How do we empower our little girls to be strong and thrive in today’s world? It seems like being “nice” doesn’t pay for women. So many of us have been taken advantage of, hurt, or assaulted all because we were being “nice.”.

And this needs to change for our next generation of girls. What can we do as parents?

“Nice” is often ignored by dangerous people

Back when I was in college, well before #metoo, I remember talking to a couple other young women in my class. They were chatting about a guy that acted nice in class (the professors loved him, as far as I can tell) but showed a different face out and about on campus. A stalkery, creepy face.

A few women described how he persistently asked them to come “hang out,” either in person or on AOL instant messenger (anyone else remember AIM? The good old days) even after being told no multiple times.

Others described how he followed them around, always “happened” to be where they went, and even showed up in their dorm uninvited.

I asked one of them if he’d had problems with this guy. Her answer: “He talked to me a few times, but I shut him down really quickly. The other girls are too nice. I’m not as nice as they are and just say, ‘NO.’”

How do we accidentally perpetuate “nice” with our own girls?

Now that I have daughters of my own, I think back to those days. I remember that I, too, had a hard time saying a firm no.

Granted, part of problem here isn’t that we need training in how to say “no,” but to get people (particularly men like the one from college) to hear no. Regardless, here we are.

With that said, it’s also clear that women have been conditioned, since toddlerhood, to be “nice.”

That’s not ladylike.

Be nice!

No one will want to play with you if you aren’t nice.

Stop being a brat.

And we continue to be conditioned to be “nice” as we get older…

Through young adulthood and even beyond, we still are taught to be “nice.” We aren’t allowed to refuse requests. If we do refuse, we have to apologize or explain why we’re at fault.

Sorry I can’t come over, I have too much to do tonight.

We stay in situations that aren’t best for us for the sake of being “nice,” starting in high school or college and continuing through adulthood.

He’s a nice guy, I can’t break up with my boyfriend, even if we’ve grown apart since starting college.

Well, I guess I can stay a little longer…

This authority figure says I have to sign that consent form.

How do we empower our kids?

The more I think about it, the more I’m DONE with nice. I’m not passing on this burden to my own daughters.

What am I going to teach instead?

Respect.

Respect for herself, and respect for others.

My girls are three and five. Even this young, when I hear the inevitable, “Stop touching meeeeeee…!” whine from my oldest Leia, I tell the younger one, “We respect people’s bodies. If your sister doesn’t want to be touched, you don’t touch her.”

And it’s sinking in. I’ve even heard General Leia tell her siblings, “Respect my body!” God willing, she’ll never have to tell anyone else that.

But since the odds are stacked against her, I want her to have that phrase in her arsenal when she needs it.

Model respecting your own needs

I am going to practice modeling respect for myself too! I’m slowly learning how to refuse social requests that don’t fit my needs or my family’s. I’m learning that just because someone is family doesn’t mean I owe them something.

Because here’s the deal: “Nice” doesn’t protect my daughter. “Nice” doesn’t get her where she needs to go. Too many of us have tried to live up to “nice” and have suffered as a result.

Respect listens to others. Respect earns respect.

And if respect isn’t respected, she can respect that person’s decision to be disrespectful and go somewhere else where she is respected.

How do we teach respect?

Respect is a lot harder to teach than simple obedience!  Just this morning, Leia and I were on the way to kindergarten, and for some reason we were talking about what God wants from us (don’t you always have these deep conversations in the car on the way to school?).

I wanted to get this right, and I wasn’t sure what to say. I started with, “God wants us…”

And she piped up, “To be nice!”

This idea of being done with “nice” had been rattling around in my head for a little while now, and here my daughter said exactly the thing I didn’t want her to believe!

I quickly responded, “Well, not just nice, but kind and respectful.”

“What’s respectful?” she asked… And I paused.

[tweetshare tweet=”Respect is so much more than ma’am and sir and please and thank you. What do you want to teach your kids about respect?” username=”@evidencemommy”]

Crap, how do you explain to a five-year old what respectful means, in the context of respecting both yourself and others?  It’s so much more than “ma’am” and “sir” and “please” and “thank you.”

So I continued fumbling my words.  “Respectful is thinking about what others need or want… but just because they say they need or want something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them… and you have to respect yourself too…”  I was winning at teaching this concept, for sure.

Why is respect so much harder to teach? How can we teach assertiveness?

“Respect” is definitely more nuanced than “nice.”  Maybe that’s why we were originally just taught to be nice, because it’s easier.

It definitely doesn’t prepare us for the world, though.  I did some research so I can figure out how to communicate this concept to my children, and I’ve come up with some ideas.

[tweetshare tweet=”Let’s teach girls how to respect others and elicit respect for themselves, not through demands, but through the way they live.” username=”@evidencemommy”]

Respect requires empathy.  Respect requires that you allow others to make their own choices and not try to control them (speaking of, if you’re looking for a way to gain your children’s cooperation while keeping everyone in a good mood, I’ve got just the thing for you! Click the link to get it!)

Respect may mean giving the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time.

But self-respect, which goes hand-in-hand with respect, requires that you be in tune with your own needs.

It requires that you don’t let others control your choices.

Self-respect also means listening to your instincts.

And fostering these abilities in your children requires commitment for their long-term good, not just to get them to behave in the moment.

If you’re wanting to join a group of others who also want to raise empowered, capable women (and men!), join us at Evidence-Based Parents, our private Facebook community. We look forward to seeing you there!

More on parenting with respect