Raising girls today is not the straightforward business it might once have been.
In most countries today, girls have the freedom to achieve pretty much whatever they wish to aim for and work towards but with this freedom has come new challenges. All of us who have daughters are united in their goal of raising girls to become strong, confident, capable and compassionate young women but how do we do this?
What do girls need from their parents, their teachers and the other adults in their lives to enable them to grow into the women we want them to be?
Since my daughter was born in 1998, I've found some fantastic books on the subject of raising girls. Many of these books focus on parenting teenage girls but, if you have a daughter, please don't wait until she's a teenager before you start to read them. The process of raising an emotionally resilient daughter with healthy self-esteem starts in babyhood and there are lots of things you can do as your daughter grows up which can help prevent problems later on. The earlier you start, the better prepared you'll be to be the sort of parent your daughter needs.
I've read many, many of these books over the past 16 years and have put together this list of the ones I've found the most helpful. The reviews include chapter headings as this is the way I generally decide when flicking through a book at a bookshop or library whether it will be useful and/or interesting. I hope this approach helps you too.
Most of these books will be available in libraries and local bookshops but you can also buy most of them from the Book Depository. Just click on the image of the book you're interested in. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
2018 edit: My daughter is now 19 and there have been many, many more books written about raising girls (and about raising children generally) in the years since she was small. I've read quite a few of them but I still think the books on this page are the best. Many of the other books have been written by parents, rather than by psychologists or others who have professional experience with girls over a long period of time. These books, on the other hand, have been written by people who've worked with girls and who I believe have something valuable to tell us.
I also want to add that, since I first wrote this page about raising girls, the field of neuroscience has progressed in leaps and bounds so that we now know a great deal more than we did 15 years ago about how children's brains develop and what they need to grow into emotionally-healthy adults. This has resulted in a new approach to parenting which is sometimes called 'peaceful parenting', sometimes 'conscious parenting' and sometimes 'aware parenting'. Some truly wonderful books have been written about this approach and they have changed the life of our family in recent years, very much for the better. While boys and girls are, of course, still different, as I look back over my years of parenting and the challenges my family faced, I am convinced we need to focus less on the girl-related aspects of parenting our daughters and more on the emotional needs children of both genders share. I still think these books about raising girls are wonderful but, if you are a parent or carer of children, I suggest beginning with the parenting books I've reviewed on my Best Parenting Books page.
1. Raising Girls
If I had to recommend only one book to parents of daughters, it would definitely be this one. The book discusses five stages of girlhood and the things a little girl needs from her parents at each stage. It's perfect for parents who are expecting a girl or who have a baby daughter but it's also brilliant for parents of daughters of any age. Steve Biddulph is Australian who has been working with families and writing and speaking about parenting for many years. He writes in a very easy-to-read and accessible way and his books are very popular around the world. This book is immensely encouraging and positive and I highly recommend it.
2. The Princess Bitchface Syndrome: Surviving Adolescent Girls
This is a book about parenting teenage girls. I really, really dislike the title of this book, for so many reasons it would take a page to explain them. I think the title was chosen to shock and grab attention however words and how we use them influence our thoughts and therefore our actions so they really matter and I think this book should be given another title. Having said that, I've included it in my list because it's a small-format, easy-to-read book, written with humour and loads of insights into what's going on with teen girls today. I feel strongly that many of the problems the author describes in this book could be addressed by employing a respectful, peaceful approach to parenting teenage girls however this book does give a good rundown of how teen girls feel and what they need from their parents.
3. Queen Bees & Wannabes
This book about parenting teenage girls is quite long and a bit heavy going at times but I think it's worth sticking with. It offers amazing insights into the world of girls - how they choose their best friends, how they express their anger, their boundaries with boys and their relationships with parents. This book inspired the movie Mean Girls and, if you've seen the movie, you'll enjoy seeing how the ideas in the book were used. Wiseman shows how girls of every background are profoundly influence by their interactions with one another and offers useful suggestions and advice. My daughter started high school in 2010 and I read this book at the beginning of the year. I found it fascinating. Note also that the ideas don't relate only to raising girls - in my experience her descriptions of how the social hierarchy works apply to boys' social networks too. This book is worth reading and has some valuable insights to offer however I strongly recommend reading it in conjunction with Gordon Neufeld's book Hold on to your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.
Chapter headings in Queen Bees & Wannabees include:
4. Find Your Tribe
This is a colourful, easy-to-read little book which would be ideal to give to a girl in Year 6 before she starts high school. It seems to me to be based on the ideas explored in Queen Bees and Wanna Bees but is written for girls, rather than their parents. The book tackles an important topic – broadly, how to cope with starting high school, particularly the friendship issues and study pressures – in a fun, non-threatening way that will appeal to girls of all ages. Although the book has been written for girls, much of it applies to boys too. You're unlikely to be able to get your son to read it but it's worth reading yourself if you're the parent of a son.
5. Daughters and their Dads
I heard the author of this book, Bruce Robinson, interviewed on ABC radio when my daughter was small and was so fascinated by what he had to say that I bought this book for my husband and I to read. What a revelation! This book does a great job of explaining that daughters need quite specific things from their fathers if they are to grow into happy, well-adjusted, confident women - things that their mother and the women in their lives cannot give them. There are some great tips here if you are raising a daughter however the book is also fascinating to read with your own experience in mind. I have a terrific Dad and we have a close relationship, however if you grew up without your dad or if you and your father aren't close, you may find this book sheds some light on your relationship.