming them and telling her they're not true.