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Bringing Up Strong, Self-Reliant Girls

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I was one of the lucky ones. I had a mother who was strong, self-reliant, and compassionate. I watched her and what I learned has helped me in my life, my career, and my relationships with others. I don’t have any daughters to pay it forward, but there are elements of what I took from my mother that certainly apply to raising strong, self-reliant, and compassionate boys. And I can see I was right, when I look at who they are today.

Empowering little girls involves these 8 principles:


Give her a chance to find out what she’s good at. It might be a sport or a talent or something she can make. It might be something as simple as a good sense of humor. Whatever it is, help her realize it has value and that she has value because of it. You are building not only her self-esteem, but also her resilience.

say no

Help her define her own personal boundaries. Let her know it’s OK to say no, without having to dance around it or feel bad.

pretend play

Let her play with dolls and play along with her. Direct her make-believe schemes to include characters that are leaders, that help people, and who include others. Give her dolls of many varieties, colors, and abilities.


Teach her to sort out what really matters and to let go of the rest. This helps deflect jealousy and envy… both her own and what may be directed towards her. Model friendships that value liking us for who we are.


Help her define and understand her emotions. Teach the difference between just being upset and realizing someone else is causing it. Demonstrate compassion, empathy, and grace… as well as having the nerve to say something if backed into a corner.


Give her the opportunity to face her fears, instead of always stepping in. Let her know it’s OK to be afraid, but that shouldn’t always stop us. Let her see you step outside your comfort zone sometimes and share how that feels.

girl and dad

Make sure she has a positive adult male figure in her life. This must be a man who has a sense of direction, purpose, self-respect, ethics, and who respects women. If he doesn’t measure up, designate someone else to take that role.


And finally, teach her the difference between leadership and being bossy… how her voice should be the strongest when she is standing up for someone else or for what she believes in.


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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Sunday, 17 February 2019