Building Character in Your Princess

Little girl dressed as a princess

Without parental guidance, our daughters may only notice the external beauty and power of princesses in books and movies, and not the valuable character qualities that will make them true leaders. Here is how some parents have combatted this cultural push in the lives of their young girls:

The True Beauty of a Princess

We live in a time when raising girls to be confident in their own skin is a tremendous challenge. Everywhere we look, in advertisements and popular entertainment, a woman's self-worth is linked to her beauty. Because of this, girls are constantly battling against the world's obsession with beauty, starting when they are toddlers.

One day I noticed that I was unknowingly reinforcing this concept with my 4-year-old. So many of the stories I shared with her began, "Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess."

When I think of all the qualities I want my daughter to strive for — godly, loving, kind, courageous, honest, hardworking — beauty, according to what our culture dictates, is not high on my list. But I noticed that the stories' focus on the physical beauty of these heroines was affecting my little girl. As she mimicked the same phrasing in her own imaginary stories, I wondered why I was highlighting only one adjective to describe the main character.

The fix? I omit the word beautiful from the books I read and in my made-up stories. My stories begin: "Once upon a time, there was a brave, funny, kind, godly and super-cool princess named Rapunzel." It didn't take long for my 4-year-old to tell her own stories to our 2-year-old in the same manner.

Before long, all our stories began to center on being a good friend or being brave, rather than focusing on going to a ball or wearing a pretty dress. We were reinforcing what's important — a person's (or princess's) character.

—Jason William Fisher

The Princess Culture 

When asked what a princess is, my 4-year-old daughter answered, "A princess likes to dance."

Sure, cartoon princesses are skilled in the social graces, but I'm concerned that, without my guidance, my daughter may notice only their external elegance and beauty.

In recent years, princesses have become big business — much more than the normal merchandising tie-ins that accompany kids' movies. Books, bicycles, costumes — it's difficult to find products not offered in pretty princess pink. But is the onslaught of princess products healthy for young girls? How does the excessive focus on outward appearances impact their view of beauty and personal self-esteem?

At our house, guidance is the key to addressing these concerns. Interestingly, a look at the movies themselves reveals that not all cartoon princesses are focused on their own beauty. Snow White teams up with her woodland friends in a home-improvement campaign, Cinderella exhibits joy in difficult circumstances, and Belle sacrifices her freedom for her father. Ironically, it's often the nemesis of the story — the Evil Queen, the Wicked Stepmother, or the buffoonish Gaston — who makes a big deal out of physical beauty or social position.

So the next time my 4-year-old and I sit down for a princess tale, I'll acknowledge her admiration for the elegance and beauty of fairy tale characters. But I'll also remind her that what God would value above Snow White's, Cinderella's and Belle's physical appearance is their kindness, their joyfulness and their sacrificial love.

Ashleigh Slater

"Stop Bossing Me!" 

We knew early we had a bossy-pants on our hands. My daughter didn't hesitate to tell me what to do, bossing me about the bowl she'd use for breakfast and the book I had to read first. And she told friends exactly where to sit and what to do. Scoldings, explanations and sisters yelling "Stop bossing me around!" didn’t curb her commands. What finally helped was drawing names from a hat.

When our family goes out to dinner once a week, the child whose name is selected gets to choose the restaurant — without any input or comment from her siblings. On weeks when we can't afford to go out, she chooses the dinner we make together at home. Regularly allowing each daughter to make an independent decision helps the bossy one submit to her siblings; it also gives the more passive ones an opportunity to speak up and be heard. Drawing from the hat works for other decisions, too, such as choosing a game or movie.

— Marlo Schalesky

Girl Power

Barbie's friend and fellow musketeer whispers, "We came to protect the prince, not date him!" Moments later, these women valiantly engage in combat against those sent to harm the soon-to-be-king. All the while, the highly trained male musketeers sit nearby, helpless.

For Barbie to be fencing, mastering martial arts or even wanting to be a musketeer does not bother me. I welcome portrayals of strong, confident females in the movies and television shows my girls watch. From bilingual explorers to little sisters to pink-haired storytellers, entertainment for young kids can encourage children to embrace their potential.

But instead of pointing girls toward excellence, some shows promote "girl power." Girl power says that girls are stronger and smarter than boys. Their strength is contrasted with the glaring weaknesses of others, often male counterparts or authority figures, such as parents or teachers. As a result, girl power encourages comparison and rivalry in the quest for excellence and identity, and it defiantly cries, "I'm better than you."

The Bible calls us to humbly use our strengths to support and encourage one another, rather than excelling at the expense and embarrassment of others.

How should you teach your child "girl power" as God intended? Does it mean no more Barbie or Olivia the pig? Perhaps. Or could it mean taking advantage of teachable moments to discuss whether a character's bold attitude is serving others or is merely self-serving? The key is to help your child realize that her identity isn't found in demeaning others but found in the One who's given your child powerful gifts so she can humbly help those in need.

 Ashleigh Slater

"The True Beauty of a Princess" originally appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "The Princess Culture" originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine. " 'Stop Bossing Me!' " first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Girl Power" first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

"The True Beauty of a Princess" © 2018 by Jason William Fisher. "The Princess Culture" © 2010 by Ashleigh Slater. " 'Stop Bossing Me!' " © 2012 by Marlo Schalesky. "Girl Power" © 2010 by Ashleigh Slater. Used by permission.

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