For generations, little girls have been obsessed with the idea of being princesses. Kings and queens and their offspring were probably the only celebrities in the olden days, and with the impact of fairy tale books -- and the steady stream of Disney Princess movies and shows -- the appeal of the stereotype has just kept getting stronger.
I was never a princess fanatic, nor was my daughter. My childhood role-playing involved me pretending to be a teacher -- kind of nerdy, I know. However, I realize the value of any fantasy role-playing for young children: It allows their imagination to expand.
If your daughter is really the type to indulge heavily in the princess charade, I have some suggestions to make the fantasy a little bit less about the glitz and to squeeze in a little more substance into the dream.
Many fairytales describe princesses as being famous far and wide for their beauty. This is a little deflating. To discourage girls from valuing looks above all else (because no matter what we parents think, our girls can't be the most beautiful in the land), I would encourage parents to bring their girls' attention to the special skills and talents of the princesses, too. For example, Ariel from The Little Mermaid is famous for her golden voice, and Princess Merida from Brave is an excellent archer. Little girls will then be inspired to find their own niches or passions through which they can distinguish themselves.
For some girls, the obsession with being a princess is all about wearing a tiara and a big, flounce-trimmed gown. It is fun to get dressed up, and there is no harm in it -- if within bounds (I think wearing it to church is a little over the top). If your little lady, though, is really serious about looking like royalty 24/7, suggest to her that wearing a gown and a crown is not always necessary. Making sure your hair and clothes are neat and tidy, and keeping your clothes from getting stained and torn are also hallmarks of good breeding. If your daughter is not impressed, just Google some photos of Kate Middleton or Princess Diana. I daresay they haven't had bad hair days ever!
If your princess starts acting high and mighty with other people, here is a quick lesson to bring her down to earth. Remind her that the job of royalty isn't just dancing in balls and waiting for a handsome prince she can marry someday. Princesses are part of the ruling class and thus have to take care of the entire kingdom. That means being sensitive to and aware of the needs of everyone, and doing whatever they can to help those in need. Real-life royalty such as Princess Diana did a lot of charitable work during her brief public life.
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The last bit has more to do with how a princess views the all-important, much-awaited prince. Usually rich, undeniably handsome, and always, always charming, these guys set the bar high. However, it might be useful for parents to also point out that real princesses may not always need the help of a prince to get out of a jam. Many times in real life, it is the woman who saves the man ... or the whole kingdom. Thankfully, there is a new breed of princesses who also show great strength (such as Princess Fiona from Shrek) and bravery (such as Mulan).
The takeaway message to our little girls should be this: Whether we wear a tiara or not, we all have the capacity to become heroes if we really try!
This article first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Smart Parenting magazine.