How To Parent A Malala


Thought for the Day: Today is Columbus Day in the United States in honor of Christopher Columbus’ daring voyage which led to the discover of America. Today, I’d like to write about a brave teenager who has weathered a different kind of dangerous waters in the fighting for girls’ rights to have equal education. Malala Yousafzai has been in the news for some time now. The 16 year old education & peace advocate survived an attack by the Taliban on her way to school. Miraculously she survived a bullet which hit her in the head only damaging her hearing & some facial nerves. The teen is fighting back by speaking even more adamantly for the right for education for all children. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but spoke about being glad she did not win. She has been honored around the world. She founded a Nonprofit foundation, the Malala Fund, to raise money for education for girls. Her recently published autobiography, I Am Malala, is an instant best seller.

* Malala Yousafzai

Her precocious wisdom & worldliness have been astounding all who hear her. On the Daily Show, host Jon Stewart was speechless after she spoke & then offered to “adopt her.” As a psychologist interested in both parenting, education, motivation, & overcoming adversity, I have been thinking about what helps a child become resilient, confident & brave. Here are a few things that stand out for me:

1) Build your child’s self esteem by recognizing & believing in your child’s gifts. Every child has innate gifts. One of a parent’s most important tasks is to recognize & believe in your child’s gifts & abilities. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, her father, himself a teacher & political activist, felt that Malala was special from birth. He chose the name Malala from a Pakistani song.about a young hero whose “words can turn worlds around.” Although it may not be from birth, look for your child’s strengths & tell them what you see in them. How you see them helps them build a positive (or negative) self image.

2) Enhance self confidence by treating your daughters and sons as unique capable individuals. Her father also spoke about accepting that his daughter was a person equal to any boy. In a society that differentiates between the sexes, he treated her & his sons as equals & gave them equal opportunities. He even founded schools for girls.

3) Strenghten your child’s ability to stand up for their convictions by exemplifying what you believe. Malala’s father practiced political activism & spoke up in public for girls rights despite death threats by the Taliban. He taught her to speak up for what is right for everyone even when it may be dangerous to you personally.

Malala’s mother, on the other hand, did not go to school, does not know how to read & has avoided being photographed out of respect to her religious traditions. However, in her own quiet way she has supported her husband’s progressive liberal beliefs & backed Malala’s educational & social activist endeavors.

4) Teach your children the power of education as the key to economic & political freedom.  Malala’s father exposed her to school from when she was a toddler, taught he both to love learning & to recognize the power it gives you.

All children have unique strengths & can become like Malala with the love & encouragement of supportive parents.

Dr. Barbara Lavi, clinical psychologist in private practice in Weston CT, is the author of the best selling e-book, The Wake Up and Dream Challenge available on The book teaches people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds regardless of physical or other challenges reach their dreams. Half of the profits from each book sold support Dream Nonprofit organizations featured in the book.* Image Credits

This post was 1st published on Oct 13, 2013 on


Public domain This image is a work of a United States Agency for International Development employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.


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