Asking a child to be “good” or telling them to be “good” slips out so easily. It’s just so ingrained in us to use these words, and the truth is they are words that carry some really strong conditioning that we don’t even know is being transmitted. Being “good” essentially means “well behaved” or “doing things right”. When you stop to really reflect on that, what’s “good” and “right” is changing, isn’t it?
Sometimes families come to therapy worried that their little girls don’t speak up for themselves, or engage in people pleasing behavior and worry that they will succumb to peer pressure when they’re older. Or that their little girls are anxious or depressed. Oftentimes that comes from trying to “be good” and they are rewarded for “behaving”.
So let’s talk about what Good Girl Conditioning looks like and find some ways we can take a more conscious approach.
What is Good Girl Conditioning?
Lots of young girls are taught to always be polite and considerate of other people’s feelings, even if it compromises their own feelings or happiness. This leads to them seeking perfection and saying yes to things they really don’t agree with or want to do.
When we are girls we are taught that being good means to “never show our anger, allow people to violate our boundaries, and to hide our own needs to please others”. Unfortunately, if that is what it takes to be ‘good’ then that means “we aren’t able to say we’re uncomfortable, tell someone ‘no’ (set a boundary), or express how we truly feel”. (LePera, Nicole [@the.holistic.psychologist]. “Good Girl Conditioning” Instagram, October 21, 2022, https://www.instagram.com/p/CkZclKKvbWS/)
When girls, and eventually women, subscribe to this way of thinking then they end up always trying to do what it takes to be liked or be what everyone wants her to be, instead of being her true self.
“Research suggests this gender bias starts early in childhood. Girls are more emotionally mature and better behaved, and hence they take their parents’ “please be good” guidance on board from an earlier age.” (Schrader, Jessica. “5 Ways to Stop Being the Good Girl and Start Getting Stronger.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 21 Feb. 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-path-passionate-happiness/201802/5-ways-stop-being-the-good-girl-and-start-getting-stronger.)
This continues and girls feel a need to be “good” by getting the best grades in school, impressing their boss by doing more than their share at work or focusing on their outward appearance and being liked by everyone in the social scene.
Unfortunately, society actually encourages girls to put the needs of others before themselves and insinuates going along quietly and remaining loyal at all costs are the qualities that make them good so it’s our job to teach them differently.
How to teach your girls differently
If you’re raising girls, there are a couple of things you can do to teach your girls to be powerful, emotionally intelligent and know how to function in society.
First, you can teach basic emotional intelligence skills. These are the building blocks needed to create a solid foundation that ensures she knows how to handle emotions appropriately and not just try to be good. Learn more HERE about how to instill emotional maturity in your kids or visit this past blog post ‘An easy way to raise your child’s emotional intelligence’.
Second is clearly communicating that even if you’re angry, frustrated, irritated, everyone is OK and you love them. Let your children know that you are human and you will experience these emotions, and so will they. Feeling these emotions does not mean you don’t love them or that they need to be someone different than who they are. If a child thinks they can be “good” enough to stop you from experiencing these emotions they will never succeed and they will feel like it’s their fault.
Third is being objective about rules and expectations in different settings, rather than connecting following rules and expectations to whether they are a good or bad girl. For instance, at school there’s a rule that says you can’t wear costumes, so costumes are for when you are not at school. Or, school / public places are not appropriate settings for a certain behavior like touching themselves (yes, kids do and it doesn’t mean something is wrong) or screaming; that’s something to do when you have privacy, or you’re outside, etc.
Finally, teaching about how to communicate boundaries. It’s important for them to know how to speak up for themselves and that it’s okay to speak up for themselves. You can practice certain statements with them and give them examples of how to say things in a way that is respectful and not rude like “I don’t like that”, “no thank you”, “this is feeling uncomfortable”. You can also model this by speaking up for yourself when you are in a situation that you’re not okay with.
How to unlearn it as an adult
Fortunately, with some work, it is possible to unlearn what we are taught when we are young. Dr. Nicola LePera – The Holistic Psychologist – explains, “It’s not our role to get approval from other people around us. Our role is to understand and connect to our emotions, to understand and clearly express our needs, to place boundaries or limits to keep ourselves safe, and to fully express ourselves.”
She goes on to share 4 ways to unlearn good girl conditioning:
1 – Recognize your emotional limits
2 – Know your needs
3 – Place Boundaries
4 – Accept you aren’t for everyone
Click HERE to learn more about each
(Facebook. LePera, Dr. Nicole [The Holistic Psychologist]. Unlearning Good Girl Conditioning. Facebook, November 2, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/the.holistic.psychologist/posts/so-many-of-you-resonated-with-my-last-post-on-good-girl-conditioning-i-decided-t/423162276687562/)
Unlearning means accepting that it’s okay to upset other people when you are honoring your boundaries, that doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human. You have needs just like everyone else and what you need or want in your life is just as important as the needs of others.
Unlearning means expecting other people to have boundaries about what they will and will not accept and giving yourself permission to have your own boundaries as well. Everyone will encounter people that don’t like them or that they just don’t mesh with, this is totally normal and does not determine anyone’s worth as a person.
As adults, we want to strive to be mindful of our words and the messages we are sending to young girls. We want to raise girls that are emotionally intelligent and do not fear expressing their emotions skillfully or allowing others to experience their emotions.. It’s important to teach them to voice their needs and how to deal with conflict in a positive way while advocating for themselves.
Do you need help unlearning the good girl conditioning that you experienced in your past? Or would it be supportive for your daughter to unlearn some of these things? We’re here to help. Contact us today.