When a Black toddler named Ariyonna was captured on video sobbing after calling herself “ugly,” the hearts of Black women broke across the globe. It was both frightening and saddening to see that society had already successfully convinced a child so small that she was not beautiful. But an extra added layer was the fact that many of us can remember being in her shoes. We can also remember the years of reprogramming and the grueling self-work it took before we started to believe otherwise.
Ariyonna has since received an outpouring of support from the Black community and appears to be learning to love herself after receiving some words of affirmation from her hairdresser. But there are still many Ariyonnas in the world, some of whom may be living in your household, who don’t recognize their worth just yet. It’s on us to instill confidence, pride, and self-esteem in Black girls. Here are ten ways you can do so starting today.
Remove her from emotionally damaging environments
Relatives and friends can inflict long-term damage on your kids if you let them. When loved ones make ignorant statements, either generally or directed at your child, correct them and if they can’t recognize the error of their ways, they should not have access to your daughter. While bullying from outside sources can definitely pose a problem, much of the issues with the way that we see ourselves as Black women and girls come from internal messaging, especially from our elders. Anti-black comments about hair texture and complexion should be checked just as quickly as disparaging comments about weight — both fat shaming and skinny shaming — or facial features. It’s all problematic. You wouldn’t let a relative physically assault your kid in your presence, the same rules must apply for emotional attacks as well.
Advocate for her as well as for yourself
A great way to remind your Black girl of her worthiness is to advocate for her when it’s necessary and teach her to advocate for herself. Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Not much has changed and as a result, we must be our own advocates because no one is about to save us. If something unfair is going on at school, address it. If something that’s not right is going down at the playground, confront it. While some of these issues may seem like small potatoes, remember why you’re doing it. The goal is to teach her that she does not have to accept or tolerate anything less than what she deserves.
Show images that look like her
I hate to sound like a broken record, but representation matters. While popular children’s networks are making significant strides to offer more diverse programming, the reality is that most of the kids in these programs still don’t look like us. As a result, we have to be more vigilant about the programs our kids are watching and the messaging that is being sent. This may look like curating a list of programs with your specific Black girl in mind. You may have to venture to YouTube and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, but they’re definitely out there. We can’t afford to let mainstream media tell our kids how they should feel about themselves.
Ensure that she feels seen
We spend so much time providing for our kids that we sometimes forget to make sure that they feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. When possible, give her your undivided attention. Listen to and acknowledge what she has to contribute to age-appropriate conversations. Additionally, connect with her teachers to make sure she feels heard at school.
“There are a lot of girls who check out in school when they feel like they’re not seen, not understood or invested in by school personnel. There are a lot of negative perceptions of African-Americans, and the perception they receive is that it’s not a good thing to be black,” said Janine Jones, director of UW’s School Psychology Program. “We may think it’s easier to avoid it than to address it. But if we start addressing oppression by countering it with the humanness of who these kids are, we’re more likely to keep them engaged and feeling a sense of belonging.”
As a middle school teacher trying to teach and assess a room of 30-plus students, it’s annoying to get calls from parents whose children complain about not being called on enough. More often than not, the students are Black pre-teen girls, which is why regardless of how I feel, in the wake of these calls, I always take extra steps to be sure that these girls feel acknowledged, valued, and understood. I realize that it’s so much deeper than getting to share an answer in class. It’s about feeling seen in a world that treats you like you’re invisible.
Don’t allow anti-black teasing in your home
I once heard the saddest story about a Black woman who had aspirations of being a Girl Scout in elementary school. She came home and told her older brother who responded by telling her that she was “too black to be a Brownie.” She never mentioned becoming a Girl Scout again. While we don’t talk about it often enough, siblings also contribute to the tearing down of self-esteem. Shut it down.
Expose her to successful Black women
Black girl magic is not just a hashtag. We continue to beat odds, sidestep statistics, and smash stereotypes. Make sure that your Black girl is aware of the amazing women who look like her and are making strides in their respective fields. And while talking to her about celebrity women and public figures is great, don’t forget about the magical Black women in your circle. Without having done anything except being born, she is already part of a powerful sisterhood of Black women. Never miss an opportunity to remind her of this fact.
Practice and model goal-setting
Accomplishing goals is essential to building self-confidence. A great way to help your Black girl recognize her own competence and capabilities is to help her set and accomplish realistic goals. Additionally, you can model goal setting by being transparent with her about your personal goals and steps you’re taking to bring them to fruition.
Communicate that you love her unconditionally
Your daughter may already know that you love her, but it’s helpful to emphasize that you’ll love her no matter what. You’ll love her when she fails. You’ll love her when she makes poor decisions. You’ll love her when you disagree with her choices. Remind her of this again, and again, and again.
Offer sincere praise
A simple way to boost the self-esteem of children is to praise them generously, but the praise should be sincere. Our kids are capable of some pretty amazing things, so don’t take that for granted. Praise them freely in these occurrences but avoid celebrating mediocrity.
Tell her she’s beautiful
Praise her for her beautiful Black features. Society will always promote European standards of beauty and so it’s up to us to build up our own. Tell her about her lovely hair texture and her beautiful complexion. Tell her that you love the shape of her nose or how pretty her eyes are.