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10 Things About Raising Girls Moms Wish They Knew Sooner

Moms share their best been-there, done-that tips for raising strong, successful daughters.

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Keep lines of communication open

“No matter what your daughter may do or what happens to her, make sure she knows she can always talk to you for unconditional support and love,” advises Amy, who has two teenage daughters. “I hate to think of all the kids who can’t reach out to their parents because they were doing something they shouldn’t.” Make sure your daughter is not afraid to come to you for help—say, a ride home if she has been drinking, or advice on dealing with a troubling social conflict.

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If you’re not embarrassed, she won’t be either

“I learned to always speak candidly and factually about all body matters from a young age,” says Heather, who has two daughters and a son. “Now my oldest is 14, and she’s never afraid or embarrassed to talk about anything related to her body and growing up.” This openness can help your daughter develop a healthy body image, and the self-confidence that goes along with it. (Find out what moms of boys wish they knew sooner.)

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Encourage problem-solving

Especially during the middle school years, know that it’s not your job to solve your daughter’s problems, advises Jennie, a mom of five. “When she comes to you complaining about something, ask her if she just wants to vent or if she wants you to help problem-solve. Ninety percent of the time, she just needs a safe place to vent.” And at this age, learning to take care of things on her own teaches both independence and a sense of competence that is very valuable to girls. (Here are 13 smart ways to stop sibling rivalry before it starts.)

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Teach your daughters to volunteer

One of the best ways to do that? “Work right alongside them. You get to experience something together and let them give back to the community,” says Paula P., who has two girls and two boys. “Service helps them grow into an incredible human being. Some of the best times I’ve had with my 14-year-old have been volunteering. Now, she does it on her own, and is so proud of what she accomplishes!”

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Give them practical life skills

Set your daughter up for success with “how-to-adult” lessons. Mara, a mother of four, recommends skills such as: how to change a tire, use tools, take out the trash, mow a lawn, grocery shop, cook, balance a checkbook, get stains out of things, identify different cuts of meat, invest in the stock market, get rid of lice, prepare a nice meal, use public transportation, swim, dress modestly, and be safe on the Internet. You can raise independent kids, and get help at home, by assigning them these household chores.

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Show her self-defense

“I taught my two girls to defend themselves ‘like you mean it!’ anytime it’s necessary against anyone,” says Paula H. (Here are some simple self-defense moves to start with.) “My younger girl took tae kwon do and had to repel a boy who wouldn’t stop chasing her.” Self-defense is more than physical moves, though. “I impressed upon my daughters that no one is allowed to harm their bodies, ever,” says Paula. “Emotionally, I taught them to be responsible for themselves … don’t let other people manipulate them.” Another mom of two girls, Nicole, echoes this advice: “Show compassion to others but remember the importance of establishing healthy boundaries.”

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Math matters

Jennifer, a classroom assistant, notices that girls’ effort in math can take a nose dive early in elementary school. Research backs her up, showing that girls’ math knowledge and ability is equal to boys’ but they don’t pursue advanced studies and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers at the same rate. It’s about expectations and perception: Girls don’t believe they are as good at boys at math. So challenge that belief in your daughter, and keep your expectations high! It’s also important to connect girls with STEM role models, and to make sure that they are getting helpful feedback at school (such as praise for their effort, not their innate ability).

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Expose her to a diverse world

“Allow her to spend time with and experience people who have different political, religious, and world views than your own—particularly family members who love them,” says Nicole. “It is the best way to instill tolerance for other points of view as well as learn how to stand up respectfully for their own beliefs.” (Couldn’t we all use a lot more of that in the world?) “This, of course, means that we have to show by example that they can have different opinions from us.” That’s not always easy for parents to do, but pays off big in the long run.

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Take her places

Travel! It’s a big world out there and life should be filled with adventure,” says Paula H. “I hope I trained my girls to be intrepid.” Traveling reinforces so many other lessons you want to teach your daughter, about tolerance, diversity, independence, time and money management, even safety and self-protection. (You’ll definitely want to see this list of 10 trips mothers and daughters should take together!)

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Foster financial independence

Girl Scouts of the USA surveyed 11- to 17-year-old girls about money, and learned that nearly half of them felt uncomfortable making their own financial decisions—and they don’t expect to feel confident about making these decisions when they grow up, either. So teach your girls how to manage money: “Show them how to log their expenses on a simple spreadsheet so they can see where all their hard-earned money is going, and how to save up for things they want or need,” says Jacqueline, who has one son and one daughter. “My daughter bought herself an iPhone and an iPad Mini. When kids pay for things, they take much better care of them, and that is also a valuable lesson.”