Stop Raising Your Daughters to be Nice Girls: How to Empower the Next Generation of Women



Raising your daughters to be nice girls creates a long-term problem. You see, nice girls continue on to become nice women. You may be thinking “And that’s a problem because? Being nice is a good thing.”

It is good except when it’s not. Like when you believe being a nice girl means:

  • You are SUPPOSED to be agreeable.
  • You SHOULDN’T make waves.
  • You CAN’T be honest about your feelings.
  • You NEED to make up a reason why you’re saying “No” to an invitation to a party, dinner or networking event. It’s not nice to just say you don’t want to go.
  • You SHOULDN’T give your opinion, especially if it disagrees with the group.
  • You SHOULDN’T give direct, candid feedback related to someone else’s work or actions.
  •  You SHOULDN’T tell someone you don’t like something they like.
  •  You HAVE to keep secrets from someone because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or have them get angry.
  •  You SHOULDN’T ask for what you want.
  •  You SHOULDN’T talk about your accomplishments.

These “rules” came from actual women. They learned these “rules” regarding their behavior when they were girls growing up. Not just from you, Mom and Dad, but from the media, from other family members, from school, from coaches, from friends.

Lionizing the Good [Nice] Girl

“Lionizing the good girl” is what Rachel Simmons, educator, called it in her book, The Curse of The Good Girl. Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. She continued by saying the power and potential of girls are curtailed by the impossible standards set for them in childhood and carried forward into adulthood.

Impossible standards create a striving for perfection, which is an illusion.

If your daughter or you believe:

  • It’s selfish to ask for what you want.
  • Even mentioning your accomplishments is tantamount to obnoxious pumping-your-chest boasting.
  • It’s wrong to give direct feedback because you “shouldn’t” hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Meeting the impossible standards of being nice trumps honesty about how you think and feel.

Then, how can you be you?

How can your daughter learn that her opinion and her ideas have value when she doesn’t have the confidence to speak up because she doesn’t want people to think she’s not a nice person? How will she have the courage to defend what she believes in or say “no” or disagree with friends or co-workers if she herself believes that doing so makes her a “mean-girl” or a “bitch”?

How We Can Raise Empowered Daughters

#1: Don’t dismiss her feelings with statements like

    1. “Oh that was no big deal”.
    2. “It’s nothing to cry over.”
    3. “You shouldn’t be mad at Whitney. Now go over and apologize.”

Statements such as these, while the intent is to be helpful (or an attempt to end your own discomfort when your child is angry or unhappy), they have the impact of teaching your child that her feelings are wrong.

She starts to feel shame about how she feels. She starts to believe “should” be feeling something different than she does. She learns to apologize to other people even when it’s not a sincere, nor warranted.

#2: Do teach your daughters (and your sons) how to identify and appropriately verbalize their feelings. When you suppress emotions it’s similar to trying to hold a ball under the water. You can hold it down for a while, but then that ball comes shooting with great force out of the water.

What could have been talked about “I was hurt by what you did” instead comes out as anger or rage. “You’re a jerk, I never want to talk to you again.” Anger is a secondary emotion because it’s a cover-up for other feelings such as hurt or sadness or embarrassment.

Ask “What made you angry?” “How did that make you feel, besides angry?” Then listen. Don’t judge or give advice. Let your daughter talk, eventually deep feelings are revealed.

By teaching our daughters how recognize, own and accept their feelings, we are teaching them to be empowered adults. It’s the beginning of the end of bottling up feelings and having them eventually come out sideways.

The next step is teaching her how to deal directly and honestly with conflict.

Want more straight-to-the-point advice on how to live a purpose-driven life? Visit Cherry online at!


About Author

Cherry Woodburn works in the field of personal development. She facilitates programs designed to open a world of possibilities for women through shifting negative paradigms and increasing confidence. Cherry blogs at


  1. Chris Lappin on

    I don’t have any daughters, I have 2 teenage sons. That doesn’t mean your post doesn’t apply. 
    On the contrary I loved this post Cherry and what you say is so valuable.
    Women before us fought hard for equality and a voice yet sometimes, with the celebrity, instant fame culture I fear we might be going backwards and that we need stronger role models for girls & women (such as the Olympic athletes).
    I’m retweeting & sharing this because it’s a fabulous post and will be checking out your blog. 

  2. My daughter and I were born strong willed and verbal. There is no doormat people pleaser side to either of us. She will be 16 next month and I am raising her to be real and a decent human being. No more, not less. I am the sounding board to let her know when her emotions are over running rational healthy thoughts. We can talk about anything. She is free to express herself. It is a beautiful thing. I wish it for all young people. I do not understand some of the crazy rules spoken and unspoken that have been allowed to persist for this long. Nice to see someone else is tackling this issue.

  3. klausjunginger on

    A hell of a post. One of those we ought to print out and read over and over. Competence, aggressiveness and assertiveness do not conflict with sensibility and grace.

    Thanks for that


  4.  Thank you Klaus. it’s unfortunate that somewhere along the line assertiveness and conflict were painted as negative things.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Cherry

  5.  T,

    It is wonderful to hear about the relationship your daughter and you have. Kudos to both of you.
    It’s so helpful to have a sounding board because, as you know, sometimes our emotions  do over run rational thoughts. But if you’re taught to suppress emotions, how can you even talk about them to determine, let’s so, when you’re jumping to conclusions or not?

    Thanks for your input, Cherry

  6.  Chris,
    Your point is well taken, although this is geared towards daughters/females, it is a lesson for all.

    As a life-long feminist who’s been around a long time, I often shake my head at how far “we haven’t come”, or as you suggest that in some ways we’re going backwards.

    Thanks for commenting and your praise on what I wrote, Cherry

  7. Obviously my mom raised me wrong 😛 On a side note, I can’t stand people who keep secrets to avoid hurting people’s feelings. That’s manipulative and one of the meanest things you can do in my opinion. Honesty never hurts as much as anyone thinks it will.

  8. Cherry, wonderful piece! I think it is possible to be honest, while still exercising tact, diplomacy, and consideration. People confuse assertiveness with aggression, but they are 2 different things. I think we all have the right to be assertive, but there are some people who will try to push us down for that. We just have to be strong in standing up for ourselves. We have to empower ourselves, just as you say. When it comes from the heart, it isn’t about control, manipulation, or anything negative. I think it is possible to do all those things you list and still be “nice” about it, even though some people will bristle at our efforts, which then may cause us to feel as if we are not being “nice”. I think underneath it all, it’s just an uncomfortable feeling we get, b/c we are going against the grain of what we were taught growing up. But the more we assert ourselves – the more we shine as the wonderful individuals we are – the easier it becomes to do. In the end, it is a gift we give not only to ourselves, but also, to the world. I too think your article is sound advice and food for thought, no matter your age or your gender!

  9. Your post reminds me of a story from when my daughter was in second grade: Her teacher told her it was ‘selfish’ to ask to be the star of the class play each year. I saw it differently – and I told Katie that her powerful urge to be the star meant that she was strong inside and drawn to the experiences that would help her shine. Then, I went in to talk with her teacher. During a heartfelt and candid conversation, her teacher confided that all of her life, she’d struggled to let her own inner ‘star’ out of hiding. She’d become a soft-spoken gentle (and generous, loving) person who longed for center stage in her own work and life. A few months after this encounter, the teacher resigned to pursue a career in a field where she could shine – and she is! I know this experience had something to do with it.

    PS For the next few years, my daughter was often the star of the play. When she wasn’t, she was helping co-direct. It’s just who she was. Today, she’s in her last year of film school. This ‘little thing’ in second grade turned out to be a breakthrough experience.

  10. Interesting post that has gotten me thinking. I guess I was raised to “be nice” but also to rationalize and share my thought process to stand up for what I believed in. The thing that has surprised me is that people outside of my family don’t always want to be rational and share their thoughts or be open to listening to the thoughts of others…

  11. Pingback: Girls Don’t Want Boys: Girls Want Equal Pay and Sick Beats. The Silencing of Women from Kindergarten through to the Professorate – Resource Guide for K-12 Teachers & College Professors

Leave A Reply