10 Common Mistakes Parents Of Girls Make

Raising Daughters | Parents Mistakes


Not all parents’ mistakes are committed knowing they will have negative impact. In fact, most parenting errors start with good intentions. How can we be aware of what we’re doing wrong and improve how we raise our daughters?


Show Notes:

  • The following are 10 of the most common mistakes parents make that leave girls feeling misunderstood and unsupported.
  • Give her a day: What shall you give to one small girl, a glamorous game, a tinseled toy? A girl scout knife, a puzzle pack? A train that runs on some curving track. A picture book, a real live pet? No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet. Give her a day for her very own, just one small girl and her dad alone. A walk in the woods, a romp in the park, a fishing trip from dawn to dark. Give her the gift that only you can, the companionship of her old man. Games are outgrown & toys will decay, but she’ll never forget if you give her a day.


For more information about best practices for parenting girls, especially in the areas of emotions and friendships, check out Dr. Jordan’s online parenting course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need.

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10 Common Mistakes Parents Of Girls Make

I appreciate you stopping by to read and get some thoughts, ideas and awareness about girls, the world girls are living in, what they’re experiencing and how to support them as their parents. I’m a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician. I work with girls and lots of different ways. I do some counseling in my office practice girls in grade school, middle school, high school and college-age women. Three-fourths are probably in middle school and high school with all kinds of issues, anxiety, depression or problems with their friends, dating relationship issues or problems with their parents, and normal ups and downs challenges that they are facing.

When I was trying to decide what I wanted to talk about, I thought I would talk about some of the common mistakes I see parents with daughters making. I start out with 3 or 4 that grew to 5, 6 and 7. I ended up having ten common mistakes parents of girls make. I could have gone on. It’s not because I’m negative. It was because there are some things we are aware of in our business that can sometimes distract us from being the parent we want to be.

Parents Don’t Listen

Let’s jump to some of the common mistakes I see parents making with their daughters. The first one is the parents don’t listen. Girls tell me all the time that their parents do a lot of interrupting, judging them and jumping right to the fix-it stuff or fixing things instead of just listening, getting in their daughter’s shoes and trying to see things from their point of view and trying to empathize. One of the things I hear a lot with girls is the gore their mom with emotions, especially.

They’ll be upset about a friend or something. They’ll be upset with some of what their mom is doing or not doing. Their mom turns it around, so it becomes about them. The moms will start talking about, “What about me? I’ve got a lot of stress in my life, too. Look what this is going on in my life?” Instead of being with their daughter, they suddenly switch, so the daughters got to parent their parents. Thus, they feel like they’re not being heard, seen or understood. First and foremost, just listen.

Parents Value Achievement Over Character

Another mistake I see parents make is that they value achievement over character. I talked about this a little bit one time in a show. Kids whose parents value achievement more than character fare a lot worse than kids whose parents value things like empathy, compassion, resilience, integrity and character. If you value those things more than accomplishments, kids do better. The excessive pressure to excel and be successful and out to everybody else puts kids at risk for higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. That’s been well documented.

Kids whose parents value achievement more than character fare a lot worse than kids whose parents value things like empathy, compassion, resilience, integrity and character. Click To Tweet

Let me give an example of a girl I met. She was in middle school several years ago. She had a dad who used to be one of her coaches, but then he had given up because his work life got too busy. He was still her “coach.” Even though he was in the stands, he always screamed and yelled. After the games, when they were driving home, he was coaching her the whole time, picking out every little thing that she had done wrong. He’s warned her to make her high school team. He had all these visions of her getting his college scholarship for soccer.

When I had them both in my office one time, I had his daughter listen to her. What we discovered was that his zeal for her started when he was in high school. He was a freshman or a sophomore in high school. He was playing football. He was a good player and then he broke his back. He was advised by his physician to never play football again. That was one ghost and story from his past. The other one was that he had been playing all different kinds of sports, from grade school, middle school and after that point in high school. His parents never came to his games.

Thus, on some subconscious and unconscious level, I think he had probably decided that someday, if he had kids and his kids were in sports by God, he would be there for his kids. He would be there at their games. He was there, but too much. He got wrapped up in his daughter scoring, being the best on the team and making her high school team that he wasn’t valuing more important things like, “Was she having fun? Was she making friends on the team? Was she learning about winning and losing?” All the important lessons you can do with sports because he values achievement more than character. Take stock and make sure you don’t do that.

Parents Don’t Let Their Girls Solve Their Own Problems

Common mistake 3) Parents don’t let their girls solve their own problems. I mentioned the importance of listening if your daughter comes to you with frustrations or things aren’t going well. She’s having problems at school with a teacher or friends. Once you listen and your daughter feels heard, you’ve been able to empathize with them, then you could ask her, what she can do about the problem. Close your mouth, shut up and let her think for herself. Let her come up with their own solutions to her issue,r challenge or problem.

Raising Daughters | Parents Mistakes
Parents Mistakes: Close your mouth, shut up and let your daughter think for herself. Let her come up with their own solutions to her issue, challenge or problem.


Resilience and things like grit are earned through working through challenges and being able to step back at the end and say, “I did it.” They will not say that if you’re the one who’s doing the problem-solving. Allow your daughter to problem-solve and handle issues with their friends, teachers, siblings and coaches so she can gain confidence in her ability to resolve conflicts, ask for what you want, and advocate for yourself.

I saw a girl not that long ago who was very disappointed with the amount of playing time she was getting. She was putting a lot of energy into her sport. She went and talked to the coach. She asked the coach, “What do you need to see from me in order for me to earn more playing time?” The coach gave her some things to work on. She worked on it, got better and still didn’t get more playing time. She finished out the season. She did the best she could. She encouraged her teammates.

At the end of the year, she quit that team. She was a choice. That’s a good thing for her. She solved her problem. She decided to move on and felt great about it. She felt good about advocating for himself. Even though she did not get the results, she still felt empowered to speak up on her own behalf. Another mistake I see parents making who have daughters is telling them how great they are. Let me explain that.

A lot of times, girls have negative self-talk, and they’ll even say it out loud. They’ll say things like, “I’m ugly. I’m stupid. I can’t do this. Nobody likes me.” It’s easy for us to quickly need your reaction and say, “No. You’re beautiful. You’re a great person. You’re smart.” We’re trying to reassure them with this barrage of compliments. What they need is just to be heard and then to learn some good tools to redirect their own limiting thoughts to express their emotions and healthy ways. We try and reassure them with lots of, “You’re great.” A lot of times, girls tell me that it causes them to feel like they are feelings are being dismissed. We spend much time being a cheerleader and not enough time being a listener.

We spend much time being a cheerleader and not enough time being a listener. Click To Tweet

One of my campers, Talia, lives out of state. She sent me a couple of books in the mail after camp, which was sweet of her. One of them is a book I’d never read before. It’s called The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. It’s a good book for this topic I mentioned. There’s this little boy who builds this beautiful tower of blocks and things. Some birds fly through the air and knock it down. He’s frustrated. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to do it all over again. He’s angry, and then everybody tries to tell him what to do.

Raising Daughters | Parents Mistakes
The Rabbit Listened

In the story, this chicken comes in and she starts clucking and trying to give him lots of advice, and then a bear becomes angry and yells. That doesn’t help. The elephant, hyena, ostrich and kangaroo come to try and make them feel better, but none of it made him feel better until he was sitting alone and then a rabbit hopped into the room quietly, didn’t say a word, slowly moved closer until the rabbit was sitting right next to him and snuggling up against him.

They sat in silence until the little boy turned to the rabbit and said, “Please stay with me.” The rabbit did. The rabbit listened as the boy vented, ranted, raved and shouted, then he got to the point where he was laughing. He started throwing the blocks around, still the rabbit sat there and stayed quiet. The boy decided he was going to build the tower again, and it was going to be amazing. All of a sudden, he got excited and happy again, and the rabbit hadn’t said a word. He was just there in his presence.

Remember that the next time your daughters have problems or they’re upset. Sometimes, you need to sit and be with them. Girls tell me all the time, “I wish my parents would sit and listen. Sometimes, I want to sit by them. I want a hug. I want to sit in their lap, whatever.” I think sometimes we think we need to do way more, and you don’t.

Parents Are Over-Focused On External Qualities

Another mistake, which is similar to the one about the achievement thing, is we over-focused a lot on external qualities. We talk a lot about their appearance and beauty. It’s an old cliché, but I think it’s pretty true that when the little girl walks into the room, like a family party, aunts, uncles and grandparents say, “You look pretty. I love your outfit,” whereas if a little boy walked into the same room, they’d be saying like, “Look how big you’ve got. Look how strong you are.” We focus on things like appearance and beauty. Also, other things external like grades, GPAs, being the best, being on the best club sport, winning trophies, being popular and looking good.

There’s a girl’s family. My wife and I went to their house. She was a high-level gymnast. She came home from her gymnastics practice. We were talking to her with her parents. We asked her why she was willing to spend much time and energy doing her gymnastics. She was going every night of the week from 3:30 to 8:30, plus Saturdays and sometimes Sundays, plus some odd-town tournaments. She started to tell us why she liked her gymnastics.

Her dad interrupted and said, “Go show the Jordans your Hardware.” I’ll never forget that moment because the girl was like, “Dad.” Her dad was like, “Go show him your hardware.” This girl’s face dropped. She’s like, “Okay.” She told us to follow her. We went down the hallway into her room, which was lined wall to wall with trophies and blue ribbons. She’s like, “This is what he was talking about. This is the hardware.” We stopped and said, this is obviously not what motivation, “Why do you like doing gymnastics?”

She started to light up again. She started to describe how great she felt when doing gymnastics in front of a crowd. She said she loved the floor exercise because she would stand there in the corner of the mat, like you see women doing the Olympics. Everybody’s eyes are on her. The place gets quiet. She was focused, in the moment, into flow and she would do her exercise, and then she was so focused.

When she was done, people would clap. She said, “That’s why I like it. I like to perform. I like to be in the moment. I like to entertain.” That’s why she does her gymnastics. There’s nothing external reason about trophies, winning and being the best. It’s about internally how she feels. Sometimes, we don’t focus enough on those sorts of things. We’re too worried about things like, “How is she going to reflect on us?”

I remember one time my daughter Kelly was little, she was 5 or 6. She wanted to wear her new little purple-pink windbreaker to school, and it was a cold winter day. Anne said, “No, you need to wear your heavy coat.” She said, “I don’t want to wear a heavy coat. I want to wear my new windbreaker.” There was a little power struggle that was starting to happen. The reason that my wife wanted her to not wear the windbreaker wasn’t because it was cold, that was part of it, but it was mostly because how is that going to make me look as your mom? If you walk in there, all the other mothers, fathers and the teacher says, “Why are you wearing a Windbreak? I can’t believe your parents are letting you dress like that.”

She was worried about how she looked, not the daughter, but the mom, “How does my daughter’s behavior and reflect on me?” I see that a lot in my counseling practice with girls who have different interests, dress down, don’t dress like the other girls and who aren’t girly girls. A lot of parents get frustrated and worried because of how it makes them look. I don’t think it makes it look like anything, but they worry that it does.

Parents Focus On Extrinsic Motivation Instead Of Intrinsic Motivation

Don’t over-focus on the externals. That leads into this other common mistake, which is we focused a lot on, “How do I motivate my daughter?” We asked that question. Parents asked me the question, “How can I motivate my daughter? She’s not motivated in school.” I always say to them, “You’re asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, ‘How do I motivate my daughter?’ Instead, you might want to ask, ‘How can I help my daughter find her intrinsic motivation? How can I learn to support her motivation?’” That’s a much better question because if our kids are doing things for us to avoid punishment and reward because of a sticking carrot model, they’re still looking outside themselves for their motivation, which is not a good long-term solution.

They need to learn how to find their own reasons, which is why I always ask kids, like I did that girl in that example earlier, the gymnast like, “Why do you like it? Why do you like playing soccer? What do you like about being in theater? What do you like about singing in the choir? What do you like about being on a soccer team? Why do you want to get the grades you want to get? Why might you want to go to college?”

If we ask questions about grades, interests, the friends that they’re hanging out with, if they want to go to college and why, and the activities that they do, we start to get them to point the arrow inward to say, “I need to start thinking about what does this mean for me? Why do I like doing these things?” They’ll find their own intrinsic internal motivation, and then you can support that. It’s a very important switch for us as parents.

Parents Don’t Respect Their Daughter When She Says No

I see parents making a few more common mistakes with their daughters. This is one that may be a little bit more subtle, but I don’t think we respect them as they’re growing up when they’re little girls, grade school, middle school or even high school. We don’t respect when she says no. We try and convince them to think like we do and make choices like we want them to make choices. We try and convince them to agree with us. I think we ignore their boundaries sometimes.

We feel like this little kid shouldn’t be telling me no. It can be something as simple as their dad’s wrestling and tickling, and they don’t want to, they say stop and then we keep going. I’ve done that before with kids. I’ve learned in the last few years, especially when they say no to stop. Sometimes, we don’t like some of the people they’re hanging out with, so we try and push them to spend time with people we like. Sometimes, we try and get them to spend time with friends that we like, but she’s moved on from. When she says, “No, I don’t want to hang out with them,” a lot of parents I find were saying, “Yes, but she’s a nice girl. She’s got a nice family. You’ve been friends with her since first grade.” They don’t know all the contexts in which we don’t respect their no.

Another example is I’ve seen a lot of girls in my counseling practice burned out from their sport. They’ve been playing for years and putting in this twelve months of a year “job,” which is ridiculous. I talked about that before. They’re burned out, but when they ask their parents if they want to do something different, their parents often try and argue them out of it because they spent much time and energy on many weekends and much money invested in that sport or that activity.

When our daughters say no or have an opinion, I want us to listen. If they say, “I’m not willing to do my chores,” that’s not what I’m talking about. Please don’t mix all that up in there. This is about places where they could have a choice and make a decision. I want to learn to respect that because that is their first lesson in consent. We’re worried about our daughter’s boundaries being crossed when they get older by boys and later on by men. Boys have the responsibility. We need to teach boys their own lessons about consent. One of the lessons we can teach girls is that no should mean no always. We need to start with that lesson in our homes.

Raising Daughters | Parents Mistakes
Parents Mistakes: When our daughters say no or have an opinion, we need to listen.


Parents Don’t Share Their Own Stories

Another mistake I see parents making with their daughters is they don’t share their own stories. A lot of parents are reluctant to share their own stories. They’re worried about, “If I talk to my daughter, I’m honest, is that going to give them permission to do some things and make some mistakes like I did?” I’m not saying when they’re eight that, you should tell them about all your antics when you’re in college. You have to use your common sense. I can tell you this. A lot of girls tell me that their parents and especially their dads, don’t get them because their dads never went through with their experiencing or they think their dads didn’t go through their experiencing. In reality, a lot of times, their dads can connect.

We did an exercise at a father-daughter retreat called the Fishbowl, where we had the dads in the middle of this big circle. There were about 30 dads and their daughter seeing on the outside in a circle looking into a fishbowl. We gave the dad some questions to answer that the girl said made up. It was a list of the previous night. We said, “What do you want to ask your dad? What do you want to know about your dad’s life experience?”

One of the questions was, “Did you ever feel awkward when you were in middle school?” These were middle school girls? A whole bunch of the dads talked about how they felt socially awkward back when they were 11, 12, 13 and 14. The girl’s mouths’ dropped open. They didn’t believe it because they saw their dads were very successful businesspeople. They’re married. They’ve got friends and life together. They didn’t see their dad when he was twelve.

He had acne. He was going through puberty and his voice squeaked. A lot of times, when boys’ testosterone starts going up in those lessons and they’re verbal centers get shut down. They didn’t see their dad then, so they feel like their dad would understand, but their dad did go through that kind of thing. It may have looked a little different, but the feelings were similar. I would suggest that you become more vulnerable. Start sharing some of your stories, especially stories about mistakes, challenges that you had growing up and how you overcame things so your daughters realize their dads can understand them and their moms, and they can relate.

Start sharing some of your stories, especially stories about mistakes, challenges that you had growing up and how you overcame things so your daughters realize their dads can understand them and they can relate. Click To Tweet

Parents Misinterpret Their Daughter’s Need For Independence

Two more mistakes the parents commonly make with their daughter. Parents oftentimes misinterpret their daughter’s rising need for independence to mean that they aren’t needed anymore. I want you to know that no matter how hard your girl seems to be pushing you away, and they are in some ways. They do still need you. That’s been my experience in working with girls for many years. It’s also what research would say.

Childhood is marked by this never-ending dance of kids going away and coming back. Toddlers tittle off when you’re at a party, and then after a little while, they come back kind of wimpy. They want to they want you to touch them. They want to sit in your lap. They get their courage back and then they go back out into the world to explore. They come back periodically for reassurance. That pattern doesn’t stop when they turn 5, 8 or 12. I think even teenagers do it.

If kids have parents who have been there in a warm, supportive way, those parents have become a safe base that every kid needs to feel confident to explore their world when they’re 3, 8 and 18. Adolescents do need more space and independence, but they also need you to remain their safe base for guidance, reassurance and to bounce things off of. It needs to be more under their control in their way and time as they get older, but don’t interpret their need for independence to mean they don’t need you because they do.

Raising Daughters | Parents Mistakes
Parents Mistakes: Adolescents do need more space and independence, but they also need you to remain their safe base for guidance, reassurance and to bounce things off of.


Parents Are Distracted

That leads me to the final mistake that I find parents making with their daughters. That is, we’re not aware of how distracted we are. Parents are distracted externally with things like phones working on the computer, especially in the last several years because of COVID. More people have been working from home, which means that they’re working all day and sometimes into the evening and night. Their phones are out on the dinner table. You’re outside playing catch with your daughter and then the phone rings and we say, “Wait a minute,” and we walk off for ten minutes to take business calls. Kids notice that.

I also think parents are internally distracted with worries about their jobs or is about money. They may have elderly parents who have needs. When kids are around distracted adults, they feel unimportant, not cared about, rejected and unloved. Kids have told me that over and over. I strongly encourage you to be present when you’re with them and playing games. When you’re at the dinner table when you’re kicking a soccer ball around the backyard, you should be there at a110%, not 50% with them and then distracted because you’re looking down at phone messages. Leave your phone inside the house. Leave your phone in the car when you’re going out to dinner.

If you need to make phone calls or if you have to do work, then do it, but when you’re with them, be with them fully. Let me tell you a couple of stories about this topic and then I’ll end. The first one involves a dad who I know who told me one time that it was Christmas time. His kids were all in college. They started looking at some old home movies about birthday parties, Christmas parties and different kinds of things.

The dad was sitting there watching these videos. He was the one who had been holding the camera recording these events. He said, “I had no memory of almost all the things that were on the screen. I was there taking the movies, but I wasn’t there mentally. I was building a business. I had much stuff going on in my head. I was going through lawsuits. I was trying to expand. I was trying to find more employees. I was having problems with my employees. I was everywhere but there. Even though I was there and taking the videos, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t really focused.”

I heard about a girl one time who shared a special tradition with her grandma. They would go over to their grandma’s house for Sunday dinner a lot. As soon as dinner was over, the two of them would sneak off, not just to get out of washing dishes, but they would go on a long walk, just the two of them. At the start of this little ritual, the two would close their eyes and they’d spin around. Whatever direction they would stop, that was the direction in which they started to walk. It never mattered which direction they had it as long as they were there together. The girl said, “It was our time. It was one of my favorite times of growing up.”

I’ll end this show with a poem called Give Her A Day, “What shall you give to one small girl, a glamorous game, a tinsel toy, a Girl Scout knife, a puzzle pack, a train that runs on some curving track, a picture book, a real-life pet? No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet. Give her a day for her very own. Just one small girl and her dad alone, a walk in the woods, a romp in the park, a fishing trip from dawn to duck. Give her the gift that only you can, the companionship of her old man. Games are outgrown and toys will decay, but she’ll never forget if you give her a day.”

Give your daughter the gift that only you can – the companionship of her old man. Games are outgrown and toys will decay, but she'll never forget if you give her a day. Click To Tweet

Be fully present. Think about these ten mistakes that parents can oftentimes make. They’re not huge things, but they are huge things. Thank you so much for showing up here. I appreciate it. I appreciate you also setting these on to your friends, people you think might be interested. I’ll be back here. Thank you so much for stopping by.


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